The first time I made the trip to Manhattan, the year was 1997. I was a senior in high school. It was an art-club expedition, a bunch of kids from a small town trying to make sense of “The Big Apple.” I visited the Guggenheim, the Met and many of the other typical tourist spots in the biggest of all the boroughs.

The second journey came in college for a visit to Times Square; an architecture competition for a building there was the source of my class’ studio project. We lost, but point is, during my 31 years, each of my dozen trips to New York has felt progressively more adult. I’ve attended concerts at smoky Williamsburg bars and in the empty McCarren Park Pool. I’ve biked across the Brooklyn and Queensboro bridges in winter weather, attended bachelor parties on the Lower East Side and shot off New Year’s Eve fireworks and champagne corks from a rooftop in Brooklyn. I’ve traveled to the top of the Empire State Building, eaten pizza from Grimaldi’s, partied in a Dumbo warehouse and seen multiple art exhibitions at MOMA and the New Museum. A few years ago, I even visited Times Square to see the winning architecture competition entry in finished form. But this year, I’ve seen New York from the perspective of my 2-year-old son. Again, the city seems new.

We elected to have Oliver’s tumor resection surgery at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center at the beginning of December. We came up a week before the surgery for various meetings at the hospital. These were only a small part of our week, so we decided to find a few city activities that Oliver would enjoy. Having never been here with a child, Stacy and I branched from the typical things we would have done as a couple. We took Oliver to the zoo, where he got a kick out of the sea lions feeding and the polar bears bathing in the sun. In Central Park, Oliver climbed rocks and branches. Filled with screaming kids and instant wonder, the Big Apple Circus is now something we want to see again as a family. We visited the Museum of Natural History to see the dinosaurs and space exhibitions and even sat with Santa Claus in Bloomingdale’s. In an astonishing adult development, Stacy and I didn’t use the cheapest, longest ways to get around New York this time; rather, we rode in cabs to stay away from the germs of the buses and subways.

As a trio, we walked down the sidewalks, holding hands as Oliver stomped in puddles to splash the three of us. I’ve never walked with anyone this playful on the Upper East Side; he picked up rocks from the tree grills, pointed out ambulances rushing down the street and spotted helicopters in the sky. I’ve always considered these things to be background noise. It’s such a different experience to see America’s biggest city from such a small vantage. He sees and notices details that we completely miss.

Oliver is recovering very well from his surgery. We hope to be home by the end of the year. Before we leave, maybe I’ll take Oliver down to Times Square and get some advice from him about my idea for that competition back in 2000. He’s obviously changed the way I see what’s before me.