One of the more challenging aspects of a small town vacation with rambunctious newly minted 4-year-olds is finding an intellectually stimulating activity that will still drain the preschoolers of a good deal of energy.
To the park!
Now, the parks in Albany, Oregon, arenâ€™t like the traditional suburban set-ups us Californians enjoy. We arrived expecting a swath of blue rubber shock absorption material and a colorful plastic safety-first play structure.
But here, wide-open landscapes allow for children to run to their heartâ€™s content â€“ feeling the grass beneath their feet and the wind against their rosy-cheeked faces. These are actual parks. Complete with a compost demonstration heap and dangerous historical relics (like a steam-engine locomotive) that would immediately result in a proliferation of graffiti and lawsuits. (This is why we canâ€™t have nice things.)
We even braved the park bathrooms! Well the boys did. I remained 50-yards away at all times â€“ because, well, because. (And there was only one pooping incident with which we communed with nature â€“ leaves of a non-poisonous nature were involved.)
Seems like a lot of opportunity for mud pies during the rainy season (May through April).
So for the rare celebratory event of sunshine we headed up to Salem to take in quintessential Americana â€“ the Riverfront Carousel.
Tucked away on the Willamette River (rhymes with dammit) is a covered carousel featuring beautiful hand-carved horses of all types and eras of equestrian majesty â€“ regal mounts, thoroughbred racehorses, medieval cavalry, pioneer wagon-pullers â€“ all sculpted by volunteer artists and wood-carvers.
Except for that one guy. He decided to carve a frog. Yes, amid the variety of gallant galloping steeds was a single frog (wearing a newsboy cap).
Guess which ride my kid picked? Yup, Mr. Hopkins.
Search rodeÂ Francis the Mule.
I donâ€™t know what it is about the carousel that sings its siren song to the small children. Whereas the old-timey organ music and bobbing piked horses spinning wildly on their circular flight seem like nothing more than a recipe for motion sickness to me, it seems that the tiny ones experience only the butterflies in their tummies as the world spins further out of their control into a magical adventure accessible only through the imagination of a child.
We just so happened to visit the rotating ride on its birthday (carving day?). Each beautifully colored pony was wearing a paper party hat. And there was free cake.
Apparently there was also a time machine.
Clinging to one of the spiraled poles, lost in what was undoubtedly visions of John Wayne riding off into the sunset, was a young boy completely cosplaying Howdy Doody. A tan felt cowboy laced with thick white string topped a plaid button down shirt, and light wash jeans were tucked into cowboy boots complete with spurs. A red neck-kerchief completed the ensemble.
You just know this kid had a Woody the Cowboy pull-string doll waiting on the picnic blanket just outside the pavilion. Completing the movie moment, the soundtrack to Pixarâ€™s Toy Story serenaded my observation of the spectacle that was the pony-riding pint-sized cowboy through the tinny music pipes.
Suddenly I was suspiciously eyeing the all the toys lying askew in the gift shop. I wonder if kids these days know theyâ€™re all coming alive when human backs are turned.
Maybe they wouldnâ€™t even notice here â€“ running through the park.