Fountain of Fun, Or Snake in the Grass?

By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 11, 2008

It was the original flavored water, although you're not likely to see it bottled and sold. "Eau de Garden Hose" lacks a certain marketing allure.

But could anything taste more like summer than a long, gulping draft from the sparkling arc that gushes from a sun-warmed hose?

The first one in from the ballfield -- or the trampoline, or the fierce round of backyard tag -- gets the first overheated spurt as other sweaty arrivals line up jostling behind. Everyone knows the drill: Let it run until it's cool, then gulp freely and messily, directing as much down your neck as into your mouth. Drinking from the hose is a chance to wear your refreshment as much as drink it.

The hose is the plumbing of a summer day, an ever-ready drinking fountain, a reliable stand-in for a trip to the pool, a maddening, tangly indispensable fixture of a thirsty garden. Of course, like a lot of fun things from childhoods gone by (bare-headed bike riding, firecrackers, anything worth doing off a diving board), the hose has become a target of the safety scolds.

Not that a scorching summer day is the easiest time to follow all the new rules.

"I like spraying my sister," said Nicholas Ward, 5, who along with his twin sister, Caroline, is a serious practitioner of backyard hose play at their home in Takoma Park.

"They spray each other, they spray me, they spray anyone who comes in range," said their mother, Beth Hedstrom. "For the kids, it probably has all the appeal of getting to pretend to shoot someone, but in a form a little more palatable to moms."

Add a sprinkler, and the humble hose is upgraded to a tiny backyard water park, a little personal rain shower for kids to dance with in the summer sun. Any lawn sprinkler will do, but the toy industry has long viewed the hose as a promising sales point: There are slippery slides and spouting water snakes and watery volleyball nets. There is Mt. Tiki-Soki, a Polynesian idol that squats on the grass building pressure until water explodes in all directions.

The Ward twins have a Nemo sprinkler and a very cool device that shoots water eight feet into the air with a plastic rocket balanced precariously at the top of the plume.

"Sometimes it hovers, and sometimes it just falls down," Caroline said. "But I like jumping through it."

The backyard waterworks is so satisfying that the twins have a hard time choosing between hose play and pool play. "I wish I could do both at the same time," said Nicholas, imagining his own summertime nirvana: a swimming pool equipped with a garden hose.

And when he's thirsty? His toy becomes his drinking cup.

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