Elizabeth’s best friend has been overseas since school got out for the summer, and just got back into town this week. This was perfect timing, since we’d already planned an excursion to Riverside and both girls jumped at the chance to spend the day together catching up.
I know what you’re thinking: what kind of crazy person goes mountain-climbing in July in SoCal? I’m right there with you, it was sheer madness. BUT it was for a good cause. See, the real destination that day was the paddleboats at Fairmount Park. The first time I brought Luke and Elizabeth to the park a few years ago, I’d noticed that the old boathouse had been fixed up and a sign stated that it was open for rentals Wednesdays through Sundays. About a year later we returned on a fine sunny Thursday in May, eager to rent us some paddleboats, only to be told by a park employee that the boathouse was only open during the midsummer months. Obviously a trip to Riverside in the dog days of summer is something for which one has to work up a certain amount of courage, so for a long while we just stuck to visits during the winter holidays when the Mission Inn was all lit up and there was no risk of heatstroke. But eventually we manned up and made our plans for a July outing.
We probably would have skipped the traditional climb up Mt. Rubidoux if Elizabeth’s bff hadn’t been with us, but we couldn’t take her all the way to Riverside and then NOT show her our favorite mountaintop. It turned out to to be just as INCREDIBLY FREAKING HOT as one would expect, but other than that it was a really fun climb. The kids chattered nonstop all the way up and all the way down, and at least half of their conversations were NOT about how incredibly freaking hot the day was.
So then we headed over to Fairmount Park, and the first thing I noticed was that the playground had been completely rebuilt with much better equipment. The kids whooshed past it though on their single-minded hike to the boathouse. Which was … closed.
Elizabeth and her friend took it philosophically, but Luke was Greatly Disappointed. So I pulled out my cell and dialed the number on the sign and demanded to know why the boathouse people were determined to ruin my children’s happiness, but in nicer words than that. They explained that now they’re only open on Wednesdays and weekends. Yerg.
On the plus side … shiny new playground. Luke was not willing to be placated with slides and jungle gyms, but even he was eventually won over by the sheer ingenuity of the new equipment. Remember how all the coolest playgrounds used to have those great merry-go-rounds, but then they were taken out because kids were getting under them and getting killed? Some genius got around that problem by designing a TALL merry-go-round that kids can grab onto and hang from. Or, if the kids have a … let us say a casual regard for the intended usage, they can scramble up on top of it and enjoy an awesome spinny ride, thusly:
And words cannot capture the simple ingenuity of this device:
Basically you stand on it and use your own weight to make it spin. More weight = faster spinning, so two people can go faster than one.
The whole playground was full of win, including a big percussion-band area, a linear obstacle course and some clever stationary pogo sticks. I had a tough time dragging the kids away from it, but there was something on the other side of the lake that I wanted to check out. The last time we’d come to the park, there had been a fenced-off construction zone there, but now whatever is was appeared to be finished and open. So we walked around the lake to investigate. And what we found exceeded our wildest expectations. A whole NEW play area had been constructed there, designed to look like a carnival, with more bells and whistles than I had ever seen in any play area before.
Seriously, I’ve never seen a playground with so many engaging things for little kids and big kids to push and pull and spin and climb and bounce and ring and slide and splash around in. Yes, it even had a water-play area, where we all happily soaked ourselves.
See this slide?
It’s made of free-rolling enameled-metal cylinders to create a fast, frictionless ride. All slides should be made this way.
Okay, look at the raised grid of squares on the ground in front of the girls:
The squares make beautiful chiming sounds when you step on them, a different note for each square. You can make actual music.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Someone put an amazing amount of creativity and effort into these two playgrounds. And they’re built SOLID, out of sturdy metal, like playgrounds used to be when they were meant to last for generations, before plastic took over the world. It was wonderful to see all the delighted children and their smiling parents enjoying the park together. We will definitely be going back, whether or not we ever manage to catch that blasted boathouse actually open.
These words were carved into the stone tiles near the front of the carnival playground:
“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.” I love this. And I love that even in this desperately borked California economy, the value of providing a place like this for families to create memories together was recognized and provided for.
[EDIT: I’m a bit slow on the uptake apparently, but I just realized why the park chose that particular design and that particular quote. When I used to come here as a little kid, younger than Luke is now, there used to be an actual carnival set up on the weekends right where the new playground is now. I can’t believe I didn’t make the connection sooner. /edit]
Traditionally the next part of our Riverside outing is a walk through the Mission Inn Marketplace and then a visit to the Riverside Natural History Museum, but we’d spent much longer than usual at the park this time so I suggested we head back home. Luke said that we couldn’t POSSIBLY go home without going to the Museum, the very IDEA was absurd.
A few words about this Museum (which I just googled to make sure I had the name right and discovered that it’s actually called the Riverside Metropolitan Museum. Hunh.). When I was just about Elizabeth’s age I used to live in downtown Riverside, right on the corner of 7th and Locust. That’s walking distance (or bike-riding distance) from Mt. Rubidoux, Fairmount Park, the Mission Inn, the big Riverside Library, and two museums: an art museum that for some reason I felt intimidated by and never visited (also I think it cost money to get in, and I never had any of that back then), and the one I always thought of as the Natural History Museum, which I absolutely loved. It was full of taxidermied California wildlife, and old paraphernalia from Riverside’s orange-producing glory days, and Native American artifacts, and generally it just seemed like a magical place to me.
Memory being the treasury and guardian of all things, once I grew up and had kids of my own I wanted to share my old stomping grounds with them. I wasn’t able to do that during my marriage, because Steve was, well, afraid of Riverside. He saw it as a terrifying urban ghetto and was sure that a visit there would result in our car being stripped for parts and all four of us being mugged and left for dead in a dark alley somewhere. So there was that.
Within a month of my marriage ending I took the kids to Riverside, and felt a part of myself heal as we stood atop Mt. Rubidoux as free citizens. I showed them the Mission Inn and the Library (don’t laugh, it’s huge and awesome and it’s easy to lose an entire afternoon there) and of course the Museum.
To my mild disappointment Elizabeth has never shown much interest in my beloved Riverside Nat — er, Metropolitan Museum (although to be fair, the taxidermied animals have begun to look slightly motheaten and some of my favorite old exhibits had been removed over the nearly three decades separating my adolescence and hers), but Luke’s enthusiasm makes up for it. He loves it the way I used to, although for different reasons. He can’t get enough of the old orange-production gadgets and century-old technology displays. I’d always liked the animals the best. But it warms my heart to see his passion for a place that Young Me had once been passionate about.
So anyway, yesterday we left Fairmount Park and headed over to the Museum. It not only appeared to be closed, it was also covered in the sort of scaffolding that generally indicates major renovations. For a brief moment I thought Luke’s head was going to explode, but apparently he was too worn out from frolicking at the park to put much energy into this fresh disappointment. He grumbled something about everyone conspiring against his fun, and then shrugged it off and returned to cheerful mode.
(When I googled the museum I discovered that it’s actually remaining open during the construction. Oops. But in my defense, it really looked closed.)
If I’d posted this yesterday I could close with a nice “Love Thursday” sentiment, but I’m a day late for that. So instead, here’s a pic I took at Fairmount Park of an informal round of Duck, Duck, Goose.