Free Fun. Except for the Money We Wasted on Cookies.

At some point before Christmas vacation struck and all of my days became a blur that made me feel like I’d been beat like a slow race pony, Amy and I balanced our checkbooks.

Separately.

But on the same day.

And the bottom line on that particular December day was simply this:  We were both flat-out broke, after having diligently done our part to shop, shop, shop and keep the economy afloat.   We also admitted that our Starbucks addictions were bringing the families down and threatening things like future braces, senior portraits and college educations.

We decided to soothe ourselves with free entertainment for the children, which made us feel like resourceful versions of Martha Stewart.  Amy and I both felt empowered enough by our cleverness to a write self-help book for families across the nation, which we wanted to call Cheap Dates.

We met at a swanky little coffee shop downtown that afternoon, which does not call itself Starbucks, and we genuinely felt like this was the first step in shooting down our habit.  Granted, it was a baby step, as we were still OUT, and we were still ORDERING CAFFEINATED BEVERAGES, but we weren’t doing it at Starbucks, because Starbucks had shown up entirely too many times in December in our checkbook registers.

(We think elves kept writing the name of that franchise in for us.)

(Over.  And over.  And over.  Because SURELY WE DIDN’T HAVE THAT MANY SKINNY, NO WATER CHAI LATTES, DID WE?!)

We hauled the kids with us.  We fed them sugar, in the form of the most gigantic chocolate chip cookies ever baked in an oven, and we listened to them bemoan the fact that THE COOKIES!  THEY WERE AWFUL!

(On account of BAKED WITH LOVE AND WHOLE GRAIN, FULL-OF-WOOD-CHIPS FLOUR.  Never underestimate the power of the bleached, enriched white flour to bring happiness to chocolate chip cookies.)

After having told the boy, repeatedly, “It’s a chocolate chip cookie?  HOW can it be awful?” I tasted my slice of pumpkin cheesecake.

And then I bemoaned the fact that THE CHEESECAKE!  IT WASN’T GOOD!  Because there was no graham cracker crust, like I craved, but a whole grain, full-of-wood chips, healthy ALTERNATIVE to the graham-cracker-crumbs-soaked-in-butter-and-sugar crust that I had hoped for.

Regardless of the fact that we had TRIED to save a buck by venturing downtown to have our coffee and snacks, we ended up tossing many of our treats aside.  This just reconfirmed in our mind that Starbucks really is the place to go, because nothing that they sell ever finds its way into a trash bin.

The kids looked adorable.  Naturally. In spite of the fact that they all wanted to buy NEW chocolate chip cookies SOMEWHERE ELSE, which we shot down, on account of BROKE!

And then, sweet mercy, people!  Amy and I introduced these three little punks to the wonderment of free after-school entertainment, which is also called the SKY BRIDGE!

Yes, Small Town, USA boasts a glass-encased bridge of sorts, which joins two buildings together, even though those two buildings are separated by a street, due to a little thing called ENGINEERING AWE.

Sadly, the sky bridge is seldom used by the public in our town, and none of our three punks had ever been inside of it, until this early December day, when Amy and I ventured in.

And then we quickly learned that one reason the general public may not use the sky bridge frequently is because apparently it is used as a Smoker’s Haven.  And it was a bit hazy.  And we feared that we could possibly catch Second Hand Smoker’s Cough while we were in there.  The kids, though, were quite oblivious to the stench, because OH MY WORD!  Windows!  Windows everywhere!  Windows that looked down on the street, in a massive glass tunnel!

The kids gazed  out on the street below.  They raced one another, back and forth across the bridge.  They kept asking, “What are these things?”

Amy and I responded multiple times by shouting, “GET YOU’RE FINGERS OUT OF THOSE!  THEY’RE ASH TRAYS!  DON’T TOUCH THEM!”

The kids thought that (foul chocolate chip cookies aside) the afternoon was perfect.

So Amy and I pulled out some even bigger guns to completely take their breaths away.  It was called the GLASS ELEVATOR.

There exists, in Small Town, USA a building which is home to law offices, and lo!  Right up the center of this building runs an elevator with one wall made of glass, but the general CHILD population seldom sees it, because the building is not really set up to make kids happy.  Law offices can be so incredibly boring, unless they have giant crystal dishes full of M&Ms set out for clients.

Amy and I threw caution to the wind.  We instructed our punks that YES!  YES, WE REALLY DID HAVE A SURPRISE TO TOP THE SKY BRIDGE, BUT LISTEN!  YOU MUST BE VERY, VERY QUIET!  AND YOU MUST NOT RUN IN THE BUILDING!  AND WE MUST USE OUR INDOOR VOICES AND THE MANNERS THAT WE HAVE WORKED SO HARD TO INSTILL DEEP INSIDE OF YOU!

And, people, the glass elevator floored them.  They might have even gasped a bit.

We went up and up and up, clear to the top floor, and then we went down and down and down, clear to the bottom floor.  And then we went up again.  And down again.  And up yet another time.  And that, my friends, is when my equilibrium PLUM QUIT ME, and I felt like I’d been whipped around on a cheap carnival ride with a belly full of fried funnel cake.  I was feeling every bit of the elevator ride, so we stopped off on the third floor to visit with our friend, Peggy, who works in the law office there.  The kids piled politely onto the sofa, and they ate approximately 6,000 M&Ms out of the crystal bowl, while I searched, in vain, for a crystal dish filled with Dramamine tablets.  Later, Peggy gave our three little punks a tour of the law office.  She showed them file cabinets!  And thick law books!  And black-and-white photographs of old courthouses from around our state!  I think the tour of the law firm was second only to the field trips they’ve all taken to the fire station.  Only the fireman’s pole and the sirens and sitting behind the enormous steering wheel trump the thick law books and one of the attorneys’ treadmill!

And then, after fighting like three siblings over whose turn it was to push the buttons inside the elevator, we made our final descent to the ground floor, where we tried to get the kids to throw their arms around one another in front of the Christmas tree in the building’s foyer.


Naturally, they refused to comply with our photographic wishes.  The boy refused to put his arm around Brynnie’s shoulders.  Brynnie refused to be closer than two feet to the boy, because of the risk of cooties.  Scrunching them all together and getting them to smile at the same time was good enough for us.

Later, when the afternoon’s excursion was wrapped up and over with, the boy sighed and said, “Wow!  That was, like, one of the best days EVER!”

And FREE!  Also, it was free.

Although we wasted $4 in chocolate chip cookies.  And another $3 in un-good pumpkin cheesecake.

The rest of our time together was priceless, though.

And I think the small amount of wood chips we ingested were enough to  keep us regular.

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