Who: Editor Hayley Kaufman, her husband, Chris McNulty,
and their children Nate, 8, and Rachel, 5
Where: The neighborhood
What: Hunting for treasures
Sometimes parents need a minute, a timeout when they can plant their ever-widening girth on the couch and let the old brain flatline. For a few of us, it’s an opportunity to spend some quality time with the Real Housewives of Whatever City Happens to Be Airing at that moment. On rare occasions (my chin quivers with shame as I write this), my kids curl up on the couch, too, drifting alongside me toward the sunny, High-Def Isle of Catatonia.
Oh, don’t get so judgey. It happens. It can’t all be child enrichment, right? Sometimes it’s all laundry, or all cleaning out the bedroom closet, or all working from home on a weekend. Sometimes the best you can do for engaged family time is to rally the kids for a walk around the block.
When this moment strikes in our house, we turn it into a game, a neighborhood-wide scavenger hunt. The kids each get a plastic bag and I make up a list of things they need to look for on our trek: a white pebble, a bottle cap, a handful of sand, a spice-pear blossom, a piece of twig, a feather, dried pine needles.
If we are marginally motivated, we bring our dog, Stanley. But sometimes it’s just mom and dad, the kids, and the ziplocks. The children — ever curious, ever competitive — immediately start hunting: looking on the sidewalk, under hedges, around trees, and in neighbors’ yards (though this is nipped quickly). Their keen interest in the treasure hunt allows my husband and me to follow along in a barely sentient state, without resorting to any TV shows that feature Ryan Seacrest or the Kardashians.
Please note that occasionally on these scavenger hunts, one is called upon to parent. If only one child finds a feather, for example, the non-finder must be soothed. Or if they decide that errant pieces of trash should be bagged and added to the list, well, accomodations are made. After all, that’s what family time requires, whether it’s spent on or off the couch.
Hayley Kaufman can be reached at