After a year of busy school schedules, endless sports practices, and increased work commitments, I started the summer feeling a little too disconnected from my two boys. I sensed that they were tired of running around and always having to be somewhere, so we pondered the idea of a summer without camp. No early morning wakeup calls, no commutes to distant soccer fields, and no outlay of big bucks times two.

We made the decision to forgo camp, but I didn’t really have a plan of what we would do. Obviously, New York City has no shortage of parks, museums, zoos, and other family activities, but the whole idea was to relax a little bit. On the other hand, we would all go nuts if we just sat around our apartment.

Looking back on the summer, I think we did a great job finding the right balance. We spent most of the time doing normal summer stuff: taking bike rides, going to the library, swimming at our community center, and tending to our tiny little community garden plot. We also did some quintessential NYC stuff: a Staten Island Yankees minor league baseball game, a day trip to Coney Island, a day at the Bronx Zoo and Arthur Avenue (Bronx’s Little Italy).

Everything was on our own terms though, which left us time to go with the flow. Here are four of our best adventures:

We Found
This spring was the season that Little League really clicked for my 8-year old. He has become a baseball fanatic, so we were excited to hear that the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was being held in New York City this year. As part of the festivities, giant apples were placed around the city for each team. We took a picture with our favorite team’s apple, and my son suggested we spend the week hunting down the rest of the apples. We ended up taking a few weeks to become tourists in our own city as we set out each day to focus not only on finding the apples, but also on enjoying some new neighborhoods. We especially loved trying some iconic food spots: fried chicken and waffles at Amy Ruth’s in Harlem, Italian ices at The Lemon Ice King of Corona in Queens, and bite-size doughnuts from Doughnuttery in Chelsea Market.

Activities

We Created
After many years of birthday and Christmas presents, my boys have a vast collection of LEGOs. One thing the boys remember from last summer is that we built all the sets and left them built so we could set up a functioning LEGO City. We have planes, trains, buses, and automobiles along with airports, stations, and parking lots. We have homes, shopping, restaurants, and all of the public services to keep the town’s citizens safe: police, fire, and ambulance crews, stations, and vehicles. We’ve had marathon sessions with various little LEGO people waking up in the morning, moving around the city to go to work, and then heading home, or if they’re lucky, on to the airport for a flight to their favorite vacation spot. This summer, we decided to take it up a notch by capturing one of these sessions on video. We worked together on a script and then shot the video scene by scene.

We Built
One morning, I noticed the boys playing a tiny game of hockey with a marble and spatulas from one of their old kitchen sets. Inspired by my friend Mike Adamick’s Dad’s Book of Awesome Projects, I suggested we build a hockey rink. Following Mike’s lead, we looked around the house for the materials we would need to execute the project. We didn’t find much, but luckily we didn’t need much as we broke down a box from that morning’s grocery delivery, made a few cuts and folds, and used some packing tape to keep it all together. To add a little surface area, we folded the box in a cross shape rather than the standard rectangle. The box had some pre-cut openings that worked perfectly as goals, and the boys added some circles and lines for authenticity. We made up a few rules, called the game Crossball, and we’ve been playing with it all summer.

Activities

We Danced
My wife’s family is from India, and we get invited to a lot of weddings. Every now and then we get asked to perform a dance as part of the celebration. This summer, we were invited to dance for her cousin’s wedding and decided to make it a family affair. We hired a teacher to come to our apartment for three sessions, and we learned the dance together. The boys were definitely hesitant, but the dance turned out to be really fun, and they got a taste of what it’s like to perform in front of a big crowd. This was a great experience because we all started out on pretty equal footing, and we all worked hard to achieve our goal together. Though we’re all very proud of the accomplishment, that video will stay in the family archives.

Activities

As the end of the summer approaches, I’m so happy that we were able to put everything aside and really enjoy our time together. Can’t wait to see what comes up next summer!

Matt Schneider lives with his wife and two boys in New York City. He is the co-founder of NYC Dads Group, a community of active dads supporting each other as they navigate parenthood. Matt also hosts The Modern Dads, a podcast highlighting stories of 21st Century dads and families.

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