“Okay boys, time to go.”
My boys continued staring at the television, transfixed by a sponge wearing pants.
I sighed, but wasn’t surprised. I was used to talking to myself. It seemed I could speak directly to my children, literally in their faces, but if the TV was on, their brains were off, and they could completely block me out. It’s both amazing and extremely annoying.
Outside Howard was beeping the car horn like he had every answer on quick-fire jeopardy. We were going upstate to visit the grandparents and to return the salamanders we captured there over a month ago to their natural habitat; but first I had to get my children out of the house. It’s an everyday battle.
“Michael, let’s go bike ride.”
“I want to stay inside! Call Noah to come over.”
“Tyler let’s go play ball.”
“NOOOOOOoooooo….” Return to blank TV stare.
“Julius, how ‘bout a walk around the block?”
Foot stamping, arm folding, “I don’t wannna! I wanna play Gold Fish!”
I may be partly to blame for their homey natures, but I prefer to blame society. When I was growing up, I had the run of my neighborhood; while at 10, Tyler isn’t even allowed to walk down the block to his friend. It’s the culture of the day to keep them close, protected. So while I do push them out on the lawn (where I keep watch), and have friends over (where I keep watch), and have them involved in many sport activities (where I drive, Howard coaches and I, you got it, keep watch), they are now creatures of habit and home. It’s just not the same world anymore.
We make it to the bungalows. The boys are like panting pups, ready to race outside to run wild, but Howard grabs the salamander container. “We’re going to release these guys first.”
“Can’t we do it later?” Michael whines.
“We want to go by the paddle courts.” Tyler moans.
Julius stands in between his big brothers, looking supportively whiny.
Howard shakes his head. “Release first, play after.”
We traipse through the woods behind the bungalows. Howard lugs the heavy Tupperware filled with the salamanders who had ‘summered’ in our backyard on Long Island.
After being coaxed, a.k.a. tortured thru whining, into taking them home, Howard and I had every expectation of soon burying them. There seemed no way for these guys to survive so far from their natural habitat. Regardless, Howard and Julius created a salamander wonderland filled with moss, sticks and a big rock. It was very damp with ‘pools’ of water. Howard constructed a special mesh cover for better ventilation. We had no idea what to feed them, so Julius and Howard packed the container with bug filled mud and we hoped for the best.
As it turned out, it was even better. The salamanders fed on some kind of larva that seemed to mysteriously grow in the water. They lounged on the rock. On many occasions, I saw them tucked neatly into a moss cave, one on top of the other, two little orange heads, almost unnoticeable. We did nothing but look at them every few days, and then not even that.
Looking now at these luxury accommodations, our Tupperware penthouse seemed damp and homey; the perfect place for two little, orange creatures to happily lounge the day away, while the woods seemed vast and dangerous. I had a moment of regret. Maybe we just should have left them in our yard.
Didn’t matter now; we were here and it was time to set them free. We placed the Tupperware near a tree and added a thick branch so they could walk out on their own. We watched for a while, but the salamanders made no attempt toward escape. Howard placed them higher on the branch to show them their surroundings. The salamanders turned and crawled back into the Tupperware. After repeated attempts to ‘guide’ the salamanders to their freedom, we ultimately had to physically place them into the woods.
We left them there, looking so small and lost. I felt guilty, which was ridiculous. This was where they belonged. Right?
Our boys quickly forgot about them and ran from the woods back toward the bungalows. “Release the hounds,” I mocked as they galloped past, tongues lagging. They were so happy here, despite the morning difficulties getting them out. The bungalows had always been a cocoon of sorts, filled with family, friends of family, grass and freedom. Here, kids can be kids, like the old days.
“We’re going to find grandpa.” Tyler announced, using his upstate independent voice.
“I think he’s down by Sandy’s bungalow playing cards.”
“We’re going to find him.” He reiterated confidently.
“Okay, watch your brothers.”
They headed away from us, each walking with a little swagger, down toward some bungalows about 100 feet away, but out of my vision. Howard and I smiled at one another and I almost welled with tears. Letting them go was scary, but they were good. Howard would follow them shortly, just to make sure.
I still wonder about the salamanders.