Tag Archives: children

Halloween Should Be Child’s Play

By Jason Menard

Apparently, without knowing it, I dressed up last night for Hallowe’en. My costume? A curmudgeon.

It didn’t start out that way. In fact, I inadvertently dressed up as something else Sunday evening – a popsicle. And apparently the cold had an impact on the trick or treaters, or lack thereof, on the evening.

As we were accompanying our eight-year-old daughter through the streets on her mad candy grab (she was determined to hit as many houses as possible), we noticed a marked lack of younger children on the streets. Only a handful of babies, a few toddlers, fewer still children my daughter’s age, and a smattering of pre-teens braved the sub-freezing temperatures.

But there was one group that seemed to be out in full force – the teenagers. Continue reading

School’s Out Forever

By Jason Menard

If I had to change career course mid-stream, you know what I wouldn’t want to be? A teacher.

Well, to be honest, I’m thinking being a postcard salesman would be number-one on my list – really, does anyone send postcards anymore? Even if you’re on vacation most people simply send an e-mail with digital photos that they’ve taken themselves – beats the bejeezus out of those cheesy “Wish You Were Here” photos.

But besides that and a few other jobs involving sewage treatment and other similar tasks, I think being a teacher would tax my sensibilities. That said, I already have a solid grasp of one of the fundamental philosophies of modern teaching techniques.

The lowest common denominator. Continue reading

My Pocket Picked by a Mouse

By Jason Menard

Mar. 2, 2007 — Call CrimeStoppers, I’ve had my pocket picked! The culprit? A short, dark male with a propensity for wearing red pants and no shirt. He has overly large ears and a high-pitched, squeaky voice.

Aiding this crime were his female accomplice, an unintelligible duck – who should be approached with caution because his frothing at the mouth may indicate rabies – and a large, clumsy dog with an aw-shucks countenance and limited cognitive abilities. Amazingly, these clever bandits made off with my money while I was sitting in the comfort of my own home, as the real scene of the crime took place when my wife, daughter, and mother attended the recent Disney on Ice spectacle at the John Labatt Centre.

But let’s not blame Disney alone as this gang wasn’t alone in perpetrating the crime – the management of the local arena was more than a willing conspirator.

There is an expectation, at any event, that you will pay a premium for items and memorabilia. Like at amusement parks and sporting events, people are more willing to part with their hard-earned money once they’ve become caught up in the atmosphere. But the combination of over-the-top pricing and preying on small children is something that, while it fills the company’s coffers, should leave the recipients with an empty feeling.

In the end it may have been cheaper to take my family to Disneyworld , especially after considering the $15 program, the $20 wand, the $4.50 beverages, and the $10 popcorn — $10 for something that probably costs 30 cents in kernels. And we complain about movie theatre prices!

Now, the argument will be that you don’t have to buy these things, and that a simple no is enough. And we, as parents, do our best to show our kids what can and can’t be done on limited resources. Although all children will ask for everything, we try to show that you can’t have everything, and that things need to be saved up for or budgeted. We say no far, far more often than we say yes.

But at a celebration, specifically targeted to young children, you can forgive any parent for wanted to maximize the enjoyment. What seems like a cheap piece of plastic with flashing lights to an adult is, in essence, a magical experience for a young girl. To us, it’s a toy wand, to her it’s the embodiment of her dreams and a tool to use to create future memories and experiences. They say there’s no price you can put on those memories, but these cash-grabbers are certainly doing their best wring out every last dollar.

Unfortunately, the prices charged are only reflective of what the market will bear. If people weren’t willing to shell out these exorbitant rates, then they wouldn’t charge them. But there’s a subtle difference between fair market value for a product that’s targeted towards an adult, and what’s considered fair when your demographic is under the age of 10. And while parents have a responsibility to their own budgets, marketers abdicate any responsibility towards not exploit the dreams and imaginations of the youth that propel their product.

It’s not a matter of parents feeling that not buying something for their children makes them lesser parents, but rather it’s a desire to accentuate the experience by having something tangible to take home with you (or, in the case of the $4.50 Diet Coke, having something to ward off dehydration…) It’s a matter of helping to make memories last and being able to afford to do so.

