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Town Boys, Country Bros

For our original spring break, we headed north to show our boys the Big Apple. Unlike other pre-kid trips, we sculpted a precise itinerary. We waited in the Times Square line for Beetlejuice tickets and scooted around the city in cabs. There was the morning spent atop the Empire State Building and a dim sum lunch in Chinatown. We looped around Central Park on bicycles and took the free ferry to Staten Island for a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. We went to the American Museum of National History for dinosaur bones and ate pretzels and hot dogs off street carts. We stopped at The Dakota, former home of John Lennon, and tried to replicate a famous photograph. We touched the hotel steps where Kevin McCallister stayed in Home Alone 2. There was the open-air bus and the misplacing of our $200 family pass, which prevented us from boarding it. We visited the M&M store, FAO Schwarz, Nintendo, Disney, Nike, and Adidas, all just as country mice. The boys hung on the Charging Bull of Wall Street and bought keychains next to the Freedom Tower.

The weather was perfect with no rain. At the end of each day, we went to a playground in Central Park where the boys climbed granite rocks and boulders. Then, we went back to our hotel room, a little sore but happy in our two queen beds. It was our NYC routine. With each experience, Atticus and Levon grew more comfortable with city life. We dove into the streets. Then, we hopped out.

My sons’ only complaint came from knowing we had to walk seven more blocks and weren’t going back to Ray’s Pizza. It was our first family trip to a big city. They’d never seen a hundred-story skyscraper or stood on a subway platform. The world suddenly was much bigger than our backyard. They noticed the wonderful sides of the city: opera singers, roller skaters, an old man playing an erhu. And the painful sides, too: the homeless, the addicted.

Then, we got home.

All those handrails and door knobs came with us, so we self-quarantined. Then, school was closed and spring break was extended, like another trip to Ray’s, we got more … a lot more. Suddenly, the little projects I had ignored could get done. I raced to do them, caulking the bathrooms, seeding the bald spots in the yard, tinkering on the Jeep’s power steering. Everywhere I looked I found more to do.

For my work as a teacher, I hunkered down and adjusted my classes and syllabi. At home, everyone got a taste of remote learning. We watched our boys rejoice, and then, break down. Levon cried because he couldn’t do his cursive. Atticus got two emails about not turning in his science homework. We missed a morning Zoom and called up Verizon to adjust our MBPS. It took only three days, and we were over it. After forgetting to mute the Zoom mic or taking too long of a break between subjects, we made some changes. 

Since the synchronous school part happened in the morning, the afternoons found new meaning by becoming ours. Like shipmates, lost at sea, Atticus and Levon fought at first over the dog, over the choice in backyard music, over a Kylo Ren LEGO head. Like wild wolves, each tried to establish his dominance. But after a few chases, elbow jabs, and choice words, they came out on the other side, and we, with them. They understood each other a little bit more and possessed just an ounce more of patience for the other. 

Now, they are back in the woods, with Nerf guns and swords. Yesterday, we watched them dig a 4-foot deep hole just beyond the fence line.

“What are you doing?” we asked.

“We are mining for gemstones.”

The treehouse became interesting again. Toys that hadn’t been touched in months, maybe years, were like new playthings. Atticus learned how to cut the grass and helped deconstruct an old retaining wall. Levon mixed some mortar and repaired the front step. They built a fort, and then another. I watched as they used my old scraps of wood for roofs, held up with sticks. 

My former solo chores became little lessons: how to work vice-grips, how to replace a sprinkler head, how to mend a fence. We’ve gone on Jeep rides with the top off and caught fish in our hidden pond. There have been tick bites and poison ivy. Boris, our cat, was stung by a hornet. We found a dead copperhead and put it in a jar. Levon got an ant farm, and we now have chickens and a coop. 

At first, we let them play more Nintendo, a treat usually reserved for weekends. After all, there was less to do. But when our two explorers returned to their old ways of bickering and yelling, the game console went away, into the cast iron safe. It sits there still.

But we’ve been bending some rules. Each night, we gather around the dining room table and turn on the television in the other room. If the four of us nudge closely enough on one side, everyone can see the screen. Before COVID-19, the TV stayed off until Friday evening when the boys watched their own shows in the basement. Now, we watch together. A recent favorite, Man vs. Wild, has made Bear Grylls the new legend. His eating grubs and using a vine to repel into a 75-foot ravine motivates and inspires us. In one episode, he declared, “To me, adventure has always been the connections and bounds you create with people when you’re there. And you can have that anywhere.” His words mean something. We are connecting more than ever as a family. We’ve been given a sack of time, to re-calibrate, to re-prioritize what needs to get finished, and what needs to go by the wayside. I told myself that I want to come out on the other side of this thing with a list of accomplishments. The boys’ adventures already have me beat. 

Married for eighteen years, John Morgan is the father of two boys, ages twelve and ten. He teaches creative writing and British Literature at St. Catherine’s School. Other than words, he loves vintage drums, cars, and Ringo Starr’s backbeat. Follow him on Twitter @johnlmorganiv.
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