“GO!” I yell as we de-board the train in the cavernous subterranean stop where school and work are. The boy shoots forward, lights flashing on his shoes, his enormous backpack pulling him side to side. The race, a daily attempt to reach the massive stainless steel elevators, the winner capturing the honor of pushing the call button. This victory and subsequent prize has become so coveted by my 4 1/2 year old, I would liken it to holding the Stanley cup, stuffed with the Lombardy trophy, while wearing a yellow jersey under a green blazer. It is of such importance, that if another rider pushes the button before him, we must stand and wait for the elevator to return. Countless times I’ve seen strangers shrug with an “I’m sorry, if I had known, I would have never pushed the button” look, as the doors close and we stand waiting.
I remember the races to the tree where the bus would stop to pick up my brothers and I. Always longing to get to reach that tree before them, to be the first in line. Sprinting wildly across the lawn. Reaching with every muscle in my body. Flopping down as soon as I saw a brother touch the tree yards ahead of me. I would get up, (or be pulled up) and we would wait. Waiting for the bus to come up the rise of the hill, in all sorts of weather. Waiting in the sweet smells of the springtime grasses, or the musty smells of the fall morning. A line of us stood waiting in various forms of school finest. We we’re the last pick up on the way to school, and the first to get dropped off.
I watch my boy full speed, and with the inertia of a fully loaded Scooby-Doo Backpack, slam into the call button. The thud-slap sound reverberates around us. He is out of breath and laughing at my weak attempt at beating him (a wonderful performance if I do say so myself). And we go into the large, cold, steel elevator, ripe with the fresh scent of urine. He laughs and tucks his nose into his jacket, and I try to keep him from flopping on the floor.
There is an enormous part of me that is still a boy in the back country of Vermont, watching my children’s upbringing with a quiet longing, a sweet memory of what a country childhood gave to me. The natural world, and the sheer volume of adventure it held for me all in relative safety. I wonder what kind of child can a country boy raise in the city? I settle this nagging down by remembering my excitement going to Montreal or New York as a boy, and seeing the people. I would lie awake in the bedroom at my Grandmother’s house in Brooklyn listening to the undying noise, and see the utter absence of dark, black night.
I knew I had changed, adapted to a different life a few years ago. The same darkness that I was raised to see through in the night, blinded me. It scared me deep in my core, partly because I was suddenly blind, and partly because I had lost a sense of comfort, that I had grown to understand and love as a boy. Am I raising my child to not know the nature in the world?
As the elevator doors open, a cold rush of air strikes us. He clings to my leg. We have shot up over 400 feet and are now 700 feet up in the hills of the city. The school and work are nestled in a large pine and ivy filled park. He shivers and rushes ahead down and down the long hill to the school below, squealing for me to try to beat him to the door.
My kids know how the bus works. They like sushi and Mexican food. They are quick-witted and gregarious. They know some of nature, thanks in part to the city where we live. Sometimes their natural world also has concrete walls.
And they run through it the same. Not just to win, but for the sheer fun of it.