- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

OK, summer's here, and our grandchildren have been emancipated, released to those carefree, unstructured, lazy,

hazy, crazy days of summer. When was that song written? Today, summer offers just another challenge to our already overworked children.

The challenge? To find appropriately structured activities to help toddlers get into Ivy League colleges. I know, because as the queen of the aging Web surfers, I am amazed by the buzz of suggestions, even for grandparents who want to spend a few hours of quality time with their grandchildren.

Here's a suggestion that really caught my eye: Take a walk with your grandchild. That sounds easy enough, doesn't it? Only this time, don't wear shoes. Just wear an extra pair of socks. Then take off the socks and examine all the little things on the bottom under a microscope. I roared. I laughed so loud my neighbor called the county police to report the deranged high-pitched shrieks escaping through my kitchen window.

Needless to say, this article neglected to suggest avoiding certain areas, such as the yards of nearby residents who have dogs. I must admit, it left me feeling just a little guilty about all the opportunities I had missed when I haphazardly had thrown my own children's dirty socks into the washing machine, discarding a bevy of learning opportunities. On occasion I even added chlorine, killing any opportunity to re-examine residue after the rinse cycle.

But the suggestion did tickle my imagination, so I slipped on a pair of my husband's old white socks (there was no way I was going to use my own) and padded out the front door in full view of my neighbors, who already think they live beside an eccentric whose elevator doesn't go to the top floor.

When I peeled the socks off after a 10-minute walk, I found a squished worm that might have been squirming along healthily had I not embarked on this harebrained journey. I found a pebble that looked a lot like a pebble. I found a lot of mud, and I found out that the young boy who mows my lawn had not bothered to mow it in at least a week, because not one blade of grass stuck to my feet.

The on-line article suggested I might find seeds that could be planted, offering my grandchild the opportunity to watch for a growing flower or tree. There were no seeds on the bottom of my socks, but I was willing to concede there might be some microscopic millet mixed in with the mud, so I decided to bury the entire sock.

That, of course, provided even more fodder for the imagination of one neighbor who was watching my entire experiment. Of course, her grandchildren will never be as smart as mine, because she probably will do something unimaginative like take them to a museum.

Another suggestion was to have washday. On washday, you fill a large container with soapy water, sit your grandchild outside and give him all his toys to clean. I actually liked this suggestion I clearly missed that developmental stage while rearing my own children.

Even today, if I gave any one of them a bucket full of soapy water, the recipient wouldn't know what to do with it. My children probably would think it was a large hopper of cafe latte, misconstruing the bubbles for a film of steamed nonfat vanilla milk with a touch of cinnamon. Cleaning, as you know, is pretty low on their list of priorities. Coffeehouses in which coffee is not a drink, but an art form, are pretty high. Probably because I always bought them little cups and saucers to play with. It never occurred to me to follow their fabricated high tea with a washday bucket of soapy water so they could clean their plates.

There were suggestions for grandparents of older children. One was a bike ride along the C&O; Canal the entire canal, from Cumberland to Georgetown. This recommendation clearly was made by sons and daughters in imminent need of their inheritance. Do you know how long the entire canal is? One hundred eighty-four and one-half miles.

"Take a few days," the suggestion added. In other words, "Try a slow death."

I actually have a friend who tried to take this bike ride with her grandson. Noble though her efforts were, she hardly emerged victorious. By the time she got to the Seneca lock, she was exhausted, covered with poison ivy and swearing the only place she would take any of her grandchildren from then on was a museum putting her in the same category as my boring neighbor.

I have learned from my poison-ivy-covered friend that some suggestions are better left untried. Fortunately, my own grandchild is too young to face the C&O; Canal, but I am looking forward to lots of good times this summer. I'm definitely going to try washday. As for sticky feet, I'm going to keep his shoes over his socks, which I still believe should be washed immediately sometimes even with chlorine.

Ellen Rosenthal is the grandmother of 1-year-old Matthew. Her column will appear the first Tuesday of each month. Send any comments and suggestions to her by mail: PO Box 60701, Potomac, Md. 20859; or by e-mail (grandtales@aol.com).

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