"A Survival Kit for the Childless"
Agenda: The Magazine of Politics, Culture, and Ideas
by gayla mills
My husband and I, who are childless by choice, have noticed a disturbing trend among our friends and siblings: they have started spawning replacements for themselves. Fortunately, most of them live far away. In the last few months, though, we've been visited by several of these kids, some without their parents. This has raised a serious problem: what can we do with these creatures?
Since we have survived these visits almost completely intact, we now modestly consider ourselves experts at entertaining preschoolers into submission. First, it pays to be aware of just how defenseless you truly are. A parent has resources that you lack. 1) Your home in its current condition is full of dangers-to you. All those CDs, vases, plants, and knickknacks from your travels are in danger of being destroyed. Parents know better than to own anything of value. 2) You can't send the kids off to school, to a friend's house, to the baby-sitters (you are the baby-sitter), or to their rooms. So forget about doing the things you enjoy for a few days, like getting enough sleep and reading the newspaper and mail. Just think survival.
Food is of primary importance. After they've rejected your own cooking because it's not what they're used to, it's time to eat out. You shouldn't try taking them someplace like Du Jour or Santa Fe (only pros can get away with a trick like that). We discovered that Dailey's Crab House has infinite entertainment possibilities. They can draw all over the covered tables (bring crayons). They can say "eeww, gross" when they see the crabs. They can raise and lower the flag on the table, look at the fish tank, and smash crabs with mallets, splattering crab-goo everywhere. And if they don't like seafood, you can feed them hush puppies for dinner-they work on kids too.
Then there's Chuck E' Cheese. Take two aspirin and a few deep breaths, then enter into an MTV-child's heaven. This is the closest you'll come to dying of sensory overload, even as your tiny guests are screaming for more. Kids can jump from one quarter-eating machine to the next (they're eating your quarters!)-games which management has been thoughtful enough to provide for "kids of all ages." There's also an area to jump on balls and crash into other kids. There's a stage where overstuffed characters out of an adult's nightmare wave and play instruments. And of course there are video screens. The decibel level is 3 million. Why would you to a place like this? Because you won't have to wonder what to do with the little guys while you're waiting for the food, and they'll give you one of those excited little grins when it's over.
Okay, so you've stuffed their tummies silly. What's next? Even the most ignorant of childless couples has probably heard of the Nature Center at Maymont Park. In any case, be sure to go, taking a few extra (you guessed it) quarters along to buy animal feed for the goats and sheep. For something a little different after the zoo, bring along some bird food and go visit the ducks at neighboring Swan Lake (not far from Maymont, but with the kids you should take the car.) When we went, about a thousand ducks crossed the lake and waddled over, chicks in tow. They surrounded our five-year-old guest as she threw food, torn between giddy fear and excitement. When she came back for her next visit, the ducks were on the must-do-again list.
The Richmond Children's Museum is an obvious choice for a visit. Very young children keep busy "driving" cars and throwing plastic balls in the playroom, while older kids can act out a play, deliver a newscast, run a bank or grocery store, or work in the art room. You can figure on spending an hour there with the 2-5 year-olds, and up to two hours with the older kids.
If you're wondering whether the Science Museum is suitable for preschoolers, it is. They may not be doing what you think of as science, but they'll enjoy building crystal blocks, bashing cars, pushing buttons, running around, and kicking even smaller children out of planes and space ships.
You can only visit museums for so long, and their parents may have instructed you not to let their darlings watch more than an hour of TV. Now's the time to consider a visit to two stores: Builder's Square and Ukrops (or Lowe's and Food Lion, if you like). Look over the tools and materials, then go back to your basement and take out all the old bits of wood and paint you can find. Let them paint and hammer away-under supervision, of course-and take the finished product home to mommy and daddy. After you've cleaned up the mess, make some sugar cookies. The decoration possibilities are endless.
In order to make the entire visit go well, make sure you have a few essentials on hand: a night-light, a stuffed animal, crayons, brightly colored band-aids, crackers, and juice. And remember-no matter what happens, they'll soon be going back to wherever it was they came from.