Get out of the house

Where to take your kids this summer — and where not to.

On several occasions I've had to explain to the swans at Bok Tower Gardens that my children's legs will not produce an heir.

I stayed home with my children until they were almost 3 years old when, if memory serves, they were ready to graduate law school and run for office. After that, until a few years ago, I taught high school so we would have summers off together.

I call that period of my life, "Bartender!"

It wasn't easy for me to exchange a thriving career for long days where I only found comfort in an overeager washing machine. The most important advice I ever got was from another displaced career girl who found herself in suburbia, trying to stay sane.

"Get out of the house," she told me. "Every single day."

Truer words were never spoken.

Now that my boys are preteens, we've been to every family-friendly place in the area — and some that aren't. Here are my recommendations for those of you at home with your kids this summer. The secret to good mental health is not to stay there.

PLACES TO GO

Lowry Park Zoo. Arrive early and leave before the heat and local camp kids get unbearable. To save money, pack a lunch at the bottom of the diaper or activity bag and then pile sippy cups, allergy meds, and sunblock on top. If you still get busted by the "No Outside Food" police, explain that your children have a special diet. "Special" means "healthy" — but volunteers invading your personal space don't need to know that.

Bo's Ice Cream. Promises of frozen treats are the best way to get my kids to cooperate when slathering sunblock on them every hour or insisting they roll up the windows because I've already eaten my fair share of lovebugs that day. If you have some aversion to food as occasional reward, go with guilt and manipulation. But chocolate cones dipped in cherry taste better.

Clearwater Beach. On rainy days, nothing beats Clearwater Beach. You might think it better to go on sunny days, but I have fair skin and find it hard to have fun while dying of cancer. Sit under a pier and ask one of your older kids to read from the Wimpy Kid books. This is a reminder that they don't always get on your nerves.

Bok Tower Gardens. The swans are a bit aggressive in their search for mating partners. On several occasions I've had to explain that my children's legs will not produce an heir. Bring a lunch and enjoy the chimes. Remember allergy meds for kids who have a physical reaction to all the flowers.

The library. Every library in town has free weekly events that provide hours of entertainment. Yes, you'll have to socialize with women who obsess over pot roast recipes and Bethenny's bad attitude. Just start reading War and Peace. That should scare them away.

Dalí Museum. This is for older kids. Dalí had a thing about boobies.

MOSI. Kids of all ages enjoy everything from the science center to the butterfly garden. For a small price, hire me to attend and everyone can laugh when my hair won't move in the hurricane room. Afterward, let the older kids explore on their own. There are plenty of places to sit and wonder where it all went wrong.

PLACES TO AVOID

Theme parks. Full disclosure: Husband takes the kids to Busch Gardens almost every weekend. For the price of a daily visit, he scored yearly passes so they can get their rollercoaster fix and give me a break while I clean. But I still say these places are to be avoided. Manufactured playgrounds are expensive, cruel to animals, crowded with 400-pounders eating turkey legs while riding on scooters, and the conversations waiting in line make Fox News banter seem intelligent.

Ybor City. Kids don't appreciate nostalgia about when you were a regular at El Goya or got kicked out of Masquerade. Save it for your Facebook friends.

Malls. Competitive and shallow moms buying things they don't need with money they don't have. Sitting home and watching Oprah is less depressing.

Free movies. Local "camps" flock to free movies in several Bay area theatres. They shout, throw food, and interrupt with constant requests to go potty. And those are just the counselors.

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