The thing is, there is no legal obligation for producers and venue owners to change their price structure – it can be argued that there is only a moral one. If they can justify charging $20 for $3 worth of cheap plastic and circuitry, then so be it – they’re not alone in the market for inflating the value of their products. And, yes, adults should take a stand and fight back against price gouging. But must that stand be taken upon the foundation of our children’s imaginations?

And let’s not just base this argument on the consumer end. There are plenty of reasons why shows like this – and the venues that host them – should re-evaluate their pricing. First, the tangible: by lowering your prices, you would increase consumption. There have been many times I’ve heard people walk away from concessions and booths without spending a dime because the prices are too high. By lowering the prices a bit, while still respecting the margin, you would increase the number of consumers taking action. The key is to find that right balance to maximize profits – the same type of math we learned in high school.

Secondly, the intangible – and, by far, the most important. In large part, people aren’t offended by the total they spent, they’re irate at the individual prices. By providing better value-priced merchandise, you’ll stimulate spending, while leaving people with a better feeling about their purchases. They’ll feel they’ve received value for their dollar and will be more willing to return for subsequent events, thereby creating a self-perpetuating, steady source of reliable income. If morality doesn’t sway you, then cold hard business should.

In the end, yes, I was robbed (and thank goodness for generous grandparents – who were also robbed), but it’s an inflated price I – along with many other parents – am begrudgingly willing to pay to help my children live their dreams.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

The Bear Necessities

By Jason Menard

It was a bitterly cold winter’s day in the city formerly known as Hull. The skies were clear, which made the cold outside bite a little harder. And as the car crested the small hill, off in the distance, we could begin to make out a shape. Blood red, arms and legs askew, alone in the parking lot. I gasped, my wife uttered the words, “I don’t believe it.” And in the back seat, my five-year-old daughter wailed.

Yes, Reddy Bear had been found. Now it was time to assess the damage.

But before we get to that, let’s provide a little back story. Reddy Bear is, in fact, a small red teddy bear, about the size of an adult’s hand, which was purchased many moons ago from some Roots store somewhere. Given to my daughter for her first Valentine’s Day back in 2002, the bear has become a fast friend to my daughter, and, by extension, a member of our family.

Odd? Not if you’re a parent. Many of us have children who have something in their lives that brings them a special comfort. Some children have a special blanket, others have imaginary friends, and many more have stuffed animals. And the thought of losing them is equally hard on both the child and the child’s parent.

Reddy Bear has undergone a number of changes over the years. When my daughter was old enough to talk, we discovered that Reddy was a boy. He was also her friend, Reddy. Later, as my daughter entered into the “playing mommy” stage, Reddy apparently made a side trip to Sweden, because she was now a girl (we still, sometimes, refer to Reddy as ‘he’) and had transformed into my daughter’s daughter.

After getting past the initial shock of being grandparents in our early 30s, my wife and I acquiesced to the fact that Reddy was special. Simply put, my daughter and Reddy play together, share confidences, and comfort each other in times of need. With that in mind, the question was now how do we make sure we don’t lose her?

It’s every parent’s fear. As much as our children love these creature comforts, they are still children and can, at times, be less than vigilant about taking care of their toys. This was doubly a concern when it became apparent that Reddy Bear was a significant part of our daughter’s sleeping routine. The thought of a night without Reddy conjured up the image of a tear-streaked face and the feeling of loss.

As silly as it appears – after all, it’s just a bear – parents will understand that their children’s attachment to these stuffed animals, special toys, blankets, etc. is very real and very deep. As easy as it is to say, ‘it’s not real’, it’s hard to deny the very real heartbreak that you can see in their faces when something this special goes missing. While my daughter will go a couple of nights without Reddy in bed – sometimes taking another stuffed animal in its stead – there truly is nothing like the real thing. Literally. Nothing. In fact, we have another identical Roots bear. Purchased at roughly the same time – except white. And while Snowbear is fun and all, he’s not Reddy.

We even contacted Roots stores throughout Canada, through the assistance of the company’s helpful – and indulgent – staff, looking for other red bears to buy as back-ups. And when that route failed to pay off, there have been repeated eBay searches – again, all in vain. So with no replacement, we’ve got to make this one last.

