Tonawanda News

September 30, 2012

Dragons, volcanos and the neighborhood safari

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — We live in a dangerous neighborhood,


When we go for our daily evening walks, my 4-year-old is on point. It’s his job — again, apparently — to point out all the myriad hazards of our bit of the Town of Tonawanda suburbs. And there are many.

There are volcanos. (We have to be very careful to step over them ... after I’m told where they are, because they seem to be invisible.) There are jungles. (As in, a couple of homes have hedges around them.) And every crack in the sidewalk is a potential hazard ... at least for me, it seems. I was sternly lectured by the same preschooler that “Mommy, you need to let the kid do it. You’ll fall down and get a boo-boo.” He jumps over, then we can follow.

Then there’s the wildlife.

There are doggies. (I think he’s on a first-name-basis with every canine on the block.) There are birds of all sorts. (We have to whisper, so not to scare them.) There are squirrels and ants and once a bored-looking groundhog.

Oh, but it doesn’t end there. There are lions. (Two bored cats, drowsing in a driveway.) There are crocodiles, big ones that make the same tick-tock sound as the one in “Peter Pan.” (Trust me. They chased us for about a block ... or so Sam claims.) There are dragons ... but that’s OK, because we have a bigger dragon.

Hence this conversation:

“There’s a dragon!” (He points.)

“Uh oh,” I say, remembering the crocodiles. “Should we run?” 

“No. I’m a dragon, too!”

“Oh? What kind of dragon are you?”

This is where I get the “duh” look. “I’m a SAMDragon.”

“Oh. What do SamDragons do?”

“Ummm ... they fight the JimmyMonster!”

Of course they do.

My older son (otherwise known as the JimmyMonster) is content to simply saunter along next to me. Sometimes we collect leaves and sticks and the occasional pinecone. Occasionally we share a look of commiseration about his brother’s antics. His interest is piqued whenever we encounter water of any sort, from puddles to sprinklers to someone’s trickling hose. I can lose him for minutes to silent, rapt consideration of one home’s front-yard fountain.

“It’s like the big waterfall,” Sam told me solemnly as we watched him during one rest break for this purpose. If the cracks in the sidewalk can be potentially dangerous gorges, I guess a small fountain can be Niagara Falls.

Every flower is exotic. (Especially dandelions gone to seed.) Every random leaf is beautiful. Every house has something that needs to be pointed out and admired. (I can’t wait until Halloween decorating season really ramps up this year.) Every neighbor must be greeted, every vehicle identified (Sam likes Chevys), every airplane tracked across the sky, every doggie patted (with permission, of course).

It may take us far longer to get around the block than it should, but, boy, do we have a fun time doing it.

With all the frustrations, costs and trials of being a parent, it can be difficult, sometimes, to see the payback. Hugs and kisses and “I love you, Mommy!” moments are always good, but little boys don’t always tend to slow down for them much. The knowledge that you’re doing your best to raise responsible, compassionate adults is all fine and well, but you don’t see the results of that for decades.

Walking our neighborhood with my kids, however, has shown me another advantage.

They make you look with new eyes. 

I remember walking for exercise or just to get some groceries, pre-kids, barely aware of my surroundings except for when I crossed the street or nodded to a passerby. Was it quicker? Was it better exercise? Of course it was. It was also pretty boring.

Did I see the fountain, the rose bush, the squirrels playing tag on the wires? Did I notice how that the sun on that sprinkler creates a rainbow, that a pinecone can be beautiful? 

Did I notice the crocodiles and the volcanos?

Somehow, with these two, I don’t think I’ll ever be bored.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at