On the first day of spring, the Ehm clan starts to get excited for our yearly summer getaway. For the last seven years, it's become a family tradition to begin the summer at a family resort called Clevelands House.
Seven years ago my daughter was six months old, my son was three and we were EXHAUSTED! Both my husband and I needed some down time. But, let's be honest, most vacations with kids end up being more work and you come home needing a holiday after your holiday.
We basically stumbled upon Clevelands House. I think some other sleep deprived mom may have mumbled the name to me during a chaotic play date. I googled it and was intrigued to hear they had not only a kids club with the infamous Colour Cube, but a nursery! Desperate for a break, we booked a few weeks before our trip.
Clevelands House is located in Minett, a tiny town in Muskoka, Ontario on Lake Rosseau. You wanna talk history? Initially built in 1869, it's grown from one small log cabin into a large and beloved family resort!
The vibe is very understated. From the time you check in and register your little ones for their Kids Club (yay!), you feel like you're at a camp. A schedule with all the daily actiivities for parents, kids and families is handed to you and you're sent to your room to unpack and unwind.
Our week flies by, filled with lounging around reading by the lake or pools, watching the kids have a blast at the kids club, getting a serious workout with one of the tennis pros, golf games or water ski dudes. Canoeing, yoga, shuffleboard. And eating. Alot.
But why do we, and so many other families, return year after year?
For the last seven years, we've made friends with a bunch of other families who all book the same week as us. For seven short days, we reconnect and share our year's adventures (and misadventures) and marvel how all the kids have grown.
We sit at the same tables in the large all inclusive dining room and relax knowing our kids are safe and the food is delicious.
One of my fave friends I've met at Cleve's is Kathleen - a mom of two, who shares my love of reading and running. For the last four years we organize mom playdates to run along the very hilly main road - daring each other to run a little further, while spilling our most intimate secrets. Then it's a jump in the pool, cold shower or maybe a glass of wine.
Aside from the activities we plan amongst friends, there are events scheduled in the evening made for family memories. The scavenger hunt transforms the most passive parents into mad competitors as they and their families race around the resort looking for clues in the hopes of being crowned Grand Prize Winner. My kids are old enough to go alone with all their friends, while all of us laid-back grown ups sit around drinking wine and watch the madness unfold.
The sundown fishing derby is always a big hit. Imagine a dock full of kids with little fishing rods bobbing for the big catch. The results are always a hoot. Usually it's some little four year old girl who ends up catching the biggest fish. A good time is had by all as the sun sinks into the water - another spectacular summer sunset.
In the second year of Clevelands House, we discovered there was also swim instruction available at an extra charge. Our son was terrified of water, so we worked with the head instructor to help him gain confidence. The difference after six lessons was remarkable. On the eve of our stay, there was an announcement made in the dining hall that my son had been the most improved swimmer for this session. For the rest of the evening, our new friends came over to congratulate my son. My husband and I sat there wiping away tears, watching my son's chest puff with pride
And here's a smart extra Cleve's touch we love. Every night, hall monitors aka camp counsellors, will sit outside your room and watch your kids for free until midnight! Party on! So while the kids crash out from a long day of playing, Mom and Dad get to party in the bar on property, listen to a band and have a beer with our new friends. Or just hang out and get some much needed alone time.
Check out time is always sad. Phone numbers and emails are exchanged. Hugs and high fives are shared by the kids. We load the car and head back to real life...knowing we'll be back in 51 weeks!
What's your summer holiday tradition?
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I remember watching the film Billy Elliot late night in bed beside my hubby and crying. No, not crying. Racking. Loudly. To the point that I burst blood vessels around my eyes. Why? Cuz I could relate. Painfully. My son, like little Billy, is a creative kid - the non-hockey playing, gentle, artistic soul. And in some ways he didn't fit in. I feel that pain it in my gut even now.
So, fast forward five years, and I'm given a pair of tickets to see opening night of the Billy Elliott - the stage musical. Of course, the only person I wanted to share the experience with was my son, now ten.
Borth the British and Broadway productions of Billy Elliott won a bunch of awards. So expectations were high for the Toronto premiere. Plus my son's best buddy had gone to a preview a couple of days earlier and decided he wanted to be a ballet dancer after being inspired by the show.
There was special electricity in the lobby on opening night - Elton John, who wrote the music for the show, was in the house! As he took his seat, everyone at the Canon Theatre gave him a long, loud, standing ovation. Dim the lights and let the magic start.
If you don't know the premise of the show yet : ten year old Billy Elliott, who lives in a northern mining town in the Thatcher era, discovers a love of ballet. Having lost his mother, Billy is bullied and shut down by the macho culture he's raised in.
The underlying concern of all the men in his small town when they learn Billy is doing ballet is that he's "a poof" or "queer" - when, in fact, there's no co-relation between sexual preference and passion for dance. My son was on the edge of his seat trying to comprehend the difference between Billy and his cross-dressing best friend Michael - both not "typical" boys.
The young boy who played the role of Billy Elliott, Cesar Corrales, was nothing short of magnificent. His portrayal of a tortured young artist was fiery and believable. But it was his spectacular dancing that brought the audience to their feet several times during the show! The boy was on fire!!
In my humble opinion, Billy Elliot is one of the best pieces of theatre I've ever experienced - resonating with adults and kids. Aside from fantastic, deeply emotional performances from the entire cast, I adored the imaginative and modern direction and choreography. While some say the music isn't memorable, I disagree. The songs are written to blend into each characters' voice and extend the story, as opposed to become a stand-along hit song.
But what threw me over the emotional abyss, holding my son's hand, tears rolling down my face, was the intertwined ongoing themes of motherhood and inspiring your child's passion. I'm sure there were many parents in the audience who were reminded how important it is to listen to your child's heart and give them the power and tools to soar.
I was thrilled how my son came home after the show, inspired to be true to himself and do what he loves, no matter what it is.
I hope one day he will find his own inner Billy Elliott and pursue what makes him soar. And I'll be watching from the sidelines applauding him!