The boys are back. More precisely, I’m back out with the boys once a week now that Mom is working again. My new definition of “heavenly” is a grandson leaping into my arms and wrapping his arms around my neck … following a three-month absence. There is no such thing as social-distancing with 6-year-olds.

They’ve learned a lot in the last three months. How to tie their shoes. How to ride bikes. Their driveway is two car-widths across and generously long. They’ve also been granted dispensation to ride on the driveways of the neighbors on either side and across the street (as long as they check both ways, which they actually do). They even wear their helmets without complaining. 

Sheltering-in-place has been good for them. They completed Kindergarten online, which must have been strenuous because Tyler said when he woke up the first morning after it ended and didn’t have to go online, “I loved it sooooooooooooo much!” 

Reportedly, they’re reading at a third-grade level. During a Zoom session in May, Tyler set up a book in his lap facing the camera and proceeded to read the words upside-down. When he stumbled, Bryce was right there in the foreground helpfully whispering corrections. 

As I talked with Kristen before she left for work, Bryce sat on the floor under the kitchen table, book in hand. He read two chapters of The Fantastic Mr. Fox to me after breakfast. He doesn’t know all the words, but I was right there to whisper the corrections — and definitions.

We worked on art projects and Tyler created a book about foxes. “Page 1: Foxes are nice. Page 2: Foxes have long tails. Page 3: Foxes are half cat and half dog. The End.” I never thought about it, but foxes do look like a hybrid. Tyler is insightful. 

They transformed their basement play area into a small village with an Art Center, a Library, a Post Office, a Music Center and, I think, a grocery store. In three months, their bodies have elongated and filled out. They hover either side of 50 pounds, making it a challenge to pick them up or swing them around in circles by their arms, though they keep asking for both.

Bryce wants me to take them to Oak Park for a visit. Not today, I say. He storms off in a pout, but manages to avoid a total meltdown. Instead, he kicks the tires on my car and calls out, “This is the worst Papa Ken day ever!” 

The day is still young, Bryce. Don’t lose faith yet.

Daddy arrives and we walk (they ride) down to a large municipal park where the playground is still locked down, but they can ride to their hearts’ delight on the mile-around gravel path — with a break for climbing, then running down the sledding hill. On our way back home, I pick up some cottonwood fluffs to show them the seeds. It’s amazing, I say, judging by the multitude of seeds, that cottonwood trees aren’t growing everywhere. 

“How did the first cottonwood grow if there weren’t any seeds yet?” asks Tyler, ever the thinker. Bryce quickly cuts this Gordian Knot. “God did it,” he says. 

Tyler doesn’t dispute that, but I’d love to know what he’s thinking about it. 

We drive through Wendy’s to pick up lunch and head to another park with picnic tables. The boys love picnics, but they are bug averse. I tell them spiders are good because they eat other bugs. Besides, we’re bigger than they are. 

Bryce isn’t buying it. “Would you be scared of them if they were bigger than us?” You’ve got me there, Brycie boy. He says he’s had dreams about giant spiders. In the back seat, I hear him telling Tyler how little sleep he gets at night. “I don’t fall asleep until just before we have to get up. I guess nighttime is my playtime,” he says. I don’t believe him.

They’re afraid of bugs getting in the car, so I tell them, “Just ask them politely to leave.” Tyler considers this and says, “Mr. Bug, would you please be extinct?” Daddy asks, “Do you know what ‘extinct’ means?” Bryce answers, “That’s when they die and don’t come back to life.” Close enough. We’ll save the talk about endangered species for another time. 

We have a discussion about the virus, and Tyler says, “Mr. Coronavirus, will you please be extinct?” 

Bryce tells a joke from one of his library books at school. 

“What’s another word for ‘snail’?” 

We give up. 

“A booger with a crash helmet.”

Gross-out humor is the highest form of wit when you’re 6 — another good reason to delay the endangered species discussion.

This is Daddy’s last visit before his deployment with the National Guard to another side of the globe. The boys and I won’t see him for 11 months, which gives this rare day in June special meaning. We’ll just have to hope the bright memories forged on a drop-dead gorgeous morning will last us till then. 

They just might. This was one of those floodlit, clear-edge days, a booster shot for the eyes, the world viewed in hyper-focus, the kind of happy-hormone-release day you wish you could dwell in forever — “If I had to choose one moment to live my whole life through …” as Nat King Cole sang — or at least in sun-basted memory. 

Father’s Day, Grandfather’s Day and Farewell, all rolled into one.

And surely in the running for one of the best Papa Ken days ever.

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