My mom firmly believes in creating memories by giving our family super fun shared experiences.

She’s at that age (I think I’m allowed to say that!) when she wants to be more purposeful with what she does. And she decided this year, for her 75th birthday, that what she really wanted was to take the family (including the two sons-in-law) to Toronto to show everyone our old haunts–where I spent my high school years; where we spent time with the kids when they were babies; where we all created our first memories together.

So that’s what we did. On Saturday, she rented a limo for the day, and we all set off from Belleville to downtown Toronto (about a two hour drive) on a very deliberate trip to make some memories!

All of us ready to go in a big limo!

Just so you can understand the context, in 1984, my mom and I moved to a condo in downtown Toronto, right across the street from Maple Leaf Gardens (where the Toronto hockey team played and where there were tons of concerts). I actually worked there in my high school years. After graduation, I left Toronto to attend Queen’s University in Kingston, where I met Keith. When he got matched to a residency program at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, just a few blocks from where my mother still lived, we ended up renting an apartment behind Maple Leaf Gardens. You could just cross the street from my mom’s building, walk through the hotel, go up the escalator, and you’d be in our apartment lobby.

We left Toronto for good in 1998, when Katie was 1 1/2 and Becca was 4. My mom followed about two years later.

So we went for a drive down memory lane in this limo! First up, we passed my high school and the park where Mom used to take the girls. Then we drove down the street to Riverdale Farm, an actual working farm in downtown Toronto. I used to take the girls there in the stroller once a week when the weather cooperated. They loved feeding dandelions to the goats!

Katie and Keith Then and Now: Looking at the Chickens!

Next we visited my mom’s old building (where I lived too). Karen, who has been friends with my mom for 40 years (she used to babysit me!) still lives there, and she gave us a tour of the roof gardens where Mom used to take the girls, and the pool and other common areas.

Rebecca on the third floor roof, blowing bubbles–with Maple Leaf Gardens in the background

I insisted that we cross the street and go up that famous escalator. Rebecca at 3 was a pro at using the escalator by herself, because I was always trying to balance the stroller and Katie. We had LOTS of talks about escalator safety when she was little. Then we moved to Belleville, and in the whole city there was only one escalator (which is now gone). She couldn’t understand why there were no escalators.

Rebecca was a pro at riding this escalator!

Next up: Allan Gardens, a beautiful greenhouse gardens that we used to frequent.

Rebecca always loved the catcuses (cacti?). By the way, the green tam and sweater she’s wearing were knit by my grandmother (Mom’s mom). They’ve kind of come back into style!

Will it hurt?

For lunch we headed to Chinatown (and of course we got bubble tea after lunch, too!)

Eating lunch on Spadina in Chinatown

and then to the Art Gallery of Ontario, which my mom loves. We were each given instructions to find a painting in the Thomson collection that we loved the most, and then we got together to show our find to everyone else. So we all scattered, chose our painting, and shared it with each other.

Katie loved this Emily Carr painting!

We’re all Group of Seven fans (Canadians will know what I mean).

Mom explaining why she picked this Lawren Harris one.

Afterwards, Mom insisted on Dufflet’s pastry (their motto: Eat More Cake!), because she used to take Rebecca there on each trip to Toronto. Boy was that good!

Finally, we stopped at the St. Lawrence Market (my favourite place in Toronto) to buy some stuff for dinner to eat in the limo on our way home.

And then, during that drive back to Belleville, we watched Ishtar. Many would say that Ishtar is the worst movie ever made, and they may very well be right. But it’s so bad, it’s actually good. And it’s become our family movie. In my twenties we used to watch it every Christmas. We subjected Connor to it several years ago, but David got inaugurated into Ishtar this weekend. And he’s still singing the terrible songs from it.

The brothers-in-law in the limo, under one of the screens where the movie later played (there was a screen on the other side, too).

All in all, it was a terrifically memorable day. My mom has decided that she really doesn’t want any more stuff in her life ever (because she has no room for it), and so for Christmas and birthdays she just wants experiences. Sometimes (like this weekend), she’ll even pay so that the family can all be together. And I think that’s really fun.

I just wanted to share that with you, as we get ready for Christmas in a few months. Maybe, instead of a gift, there’s a trip down memory lane you can create with your mom or dad! And let your kids in on what life was like for you when you were little, too.

Have you ever “shared an experience” for birthdays or Christmas instead of a traditional gift? Tell me about it in the comments!

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