It's 3:37 p.m., and 2-year-old Hattie's right leg is covered in melted SpongeBob SquarePants. She came by the cartoon-shaped ice cream less than 10 minutes before at a roving stand near the intersection of Mount Royal and Lafayette avenues.
Hattie hadn't eaten much when the treat puddled in her lap, devoured by the sun's mid-80s heat. Behind her in a two-kid stroller, her brother Will, 4, was doing a bit better with his ice cream sandwich, as were their cousins, Zeb and Fiona, ages 3 and 5, respectively, who were stumbling alongside their mother and aunt.
"We have a cruise ship here, we'll clear the way," said Becky Benner, of her hulking stroller with a can of beer in the cupholder. The sisters steered their children ably through the throngs. "I feel like we're swimming upstream."
Artscape — the sprawling downtown arts, crafts and music festival — is a feast for all five senses. Much of the festival experience is designed for little ones.
Benner, of Port Deposit in Cecil County, and her children arrived at about 1:30 p.m. with her sister, Lee Deckman of Bel Air and her children. Lee's husband, Dan, and older son Josh, 17, were forging their own, more adult path, and intended to stay to see Southern Culture on the Skids and G. Love & Special Sauce perform.
"You have to keep moving until there's something fun to do," Lee said to Fiona, who wanted her mother to carry her, as they plowed down the booth-lined street.
The four cousins' day began with about 20 minutes of hanging their feet a the fountain, followed by 20 minutes in the misting tent, capped off with 20 minutes of changing clothes. An hour later, there was some coloring and "random cutting of paper" in the Make It @ Artscape tent, Lee said. The tent covered tables of art supplies.
They spotted the ice cream cart near the tent.
Sweet tooth satisfied, the group planned their next destination: an art exhibit geared toward children about six blocks away.
"How far do we have? Do we have a map? Is it on the right?" Becky inquired.
There was a quick detour for Will and Zeb to clang iron bells at a booth while their mothers browsed the seller's wood-and-metal furniture, but the crew moved down street, toward the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, without much delay.
"I see a rabbit hole!" Fiona declared as she gazed up at a monument off Cathedral Street. They were headed toward the Rabbit Hole Art Exhibit, named for Alice's journey into Wonderland, where some things were miniature and some huge but all were fascinating.
Upon arrival shortly before 4 p.m., Will jumped out of the stroller as soon as he saw the towering metal plants in Pearlstone Park. Hattie fidgeted in her sticky SpongeBob remains.
"I'm going to park this sucker," Becky said of the stroller. "Find a lucky spot, lock the wheels and hope for the best," she said, as she left the stroller alongside a tree. Hattie was changed, into a rainbow-striped ensemble that made her easy to spot among the many little bodies running around the green.
The next few minutes were a mixture of drumming on large metal flowers and climbing the park's trees. At one point Fiona tried to break the connection on a solar panel that was hooked into a speaker, one of many that made up a instrument controlled by shade.
"Baltimore might as well be Disney World," Becky said of the three hours it took her to get her kids ready for the Artscape trip. "You just need a willingness to change your kids in public, be that mom who will change her child at Artscape," as she wiped her hands after letting her daughter run off.
Hattie ran straight toward a woman in a bathing suit, bright-white leotard and furry wolf hat, complete with a snout. The woman, Corrie Ferguson, was part of an exhibit of several people dressed in swimwear and animal heads, that were meant to expose feelings about race and "channel mythical entities in modern times," said artist Jason Martin. Hattie waved bye-bye at the wolf several times and giggled.
The children moved on to a series of painted play houses, the plastic type from big-box stores for back yards. But these had been decorated in a variety of styles, fantasy versions of homes one might see driving around the city. There was a castle too, which Hattie cleaned with a wet nap she kept from when her mother wiped up the melted ice cream.
"He's especially taken with the little HUD home over there," Becky said of Will, who was playing in a small house plastered with foreclosure signs and a splintering pressboard roof. There was even an empty liquor bottle outside to complete the picture.
Fiona ran off with her father and Josh, who had met up with the family in anticipation of dinner, to sit in some carved wood thrones that looked like lions' jaws. Will got a mouthful of dirt at the bottom of a three-foot slide and started crying. But it wasn't long before he was reading the clock inside one of the homes: "See the clock's on 11. It's almost bedtime."
Zeb and his sister took a brief ride on a mustache-shaped swing before the group gathered together to decide what to eat.
"We've had a full day," Becky said at about 4:30 p.m. "And we've only made it 10 blocks at the most."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun