Get Them To The Creek
Family fun is as close as the nearest running water
Summer means the kids are out of school. It also means the kids need occupying the four-to-seven hours a day they'd spend in class during the rest of the year, and four-to-seven straight hours of Cartoon Network isn't generally considered a good option by most parenting experts, Chowder notwithstanding. And let's face it, the total cost of the usual attractions and activities designed to entertain your first-born for three months could wind up costing enough that you wind up signing him or her over. May I suggest, then, putting everybody in shoes and clothes that can get wet and heading for a nice shady creek bed.
First you have to find one. The state parks and recreation areas here in the greater Mid-Atlantic abound with running waters, and there are plenty of them snaking through Baltimore and the immediate surrounding area, from the Gwynns Falls on the west side to Herring Run in the east. I like Double Rock Park just over the city line in Parkville, where old-school suburbia rose up around a winding stream valley shaded by trees and absolutely crammed with rocks, boulders, even waterfalls.
I can hear your objections mounting from here. Urban creeks are full of rocks and trash, maybe even glass. Hence the shoes. Sports sandals, those fashion-disastrous Crocs, some old canvas fishhead sneakers, even dollar-store water shoes will protect the tenderest feet from aquatic adversity. The water's probably full of sewage and runoff and God knows what. It's been known to happen, but as long as you are prudent about what you're getting into (see "Fishing for a Dip,") and keep the water out of everyone's eyes, mouths, and open wounds, I'm dubious about anything a washup/Purell-dousing won't cover.
It's totally worth a little calculated risk, if you ask me, because kiddie fun doesn't get much better than creek hopping. After all, your kids are getting wet while wearing their clothes--the thrill of being encouraged to do something that's usually a cause for scolding can't be understated. Plus, from a pre-/elementary school perspective, creeks are cool. There are always rocks to throw, rocks to turn over, and rocks to jump from and jump to. (And I can't tell you how many rocks I've dug out of shorts pockets at laundry time.) There are minnows and frogs and crawfish and water striders to chase through the shallow pools and maybe even scoop up in a cup for a while. (No, we can't keep him.) There are siblings and parents to splash. Best of all, there's something new around every bend--a new mini rapid, a new boulder, a new bent-over tree, a new muddy bank. It is the world revealed anew, in miniature.
Older generations have taken to wringing their hands about the rising generation living in virtual worlds as much as the physical one around them. Nothing grounds you in the real world quite like being shin-deep in a chilly rivulet, paying close attention to where to place your next step. And as much eco-talk as gets directed to the average school-age child these days, spotting a raft of soap bubbles in an eddy can't be beaten as a teachable moment on the environment. It's rain or shine (you're already wet) and always open. And like the best things in life, it's free.
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