When I think “summer in the city,” I think “sprinklers.”

I know Memorial Day is the official start of summer, but in my mind, it’s the day they turn the sprinklers on at our local playground.

Sprinklers, like bubbles, are the kind of thing that hold children in thrall, but hold absolutely no appeal for adults. It’s not just young children that delight in sprinklers, either; even kids dancing on the precipice of adolescence get into them. I can’t decide if it’s the sort of thing you genuinely lose the taste for, like Pop Rocks, or if we grown-ups don’t see the appeal because we don’t partake. Maybe if I gave the sprinklers a whirl, I’d find myself shrieking with delight too.

My kids clock a lot of time in the sprinklers in the summer; we pop by for a soak nearly every day. Which makes it somewhat inconceivable that every time we arrive, I am not prepared. I never have any gear.

It’s as if the sprinklers are a total surprise, every time. Like, “Oh wow, look at that. Wish I would’ve known. I would’ve brought our stuff!”

If I were the sort to invoke expressions like, “There are two kinds of parents in the world,” I might do so now. I might suggest there’s one kind who always comes equipped with bathing suits and towels and even, yes — how do they do it? — water shoes. And then there’s the kind that just lets the kids get soaked while fully dressed.

That would be reductive, of course. There are infinitely more kinds of parents. I, myself, am the kind that, with huge, even excessive effort, manages to bring our sprinkler gear to the playground 2 to 4 times before finding that the whole proposition is, let’s be honest, destined to fail, and thus, destined to make me feel terrible. So about a week into summer, I decide we’ll just abandon the ambitious plans and be content, again, to get wet while clothed.

The trouble is, once you forgo gear, you enter a hazy and perplexing landscape filled with questions. The Rules of Sprinkler Conduct are far from clear . . . or instinctive.
Questions abound.

Regarding sprinkler apparel:

If your child is young, is it ok for him or her to go in the sprinkler in their diaper? Or underwear? Is the graduation to underwear an indication that your child is too old to be half-naked in the sprinkler?

Also, footwear.
Do they really need shoes in the sprinkler? How long do tetanus shots last for anyway?

And then, water toys.
If you rinse it out thoroughly, is an abandoned Italian ice squeezey cup an acceptable replacement for a water pail?

In point of fact, there is only one thing I know for sure about the sprinkler, one golden inviolable rule that must never, ever be broken.

That rule is:

Do not drink the sprinkler water.


“Why not?” asked my four-year-old daughter, when I bellowed these words at her one afternoon. She was in her underwear and a T shirt, barefooted, splashing happily in a gargantuan sprinkler puddle at our playground. It’s never been clear to me whether these puddles are intentional, a purposeful part of the “natural landscape” aesthetic, or accidental, the result of unspeakably gross things clogging the drain. Either way, it’s not the sort of puddle you want your child to submerge herself in. So, my skin was crawling when she plopped down right in the middle of it, as if she was in an infinity pool in the Bahamas. But when she lowered her mouth to the surface of the puddle and readied to take a big slurp, I jumped to action.


And she asked, “Why not?”

“It’s dirty,” I told her. Stupidly. Like a rookie.

“No it’s not,” she retorted, lowering her head again. I guess her thinking was that because she could still see through the water, it was clean enough to consume.

“It’s full of COXSACKIE!” I told her urgently. “You don’t want to get coxsackie, do you? Again?”

When the going gets tough, the tough invoke coxsackie.

I’ve been parenting for over 12 years, and in that time, we’ve had our fsir share of inconvenient illnesses. We had emergency appendicitis on the eve of an international trip. We’ve had Scarlet fever on a trans-continental flight. We’ve had the All-Family Stomach Bug on Valentine’s Day. But the time my youngest daughter developed coxsackie on our 12-hour drive to North Carolina, well, that will live in infamy. It wasn’t something any of us would like to repeat.

I have no evidence that my daughter contracted coxsackie from the sprinkler. I’m not an infectious disease expert. I can barely even spell coxsackie. But I know the bodily excretions through which the virus is transmitted and considering how many kids I’ve seen relieve themselves directly into the sprinklers, it seems likely there’s other evacuations happening in that vicinity too.

The sprinklers are like kiddie Las Vegas. What happens in the sprinklers stays in the sprinklers. Unless it’s coxsackie. That, you take with you.

So, there will be no drinking of sprinkler water. And besides that, well, really anything goes.

After all, it’s triple digits and this is what we city folk have for splish-n-splash fun. This is our seashore. This is our water park. It gets the job done, cooling kids off, and it keeps them busy too. Whether they’re in swimsuits and water shoes or just barefooted and dripping like sewer rats. Either way.


Nicole C. Kear is the author of Have No Fear! and Sticks and Stones, the first two books in The Fix-It Friends, a chapter book series for children. You can find our more at nicolekear.com.

Lovely illustration by Heather Heckel


About Author

Nicole Caccavo Kear’s memoir, Now I See You, debuted June ‘14 by St. Martin’s Press, and she contributes regularly to Parents and American Baby, as well as Salon and Babble in between her dispatches at the Reader. You can keep up with her misadventures in Mommydom on her blog, A Mom Amok (amomamok.com). A native of Brooklyn, she lives in the Slope with her three firecracker kids, one very patient husband, and an apparently immortal hermit crab.

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