After two months of solid visitors, I became my worst fear: a lazy parent. I was a hard working hostess, with only a secondary thought to entertaining my first joy, my little girl. It happened quietly and subtly at first. Guests would be over and I’d pop in an Elmo video or a Baby Einstein when she’d get fussy. My husband and I have long since canceled television in our home, so we’d use the occasional DVDs. But after a time, I was going to the video store to get my daughter a “treat,” meaning a brand new video for her to enjoy. It wasn’t until this week when I finally realized she was looking for more from Elmo than her mommy.

I am a jealous parent and will not share her love with a little red muppet. So I challenged myself, with the encouragement of my husband, to turn off the tube and see how we manage. The night before, I lay awake thinking of all the fun things we’d do the next day: walks into town, playing at the park on the swings and with the red ball, reading books before a perfect nap time…

Then I woke up.

It was pouring. Actually pouring rain, intermingled with hail and snow flurries. I checked the calendar, to make sure I hadn’t fallen back in time and landed in December, and then sat on the floor with my daughter, trying to figure out what to do.

The children’s museum came to mind and I got her dressed and ready to go. The ten block drive was full of anticipation as I described all the fun things we’d do there.

It was closed.

So I scrambled to think of what to do next. I stopped at the local Bakery and figured I’d sit and not waste gas while I decided my next move. That’s when the magic happened. I started paying attention to what my daughter was paying attention to. At two years old, she didn’t know the difference between the music section of the kid’s museum and the old guitar on the couch in the bakery. Maybe she did, but she didn’t care. She walked over to it and started strumming as we nibbled on an oat cake and labeled the different colors of the scarves on the wall.

Now you may not have the coolest bakery in the world right next to your house like I do, (I’m not rubbing it in,) but I wanted to share with you my parental breakthrough, which is really more about play and discovery and nothing at all about “parenting.” If you find yourself stuck on a rainy day, with a strict budget, here are some thoughts on outings to get your wheels spinning.

The Grocery Store. Yes, I break out in cold sweats at the thought of taking my girl there. But that’s only when I need to shop and get in and out quickly. It can be a really fun adventure if you look at it as an exploration of sights and smells. A trick here is to absolutely avoid the toy section. Stick to the perimeter of the store. Show off the flowers and balloons in the floral section, make fish faces at the fish in the meat aisle, smell the bread, get creative. Avoid the toys!

The Pet Store. I live in the boonies so we have a feed store here. My little girl loves it. She pets the cat, says hi to the tortoise, tweets at the bird, points at all the fish, but she really doesn’t care for the guinea pigs, which I find hilarious for some reason. I digress. The pet store is a great outing when you don’t have a zoo nearby. Then when you go home, depending on the age of your kiddies, you can have them draw pictures of their favorite animal.

Thrift Stores or Consignment Baby Stores. The great thing about these is that you don’t have to stress too much about breakables. Most of them are under a dollar, and the baby consignment stores are the best thing ever. My daughter will play for over an hour and let me peruse the “new” clothing, as she plays with the toys.

Arcades. I don’t have a mall nearby, big surprise, but there is a seaside arcade a few miles away. My two year old has a ridiculous amount of fun just pretending to play some of the games. I know this won’t last very long. She’ll either lose interest in the arcade scene or want money to play like the big kids, but for now, it’s a great adventure.

Obviously the activities vary with the age of your children. Kids get pretty wise pretty fast, so the grocery store may not work for you, and the thrift stores may just bore them to tears, but the key is to pay attention. When I took the leap and let go of my DVD lifeline, I was surprised at how much fun I was having, seeing things through a toddler’s eyes. Riding her bike around the house, rolling the ball, doing somersaults on the living room floor, stacking blocks and singing “Apples and Bananas,” was all in a day’s play. So long Elmo…well, maybe once and a while.