One of my favorite things about summer is having the opportunity to take Noah, Harrison, Allie, Avery, and Sawyer to visit their grandparents in Pennsylvania.
The rural (and I mean rural) countryside, combined with the temperate climate, are perfect for kicking the children outside to fend for themselves. By bedtime, they are usually clothed in the animal skins of whatever they dined on for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Last year Sawyer, who’s three, stitched his first piece of attire—a babushka fashioned from an indeterminable number of chipmunks (too cute!). Yet for all its charms, the backwoods are a long way from the zoos, museums, and entertainment venues families take advantage of in big cities. Which is why I scoured the paper each day for some nearby festival, parade, or event intended for kids.
I had many fond memories of these sorts of outings as a boy, but a part of me wondered if they would be a bore for my clan. Today’s modern child is so much more sophisticated. So how could they possibly enjoy competing in a sack race when they can play the real thing on Nintendo DS’s “Sack Race Explosion II?”
Even so, when I came across an announcement for a nature class put on by the county’s wildlife center, I figured this might at least help broaden their knowledge of plants and animals, and would be useful for surviving their afternoons outdoors. Perfect. Sort of.
Seeing as how this was being put on by the wildlife center, my expectations were that the kids would be traipsing through the woods to collect leaves and watch for critters while the staff pointed out interesting facts. Not so. Instead, the heralded nature class consisted of nothing more than a college intern reading a collection of Aesop’s Fables for course credit while a staff member observed.
Judging from the way the kids had been whooping like banshees as they loaded up in the van earlier, I half expected them to hogtie the intern and then roast him over a spit. They acted like quite the opposite, however, sitting perfectly still on the floor through an agonizing 45 minutes of fable after fable. Now, I don’t mean to brag, but their commendable behavior was a stark contrast to that of the other children—or should I say hoodlums—all of whom wore any combination of either an earring, tattoo(s), or sleeveless jean jacket while also sporting one of three hairdos—a mullet, mohawk, or rat-tail.
The differences between my darlings and the squad of Hell’s Angels across the room only became more pronounced during the Q and A session after the stories.
Intern: Does anyone know what a fable is?
Allie [raising hand]: It’s a story with animals that teaches a lesson.
Intern: Very good! Now, what do you think the story with the mouse and the lion is about?
Tattoo Kid: It’s about your mom!
Noah [raising hand]: Actually Aesop was a slave, which he represents with the mouse. The lion symbolizes the master who is caught in a net or rather, a problem solvable only by the mouse/slave. Thus, Aesop was cleverly conveying the power that slaves can exert over their masters because of their inherent indispensability to the lion.
Rat-tail Kid: This SUCKS!!!
I am not afraid to say I was proud of my children. Maybe I’ll let them have ice cream tonight. The beaming grin on my face broadcast my smugness to the other mothers, who had since been eying me with both astonishment and curiosity over how the lone dad among them could have such well-behaved and intelligent children.
The wildlife center’s manager noticed, too. At the conclusion of the “class,” she asked if we could be back next week for more fables, and the tone in her voice reminded me of a typhoon-ravished, third-world country pleading to the international community for disaster relief.
As tempting as another hour of crows and grapes sounded, I declined explaining that we were from out of town and then walked outside where the kids were running around. Standing by the minivan, I watched the mothers of Satan’s spawn file by me in their cars. Oddly enough, their faces were agape with shock. (Or dare I say jealousy?)
Yes, mothers, I am a man and I can control my brood in public. Behold… I made a sweeping gesture toward my children who were playing behind me. That’s when I noticed what the other moms were gawking at—all three of my sons were peeing out in the open for all creation to see—pants around their ankles, yellow, arcing streams glistening in the afternoon sun. Allie and Avery stood laughing nearby, pointing at them, but they might as well have been pointing to my chagrin.
Behold. My children … in whom I am well pleased.