I don’t know about you, but we get real excited about our family dinners on Sunday nights. I work late at a gym two nights a week, and my husband’s schedule is dictated by the whims of the stock market, so we really never know when we’re all going to be seated together at the same time in front of a hot meal. Both the Hubs and I grew up eating dinner with our families more nights than not and it’s important to us to keep that habit alive as often as humanly possible. We generally get a couple nights in during the week, and then we really try to nail it on the weekends.
But here’s the thing.
It’s still light outside until almost 8:00 p.m.
I’m sure we could have done something differently when our kids were littler to get them used to going to bed before sunset, but it’s pretty ingrained at this point that bedtime = nighttime. If we try to usher everybody upstairs even just a few minutes earlier than usual, my two-year-old will say, “Is not dark outside.” Plus, I’m pretty big into following circadian rhythms and I sort of agree with them. Humans are just hard-wired to sleep with the sun.
Plus, we live in Florida. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s kind of beautiful here. We like to soak it up every chance we get. So, it’s 6:00 p.m. on a Sunday night. Family dinner is over. Dishwasher is loaded. The kids used up their TV time earlier that morning. What are we going to DO for the next two hours? Those 2 hours before bedtime.
Answer: “Who wants to go exploring?” Four hands go up. (Two of them are ours, but it still counts.) We pile in the car and head toward Central Avenue.
As we drive, we point out the detailed architecture of older buildings. It becomes a game with our four-year-old. We see who can spot the next “landmark.” When he calls one, we ask how he can tell. He knows the windows are different. And that they used to build mostly with brick. He notices “decorations” like moldings and arches. It was a really cool way to make ourselves notice the nuances of our city that we blindly pass by each day.
We’re also on constant watch for emergency, construction or trash-collecting vehicles whenever we drive around town. This is a recurring theme with many preschool boys, and ours is no exception. When he sees firefighters at Publix, he’s completely starstruck. And with downtown being in such close proximity to All Children’s Hospital and Fire Station No. 4 on 4th St. N., chances are pretty high you’ll get some siren action. (Although exciting to watch, this is also a good opportunity to discuss that if there is an emergency somewhere, that means someone could be hurt or scared, and we need to be sensitive to that. Our son often asks to pray for whomever is in the truck. So, parents of the world, they actually are listening – sometimes.)
We meandered our way up and down the streets of downtown for a while, ultimately landing at our first stop – the playground at Albert Whitted Park, located at 107 8th Ave. SE, across from the Salvador Dalí Museum.
This is probably my kids’ favorite place in the entire city. They would go every day if we could. And I can’t blame them. There are planes and helicopters often taking off or landing on the airstrip right next to the swings (we’ve counted 19 on a busy weekday morning), and the views are pretty breathtaking. You’re surrounded by blue water, bluer skies, a marina full of sailboats, and the St. Pete pier in the background.
And it’s completely airplane-themed, so your play sessions are limited only by your imagination.
After about an hour of running, jumping, climbing, swinging and sliding, we almost had them tuckered-out enough to head home and start the bedtime routine. But we thought we’d hit one more spot on our expedition, just in case.
The banyan trees in Straub Park, next to the Museum of Fine Arts.
We chased the kids around the field, even after the dark grey skies finally opened up and let the cold rain down.
In those two hours of exploring our home city, we had lessons in history, architecture, empathy, taking turns on the playground, botany, precipitation, and creating your own adventure through the gift of imagination. Not bad for zero dollars and no game-plan, huh?