Yesterday, the boys and I headed out to Worcester to meet up with my friend Julie and her very attractive baby, Iris. (I do not call babies attractive unless I mean it, by the way. Iris is a good looking baby.) We went to Broad Meadow Brook Mass Audubon Sanctuary for a Spring hike. Sure enough, the skunk cabbages were profusely leafed out along the eponymous brook, and all three kids were captivated by the water. Malcolm spotted part of a crayfish carapace, and we heard the Spring songs of numerous amorous birds.
Broad Meadow Brook has an additional feature that you won’t get at just any Audubon sanctuary. It’s a small play area just back of the visitor center where kids can play on a three-tired wood platform with holes to climb through. A big hit with the boys, although the visual effect of holes in a flat piece of wood is reminiscent of an outhouse seat. Also in this play area are several large bore drainage pipes for the kids to climb through, and well as a pile of discarded bricks. Overall, the feel is of an abandoned lot, and as a person who enjoyed playing in abandoned lots while a child, I can see the obvious appeal. After all, the trend toward ultra-safe and therefore boring playgrounds is depriving American children of the chance to take physical risks, to try new stuff, to challenge themselves physically. As a member of perhaps the last generation widely instructed to “go outside and play” for hours and hours on end (completely unsupervised), I get depressed seeing all these kids now on low, safety first climbing equipment fenced off from the adjacent woods and streams.
As I watched Malcolm heft a chipped brick and chuck it at a cinderblock, I confess to recalling the classic SNL skit “Consumer Probe” (with total fox Candace Bergen asking, “But Mr. Mainway, isn’t this toy just a bag of broken, jagged shards of glass?”). Despite that, I found Broad Meadow Brook to be a place that’s got it right on several counts. Can’t we just back off and let the kids climb on construction debris and fall in the water a few times? Just keep a long stick handy for fishing them out, a few ice packs and several changes of clothes. Trust me, your kids will be better off in the long run.