I LOVE taking my kids to events. I find it (usually) is a great way to teach them something, tire them out, and fill the day, plus it usually involves them having fun. (except for that one time we went to the community Easter Egg Hunt. That is a time we don’t speak about.)
The best event I have been to, hands down, in my extensive 3.5 years as a parent, is the Annual Vancouver Landfill Open House.
Yes. You heard me. We have been to fairs and festivals and fish releases and concerts and by far, the most fun both the kids and I have had has been at the dump. Oh, except sorry, you cannot call it a dump, because it is a landfill, and those two are not the same thing. (I learned that fact the hard way as you’ll find out as this story unfolds.)
One of the reasons I rank this event as Best of All My 3 Parenting Years is that it is SO well organized. Parking attendants tell you exactly where to park so you’re not driving in circles, and there’s a shuttle to the event site so you don’t have to walk , and then they give you an event map so you can find everything, along with a tote bag to hold your ‘loot’. The event itself, on top of the array of activities, has hand-washing stations, ample (clean!) porta-potties, and water bottle filling stations so you can easily keep your little ones clean and dry and hydrated. But the best part? It is completely free, including a hamburger or hot dog lunch plus drink. FREE!!
Last year I took the two boys by myself when the baby was probably 2 or 3 months old. Since the little one was in my Ergo it was pretty easy to manage both, and not too busy, but I knew this time around with two of them walking I’d need extra hands. Also, fresh in my mind was the disastrous ‘bus incident’ from the previous year, when M – then 2.5 – randomly decided he DID NOT WANT to ride the shuttle bus and screamed the entire time, with me awkwardly trying to console him but being kind of limited in my abilities due to the baby strapped to my chest. Luckily it was only a 3 minute ride but it feels like eternity when a child screaming bloody murder, surrounded by strangers wondering what kind of terrible mother you are. So, this time I invited my in-laws along (herein referred to as Grandma & Grandpa) to help me out in case of any meltdowns, since my husband couldn’t be there. (despite my rave reviews from the previous year, he still refuses to trust any event held at a “dump”. Next year I’ll know to tell him it’s actually a landfill).
As I’d invited help, I was not anticipating riding the shuttle alone, but unfortunately we arrived in different cars and as I pulled up I heard the parking attendant on his radio saying Lot 1 was now full. No big deal, I consoled myself. I even believed it would be easy, til it was my turn to board the shuttle and I saw how small it was in comparison to the size of my jogging stroller. I put Baby E onto the bus, and M right behind him. I instructed M not to let E turn around (so he wouldn’t fall down the bus steps) while I proceeded to fold down my stroller from outside the bus. This is normally effortless, but of course because there was a line of people behind me waiting to get on, I could not fold the thing down for the life of me. Turns out part of it had actually broken so after several attempts I had to open it up, figure out what was wrong, FIX IT, and then fold it down, all the while calling, “Good job M!” and “It’s okay, Mommy’s coming E!” into the bus because of course, baby E was not happy as he found himself in a strange vehicle full of strangers and his brother won’t let him go to the door and he can’t see Mommy. Several people ON the bus looked like they wanted to help but had no idea how.
I finally got the darn stroller folded down and tried to fit it behind the driver but I put it the wrong way and it was protruding out into the aisle. I wasn’t about to stop and fix it, though, as I’d already held up the line, so I just turned around and yelled, “Don’t trip!” to the others boarding the bus. (luckily the bus driver was a better person than I and he turned the stroller on it’s side). I had to return the smiles of all the sympathetic shuttle passengers who gave me looks of pity and I’m sure were silently thinking, “Why did this woman not bring someone with her?! She obviously cannot manage this alone.” Next year, we will all come in ONE car.
Anyway, the shuttle took us to the event & after registering we went straight to the giant sandbox, amply supplied with all sorts of shovels, buckets and trucks. M would’ve stayed there for hours but since Baby E was eating sand by the bucketful, I coaxed him away to check out the big machines.
They had several: bulldozers, excavators, compactors plus a bunch of other big crushy things, and – of course – a garbage truck. The kids can climb (WAY) up and sit in the seats and pretend to man the controls, which is pretty cool. I was holding E so I couldn’t get any good pictures, but this was a big hit with both boys. I was very glad to have Grandpa watching out for M coming up and down the machines because they are very high and not all of the cabs are fully enclosed. The garbage truck was in one corner and every few minutes the driver would lift up the back and have it pick up a dumpster, and as we all know that’s every toddlers greatest life moment, so they were in heaven. Then M got to sit in the garbage truck with the driver, who showed him what all the buttons did which I thought was great but M kept asking to get out, so to each their own, I guess.
