FRESH AIR FUN!
By Mary Becelia
Do your kids love the fun of summer? The chance to be outside: at the pool, at the park, taking a hike or blowing bubbles on the porch? A lemonade stand one sunny day, a trip to Kings' Dominion another? Wading in Alum Spring Park or hiking at Governor's Island? Setting up the slip & slide in the back yard, watching the fireflies at dusk...all these things make up and mean summer to most of our kids.
But. There are many kids whose summers are spent mostly indoors. Whose only experience of nature is the dandelion growing out of the crack in the side walk. Who actually are reluctant to walk on grass because it is such a foreign substance. These kids live in New York City and are what we more fortunate parents call "underprivileged." Last summer my family had the privilege of hosting one of these children.
Derrick* was eight years old, the same as my son Joe, and yes, he was scared to walk on grass. Even with his shoes on. He worried about dirt too, but he was actually one brave kid. He boarded a bus that the Fresh Air Fund chartered from New York City and didn't get off until they reached Fredericksburg on a hot August day last summer. Imagine how much courage that takes for a little kid. To get on a bus, travel across several states, and know that the people waiting to meet you on the other end are strangers. Yes, it took a little courage for us to open our house to Derrick but what we did pales in comparison to what he did.
He and Joe dove right in and played hard those first couple of days. Mornings he and I spent an hour at the pool side while Joe had his team practice, afternoons we came back for open swim. For the last four days of Derrick's visit with us I took them both to a nature camp run by Friends of the Rappahannock. Yep, the boy who was afraid of grass and dirt sucked it up and went to nature camp where he swam, canoed, hiked and got good and dirty every day.
Other than nature camp and the pool we kept it simple. One day we visited the Farmers' Market at Hurkamp Park. Back at home, the boys played on Joe's skateboard and rode bikes. There was no great expense involved, and no need to "pull out all the stops" unless we had wanted to. Some families do but this is by no means required. All you really need to be willing to do is to welcome a child into your family, treating him like one of your own (yes, Derrick got a couple of time outs, along with Joe, and both had to be spoken to a few times each night about "settling down" since the excitement of a week-long slumber party was often hard to contain!).
*Name has been changed