LIVING IN A CITY WITH kids can be like not living in a city at all. I’m convinced that my friends who opted for smaller towns envy my urban existence only because they breeze into Dallas on the weekend-without their children. They have their hair cut in jazzy blow-dry salons. (I get mine cut free at the neighborhood barber shop because the barber knows he’s robbing me at three dollars a head for two small boys, and because I like to hear about fishing in Mt. Vernon.) They buy Bazaar things at Colette Brezin and Marie Leavell and have facial profiles done at Neiman’s by Laslo consultants. (I shop in Texarkana while we’re visiting grandmother and still believe in Noxema.) They import Dallas decorators and landscape architects. (We’re still living in what real estate agents euphemistically called acute redo three years ag0—unredone. ) They regret that their children aren’t growing up in such a “stimulating urban environment,” while I read Rachel Carson’s Sense of Wonder and wish that we lived in the Big Thicket.
And then about two years ago some enterprising mothers compiled a Children’s Guide to Dallas that reassures me that there are creative ways to live in and love the city—with kids—that have little to do with Highland Park-yellow shutters, platform shoes, or dinner at Daddy’s Money.
Houston mothers followed with an even better Children’s Guide to Houston, and Fort Worth bested both cities with Fun in Fort Worth, a children’s guide in calendar form so inclusive and cleverly put together that we were tempted to move. All three guides not only tell you what, where and when; they also give suggested activities and books to read before and after. Valuable notes in the Dallas and Houston guides give safety tips, dress of the day, and what attention span can be anticipated.
With clues such as shark’s teeth and Indian trails and landmarks like the Trinity River, a settler’s cabin. and a modern theater, The Children’s Guide to Dallas ($2.25, published by the Montessori Academy, 14545 Noell Road, Dallas, Texas), lures you into an exploration of the city that strips away some of the cold commercial facade.
Despite the constant growth of concrete in Dallas, there are still sights that link Dallas with its past. And even when the sights are lost under the pavement, it’s still nice to travel Preston Road with kids if you know that it was once an Indian Trace and later, the Chisholm Trail. The “Only in Texas” chapter of the guide takes you from Dallas’ humble beginnings in the John Neely Bryan log cabin built in 1843 to the Millermore mansion constructed only 12 years later . The trip to Millermore in City Park is more interesting now that three more restored buildings have been added to the complex: an 1875 train station, a small railroad worker’s section house built in 1880, and an old traveling salesmen’s hotel dating back to 1898.
For another “Only in Texas” experience, the guide recommends the Mesquite Rodeo. Television cowboys can never compete with this adventure. If you saved your old Texas Monthlys add Gary Cartwright’s “The Death of the Marlboro Man” [ TM. September, 1973] to the reading list for your older children.
If your children aren’t content with the squirrels and occasional toads that still frequent Dallas backyards, bigger game watching requires some real effort. The guide is a bit outdated on animals (try Lion Country Safari in Grand Prairie or Seven Seas in Arlington; World of Animals is defunct) and it unfortunately considers the Marsalis Zoo too obvious for a whole page. The Zoo is never as far away as we think it is, and it reaIly should be done in many smaIl visits rather than in one “swear we won’t do that again,” exhausting expedition. Nature trails, aviaries, and birdwatching spots mentioned in the guide offer a relaxing alternative to the more crowded playground areas in public parks. Note October on your calendar as butterfly watching month. Those lovely black and gold Monarchs frequently flock through DaIlas covering whole trees on their way to South America.
Several of the featured attractions in the guide may be worked into the family routine. A visit to the farmer’s market every two weeks during peak season restores our faith in mankind and keeps our table well supplied. Last summer our three-year-old struck up a conversation with a farmer from Myrtle Springs and earned a quarter packing black-eyed peas before we missed him. One farmer at the Dallas market plants unusual vegetables and herbs at the request of her regular customers. You might even arrange a family trip to one of the farms.
Eleven pages of the guide are devoted to “Terrific Tours”—sheer delight for the Brownie leader or Den mother, but an anathema to me. School-type field trips were of dubious value in my education, probably because by the time we were deemed manageable in groups of 30 at the City Sanitation and Sewage Treatment plant, who sat with whom on the bus was more important. I really don’t like to see huge vats of anything. A tour of the malt vats at Heinekens’ Brewery in Amsterdam a few years ago almost ended my beer drinking days. However, if you’d like to fish a six year old from a vat of chocolate at the Peter Paul candy factory in Dallas, the guide tells you how.
In spite of its waspy image, Dallas, like any American city of its size, is a blend of many cultures. An occasional “Buenos dias” from your neighbor’s live-in maid won’t necessarily make this aspect of city life apparent to your children. The guide recommends a visit to the Luna Tortilla Factory or a walk along McKinney where small shops have signs in Spanish or possibly a Cinco de Mayo celebration at Pikes Park.
The sizeable European population is neglected in the guide, so add an occasional visit to Kuby’s Sausage House if you’d like to hear five different European languages shouted simultaneously over their spectacular meat