Free Activities for Kids in Northern New Jersey

Two-year-olds are not known for their patience. Ours flits from one activity to the next within minutes, and sometimes, seconds. If she wants me to read a book, she’ll bring it over to me, and even snuggle with me on the bed or the couch. But after a few pages, she takes off happily to grab another book, play with another toy, or run into the other room.

So it’s no wonder I’m still afraid to take her to events or activities that charge an admission fee or require a long-term commitment, such as music or tumbling classes. We’ve gone to trial classes in the past, and usually our toddler is off on her own, ignoring the teacher, or wreaking havoc and causing the other kids to start running around WITH her.

So where does that leave us? Mostly, we go to the park when the weather is good, or play in the backyard. But sometimes, I’d like to do other things.

What kind of cheap or free activities can I find in Northern New Jersey? I accidentally discovered that the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange offers $1 admission on Tuesday afternoons if you show up after 2 p.m.; the zoo closes at 4:30 p.m. That’s ideal for me, as I occasionally have a scheduled Tuesday off from work. And that’s a lot better than the usual $11 adult admission ($8 over the age of 2).

There are some businesses that let your kid run around like a loon in their indoor play areas, but since Emily is a young 2-year-old, I’m not comfortable with letting her crawl around in a play structure by herself, and I’m not keen on going in with her. I’ve done it before, but those things were not meant for adults — and I feel pretty ridiculous. Admission at these places can run $15 and up. Plus, if she hits meltdown mode immediately, it’s a waste of time and money.

So what does that leave? Not too many free activities for a toddler with a short attention span. Luckily, she’s never bored with being outside, so that’s my go-to activity for the summer.

Anyone with a highly active toddler have any suggestions?

My Car Hates Me: Tales of a Breakdown

So it’s happened again — my car has failed me again. This time, the poor thing didn’t want to start after a hard 12-hour day on deadline at work. It wasn’t the “crank-crank-crank-nothing” type of non-start; it was the silent kind. Turning the key in the ignition elicited NOT ONE noise from my 9.5-year-old car.

“Wait, I have AAA Plus! The kind that says I can have it towed anywhere within 100 miles for free!” I live about 25 miles away from my office.

I dialed the Member Services number and after passing through menu after menu, I was connected to a representative who sounded like he’d just woken up. After asking my location and whether or not I needed a jump-start (I didn’t; the battery obviously worked because my lights, radio and windows worked), he told me a tow truck would arrive within the hour.

As it was raining, waiting an hour didn’t sound so bad — they must be busy! I went back into my warm, dry office, played a few rounds of Words With Friends, surfed the Net and waited for my savior’s call.

After an hour with no contact, I called AAA back and asked what was up. A more alert rep told me I was next, and that the tow truck would arrive in about 10 minutes. Hooray! I ran downstairs to my car, and within those 10 minutes, the truck arrived.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Tow Truck Guy asks me, “You need a jump-start?” and I mutter, “Uh, no. I need a tow back to my mechanic’s shop.” I knew it was going to be bad.

Tow Truck Guy responds: “They told me it was a jump-start! I have to go do another job nearby, just tow a car to the side of the road, and I’ll be back for you in 20 mins!” He took my cell number, called me from his phone so I had his number, and off he went into the cold, wet night.

It was like being abandoned. Compounding my disappointment (a mild way of putting it), I was now locked out of my office — the doors apparently had been scheduled to lock for the night.

Dejected, I sat in my car and attempted to waste as much time as possible, calling/texting/tweeting my complaints to others who didn’t want to hear them. I whined. I lashed out at my car, threatening to replace it with a brand-new model who would treat me better. I thought about taking a terrifying cab-ride home (I live near NYC, home of crazy cabbies).

Finally, my phone rang, and Tow Truck Guy said he was 15 minutes away. Thank HEAVENS.

He arrives, hooks my car and off we go. The car gets dropped off at the mechanic’s place, my brother and his poor half-asleep girlfriend pick me up and drive me across town, where they deposit me back home, 3 hours after discovering my car had just given up on me.

Follow-Up

The mechanic calls in the morning, informing me that my headlights had been on all night, and now my battery is stone-cold dead. Oh, joy. But he tells me he’s discovered the problem with my car. And it’s not the starter.

End result: Pontiac Grand Ams from the early 2000s have this neat little glitch that causes the car to not recognize your key. Fixing it requires removing a wire from the fuse box for 15 minutes, plugging it back in and praying the car starts again.

A new car may be in my future sooner than next April/May — Mr. Not-So-Frugal’s car will be paid off by then. I think I’m ready to part with this poor thing and pass the car off to someone who can appreciate its quirks. I’m all quirked-out.