The Best of Youth

It’s that time of year, encore, when schools everywhere shutter their doors for ten-days-if-you-count-weekends-and-I-do in the name of ‘Spring Break‘.

Because we are the Johnsons and have made the onorthodox career decisions and lifestyle choices that we have, we find ourselves, encore, in Calgary. As opposed to those exotic locales with sand and water and greenstuff frequented by the rest of the population.

But this year, the joke is on them – suffering through amazing sunsets on beautiful beaches – because guess what, Spring Break in Calgary?

It’s awesome.

‘Sure,’ you roll your eyes, ‘sitting in your house all day, surrounded by unoccupied children, without breathtaking scenery or even an umbrella-drink to dull the pain?’

Okay, you might have a point,

But I’ll take ten days of unoccupied children and lack of scenery or umbrella drinks for $500 Alex….when it comes with a side of no snow.

That’s right. This year, when I look out my living room window, I see brown grass, an unfashionable minivan, trees without leaves and a charcoal colored ribbon of asphalt running through it. Oh, and on that ribbon of asphalt? Two young children riding bikes.

Sans training wheels.

The whole bike thing had reached an unbearable level of shame for all of us. For starters, we live in Canadaland, where most children appear to be proficient bike riders by the age of 4. Thus, on the rare occasions when we’d convince the boys to ride their four-wheeled bikes on family walks, there was a pervasive sense – real or imagined – that we were a slow-moving bullseye of un-Canadian underachievement.

And then the Hen, who is 7.5 and seems to care more about what other people think of him than either his older or younger brother, became so embarrassed by his status that he refused to get on his little bike. At all.

Fast forward to Sunday. Sunny, snow-less Sunday. For whatever reason Percy and the Hen had dragged their bikes out to our crescent. The Hen came inside for reasons I can’t recall now and I said to him ‘if you learn how to ride your bike today, I will buy you whatever you want at Starbucks.’ And then, sensing that it was time to carpe the diem, I added, ‘and tell Percy if he learns how to ride his bike today, he can get whatever he wants at Starbucks, too.’

Less than ten minutes later, when I was still lazily trying to decide if I should venture outside with my camera to document any potential milestones, I looked up and saw two kids riding on two-wheeled bikes.




The purple bike with beads given to us by a neighbor when we first moved to Calgary. Despite its girlish appearance, it has been the key to bike-riding success for both the Gort and Hen.

With this rather considerable monkey off his back, the Hen has turned into a rather enthusiastic little biker, venturing outside two or three times each day (despite less than balmy temperatures) to ride around our crescent until his hands are too cold to bear it.

This morning the Gort and I sat on the couch staring out the window, thoroughly entertained by the spectacle that is the two youngest boys riding circles around each other like clowns in a circus act. At one point the Hen rode directly, likely intentionally, into the curb and fell off his bike onto the sidewalk. He fell off ten more times after that, always looking to see if we were watching him, going so far as to take a bow after his umpteenth stunt.

In addition to bicycling, much of the boys’ break has centered around the fort occupying a large portion of our basement. Or ‘Occupy Basement’ as the professor has come to call it.

On Friday the Gort said: ‘can we build a fort and leave it up for the whole Spring Break?’ And I said ‘sure’ because if ever there is a time to build a fort and keep it around, Spring Break is probably that time.

There have been a couple of snags with Occupy Basement (and not just because it is using 95% of the bedding in our home.) Like when we had a family viewing of Groundhog Day on Friday night and I found myself sitting sideways on a chair at the edge of the room because it had been commandeered for structural purposes. Whether it was the less than ideal seating arrangement or the fact that Groundhog Day wasn’t quite as entertaining as I had remembered it, the movie night fizzled after about an hour with children declaring ‘I don’t really like this movie’ and parents quietly heading upstairs to rummage through the kitchen in search of easter candy.

There was also the matter of ‘fort-snacks’ which resulted in the disappearance of several pieces of tupperware containing large portions of cereal, and a bag of organic granny smith apples that was returned to the garbage with no more than six bites taken from each green fruit.

The fort has become a make-shift bedroom for the two older boys – young Percy determined he was not yet ready to sleep in the basement – and meeting space for deep brotherly conversation involving the words butt and poop and ineloquent use of the word Uranus.

Earlier tonight, the professor – eavesdropping on the stairs, in the dark – howled at a story about the Hen’s 7 year old classmate who, legend has it, typed something into Google search about ‘girls’ balls’ and subsequently lost classroom computer privileges for three weeks.

The professor also bore witness, courtesy of his office’s proximity to Occupy Basement, to this gem of a conversation:

‘Not that you want to marry her or anything, but what’s one girl in your class that you like?’

‘I’m not telling you.’

‘I won’t tell anyone.’

‘Yeah you won’t, because I’m not telling you.’

‘I’ll tell you if you tell me.’

‘You go first.’

‘How about we count to three and we’ll both say it at the same time……one…two…three.’


‘You didn’t say anything!’


‘That’s not even a name.’

The Gort has also shown an interest in culinary matters this break. ‘Can you teach me how to make spaghetti,’ he asked on Saturday-or-was-it-Sunday. I talked him through the steps of making the Marcella Hazan-ish sauce and the noodles and thirty minutes later we were eating lunch. Made by the 11 year old. And, courtesy of the ‘fistful’ of sugar he’d added to the sauce, his brothers gave him a very enthusiastic  ‘thumbs up’ while literally licking their plates clean.

Best Spring Break. Ever.


*Title borrowed from a somewhat riveting Italian miniseries the professor and I watched many years ago.






2 thoughts on “The Best of Youth

    1. I think you’re right. And just the other day I said: ‘I will get a bike once everybody can ride a bike.’ Didn’t realize it would happen a week later.


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