Next we stopped for lunch as it was 11:30am or so and there was no line. (good choice as after that the line grew significantly, but it moved very fast since no one had to search for their wallet). The adults chose hamburgers, kids had hotdogs, and all were served with a little potato salad, plus pop or juice. Free. Did I mention it was free?? This is an especially appreciated thing for me because we never eat out, particularly at events like this where stuff is usually priced the way our Vancouver housing market is: exorbitantly. We always pack a lunch because of this, so it was a real treat to be served a free, hot meal… even without a high chair.
After lunch we went to see the Pacific Northwest Raptor display, and followed the signs only to discover a whole other section of tents away from the main area. On the way to the bird exhibit we saw a few other tables (games/activities about recycling, composting, etc), but I was distracted by the table serving a giant cake (also free) to celebrate the Landfill’s 50th year. There were also snow-cones, but we went for the cake. We finally made it to the hawk exhibit, where a hawk wrangler (or whatever you would call someone who wears a glove and lets giant birds sit on them) had a hawk on display. They also had eagles, a falcon, and other birds which they were bringing out one at a time, and explaining how the birds keep away rats or something. Or scare seagulls? To be honest, I was not actually listening at this point, not because it wasn’t interesting but because I was watching a random deer who was just chilling on the other side of the tents, eating some grass.
Next we added some compost to a plant – they had various flowers and herbs to choose from that you could take & plant at home. I can’t remember the name of the flower we got but I do know it’s thriving in our little garden now!!
After a quick bathroom break, we went to line up to get a balloon animal because Grandpa had wisely observed that the line was very short. Sylvia the Balloon Lady was doing the balloon animals and they were AMAZING. M requested a balloon snake last year, which was super adorable. This year he wanted a ‘giraffe on his arm’ so she made him a giraffe that slipped over his wrist.
We checked out more of the exhibits and activities – everything from wolf and bear pelts, coyote and raccoon skulls, and all sorts of cool nature stuff from the Burns Bog Conservatory, to making your own recycled treasure with the help of The Junkologist, there were all sorts of things to interest various ages. There was also face painting and craft tables, and even popcorn, in case the lunch, cake & snow-cone didn’t fill you up! M loved posing for his photo in this advertisement for compost, but after he accidentally knocked it over he discovered there is great joy to be had, and so kept attempting to purposely push it over.
At that point we were ready to go, but I suggested the bus tour of the landfill since I’d heard Grandpa express interest in doing it earlier. I didn’t think the kids would be too interested because of their ages, but it was at least in a big air conditioned tour bus, and I thought Grandpa would enjoy it, so we loaded up.
As we climbed on, M was asking, ‘Is this the bus to the dump?’ and I explained that it was, when the tour guide (an engineer at the dump) gasped in horror and said, “No!! It’s a landfill!!. I confessed that I didn’t actually know that there was a difference between the two things and the engineer sadly shook his head and very seriously told me I’d better get on the bus so he could explain it.
So we continued on to the bus, but unfortunately, so did a lot of other people. All of sudden Grandpa felt a little claustrophobic and hopped off the bus. I was explaining to Grandma that I had only suggested the tour for Grandpa’s benefit and maybe we should get off too just as the bus started moving. Oops! Turns out, though, that M was enthralled. Not with the actual speech, which was geared more to adults or older kids, but it was enough for him just to look out the window at the various sections of the landfill.
At the end of the spiel the guide opened it up for questions, and so I asked what the difference was between a dump and a landfill. Apparently, a dump is where garbage gets dumped – no surprise there – but a landfill is a much more complex and innovative process where they actually fill the land with layers of garbage and then dirt fill, trapping the gases that the garbage produces and using them to create energy. Looking around at several grassy ‘hills’ that were actually piles of garbage, I had to admit it was pretty cool.
After the tour we opted to walk back to the cars, even though there was ample shuttle room. I grabbed some balloons (both of which I managed to pop before we made it home), entered the draw for one of many door prizes and headed back to the parking lot. I kept M awake by giving him a bag of popcorn to eat on the way home, but baby E was asleep before we were even out of the parking lot. We found out a week or two later that Grandma won a cooler full of pop but she’s a lovely human and so gave it to me.
All in all, we LOVE this event, and I can see it being great for kids of all ages, and interesting for adults, too. It would make a great excursion for a home schooler, especially, as there was a huge amount of educational information and activities based around environmental conservation, recycling, composting, and landfill function, plus I learned a lot on the bus tour, including, but not limited to the difference between the dump and the landfill.
This has taken place in early June for the last two years so keep an eye out for the event announcement in 2017, and I will post a reminder on this blog!