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The young mother’s hollering is carried on the summer breeze:
“Cameron... Pull up your pants!”
If there is a child named Cameron on this splash pad, he is doing a terrific job of feigning indifference to his mother.
“Cameron.... Cam! ... Pull up your pants!”
I follow her gaze and see a young boy in the classic half-moon pose. His tiny hips are fighting a losing battle with a baggy waistband.
Mom steps forward to show Cameron she means business but he runs away. In the end, she must chase him down and fix the wardrobe malfunction herself. She gives the bathing suit a swift yank so that it rests just under his armpits.
Nothing, I think to myself, except a ruthless wedgie from a doting mother.
The truth is there’s plenty for kids to fear here—the water cannon, for starters—but for parents it’s anxiety-free summer entertainment at its best: The concrete beach poses little to no risk of drowning. It doesn’t even need a lifeguard.
I hear another child being hollered at. This time, his mother uses all of his names, first, middle and last, which sound almost aristocratic when strung together. To protect his identity—what happens at the splash pad stays at the splash pad—I will use his t-shirt name: “Angry Birds.”
Angry Birds is totally out of control and his parents are threatening to take him home. He is flailing his arms as though they were chopper blades. He is what is known in parenting circles as “a handful.”
The wind shifts, and the cedar tree rains debris onto my notebook. But this is a nice shady spot and I’m not giving up a choice piece of real estate because of a bit of tree pooh. For grown-ups, the joy of a splash pad and the value of a house, have a similar measure: location, location, location.
A small child runs toward me. He is “Beware of the Alligator” and his t-shirt is all wet. His formerly ferocious-looking Mohawk is now wetted down and he looks much less intimidating.
“That was not good!” he says, catching his breath. He needs a listening ear and, with pen and paper in hand, I must look like a good prospect. “You caught the water cannon with your face,” I say, having seen what just happened to him. He nods, still trying to shake the water out of his nose.
“Are you going back in?” I ask. “Oh yeah,” he says. His spirit is dampened, but only temporarily.
“The Little Mermaid” is now on the run from the big red cannon, which is being operated by her peevish older brother. He is the only man in black here: Too old to be at the splash pad, but too young to be home alone. He is in the same boat as “I Believe in Unicorns.” They shoot one another a knowing glance, as if to say, “This is so un-cool.”
Another group of kids, my son among them, take turns squatting over the vertical spray as if it were a bidet. Yes, it’s a bit gross, but, what can I say? Kids and gaucherie go together like monkeys and bananas.
I watch as “SpongeBob SquarePants” in the bikini makes eye contact with my boy. They know each other from karate, but they never speak—they just stare. Ten years from now I’ll be pacing around the house at 2 in the morning, wondering what in the hell they’re up to. But, for now, “the look” is all they’re willing to share.
The maypole is finally seeing some action. It has taken these kids way too long to figure out that it will spin around if they join forces. Between creative math and too much structured play, we may never invent another thing in this country.
But wait! There is a glimmer of hope: There is “Fish.”
Fish is about 2 years old, and she looks like Pebbles Flintstone with a ponytail tied to the top of her head. While the other children scream and run around, she has been making a detailed study of the river that flows from the waterfall to the main drain.
Both quantitative and qualitative analyses have led her to conclude that she is witnessing a truly amazing human achievement. For the most part, of course, I agree with her. As a community gathering place, the splash pad is not the architectural jewel of the piazza fountain but it is vastly superior to the open fire hydrant.
If old world elegance and urban squalor could marry, live happily-ever-after, and occasionally find a place to beat the heat together when the cottage is not an option, this is where they would do it.
Fish is slapping the water and clapping and cheering in celebration of the drain. She looks around, as if to say, “Who will join me?” She can’t see me, but I’m clapping, too.
Yes, Fish, I think to myself, the splash pad is truly a remarkable place.