It’s not like we haven’t had close calls in the past. There was a trip from Montreal to London where, while getting something out of the trunk, Reddy almost made an unexpected stop in Kingston. There was also the trip to the mall, where Reddy found herself perched atop a garbage can as some kind stranger picked her off the floor and left her to be discovered.

But Hull was almost the end. Apparently, while getting my daughter situated in the car – not an easy task considering snowsuits and car seats – Reddy fell out into a grocery store parking lot. As my wife and I debated about whether Reddy had even made this trip (as opposed to staying in the luggage where we were) Reddy was left to fend for herself. Three hours later, en route to a New Year’s Eve dinner, we decided to take that fateful detour. And, miraculously to us, there she was, alone in the parking lot.

In the end, she appeared to have not been run over by passing cars. She was not taken or discarded. A little hand washing and a few tumbles in the dryer (not to mention repeated apologies by my daughter to her bear) Reddy was back as good as new. Eventually my daughter told us that Reddy had left the car to have lunch with a friend and was merely waiting for us – although she didn’t like waiting in the cold.

Another crisis was averted. However, let’s just say the grandparents are going to be even more vigilant – if that’s possible – about their furry, red granddaughter’s whereabouts from now on!

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Delusion Key to Surviving Kids’ Concerts

By Jason Menard

The true sign that the holiday season is in full swing? The fact that many of us willingly subject ourselves to the ear-splitting phenomenon known as The School Concert. And the greatest gift of all during these holiday concerts is the gift of self-delusion.

Well, perhaps I should amend that. It wouldn’t be ear-splitting if it were just my child performing. Your kids are terrible. Honestly.

My son, playing the clarinet, hits all the right notes, has the right tone and pacing, and displays a musical ability that obviously wasn’t passed down by his parents – or shared by many of his fellow band members. And my daughter sang with the voice of an angel, rising above the pedestrian voices from the rest of the school to shine like the star she is.

Of course, I may be biased.

And it’s that bias that makes these concerts tolerable. If I didn’t believe – like all parents – that my own kids were great, then the only plausible explanation for attending some of these events would be a penchant for self-mutilation. Seriously. The caterwauling at some of these events would have even the most ardent PETA activist clamouring to put down that injured cat.

Just as love is blind, so too can it be deaf – at least conveniently deaf. When we get together to watch a group of young children perform, we concern ourselves less with the quality of the performance than the quantity of the cuteness. A group of kindergarten-aged children can elicit oohs and aws just by appearing on stage in a collection of cute dresses.

But next time you have the opportunity to watch one of these performances, truly watch them. They are spectacularly bad, but enjoyable all the same. From stilted, shuffling dances to choirs singing what appears to be four or five different songs all at the same time, they can be entertaining in a sort of “watching a disaster unfold” manner.

Nowhere is this more evident than in musical performances. In any choral group you’ll have a collection of kids singing in time with the music, some who figure they can simply race through the song regardless of the beat, and others who just lip synch their way through the performance. And the same holds true for the band. Squeaks and squonks aside, some players play like they’ve never heard the song before – off key and off beat!

Of course, my kids are in the group who are on key and on time.

And that’s what we, as parents, all believe. That’s why a person can watch their kids up on stage, facing the wrong direction, with a finger up his or her nose, and still convince themselves that their child put on a virtuoso performance. And it’s that shared experiences that make these performances a joy for parents across the board.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all shared in how bad these things are. But we do so together, understanding that our children have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into these performances. It’s at times like this that we’re truly able to share in our kids’ imagination. When they get on stage they’re the prima ballerina, the concert pianist, or the award-winning actor. What to us appears as uncoordinated dancing to them is a routine worthy of Much Music.

That’s the greatest gift that these Christmas pageants can provide. They allow our kids to dream. To believe that they’re performing at the same level as the stars and professionals with whom they may be familiar. They don’t see the obvious flaws in their performances – they simply revel in the joy of performing. And when they think back upon those experiences their memories will be filtered through that combination of enthusiasm and fantasy.

To them, they’ll have all performed on time, on cue, synchronized, and in perfect harmony. And while they may, in truth, have sounded like wounded antelopes in heat, to them they’ll believe that they sang with the voices of angels, danced with the feet of prima ballerinas, and played with the grace and skill of the Philharmonic.

Well, at least that’s the case for your kids. Because it’s plain to see that mine performed perfectly. Of course.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved