I love New York City. I have never loved a city more. I grew up in Tallahassee and have a deep love for its rolling hills and canopied oaks and its sweet southern people. But given the choice, I’d move to New York. Tomorrow. I wouldn’t leave my family, obviously. And I wouldn’t do it against the wishes of those important to me. But a girl can dream. And my dream is to live in New York.
I grew up in the aisles of public libraries. And in those aisles, I once put my hands on a Madeleine L’Engle book. After that first one, I put my hands on all of her books. I’ve never read another author that punched my gut more, struck more chords, or created more relatable characters. She was the voice of my dreams. The words of my unfolding childhood. The Small Rain. Camilla. A Wrinkle in Time. The Moon By Night.
As I fly home from NYC, I have Becoming Madeleine in my lap. It is her story, written by her granddaughters. Her story unfolds like the dream I once had for myself. But sometimes goals and dreams don’t line up. I never want to miss my life for my dreams. I can’t risk looking away from what’s been entrusted to me–and from the One who entrusted–to gaze at the what-ifs. Maybe even the what-shouldn’t-bes. Dreams can relocate. Dreams can change. Dreams can be deferred. Life can’t. If I get to the end of my life and never get a single page published but my kids are gathered around me, I have succeeded exponentially. I would have no regrets. On the other hand, if I get to the end surrounded by a career but having missed the point of the beautiful people, my regret would be the final chapter, likely read by nobody special.
For now, I’ll continue walking the lighted path in front of me, reading anything L’Engle, satisfied that I managed to create in 4 young people a love and respect for the colors and energy of New York City on a trip I will never forget. For now, that is dream enough and far more than I deserve.
But if fortune plays a different hand someday and I up and disappear, you can find me on a rainy day in Times Square. I’ll be the one looking a little confused and carrying a cheap umbrella.
“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I am sitting in the airport, delayed because the sky has settled into the ground like thick gauze. There’s zero visibility. It could be 3 p.m. It could be midnight. Nobody would know the difference. I’m fine to wait until someone can see something. I do hope I get home to my dog tonight.
We arranged our last few itinerary wishes around the forecast. Our forethought in doing so still wasn’t enough. You can’t know how hard the rain will be. You can’t know how many other people you’ll be dodging as you walk through it. And you can’t know how bad a $6.99 umbrella from Duane Read (Walgreens) will be.
Or can you?
I had some time to kill last night while four of my people went into Ripley’s Believe it or Not. I never go into a Ripley’s because I am in the Or Not category and I figure if I’m going to make fun of every exhibit, I can do that outside for free. So I did. I had a duplicate stocking stuffer to return with a receipt to Duane Read. I figured I’d just get on ahead of the forecast and buy my family some umbrellas for today.
After returning the items I had bought and not used in the kids’ stockings, I slapped 6 emergency ponchos and 6 generic black Duane Read umbrellas up on the counter. The man checking me out had long blue hair and looked like he used to be in Genesis. He stopped the process and looked at me.
“Is it raining right now?” he asked.
“No,” I answered. “But I saw that it was supposed to start by 3 a.m. and we have a lot on the schedule tomorrow, so I thought I would buy the umbrellas now.”
“Oh, ok,” he replied. “Just asking. Because we usually only sell this umbrella when it is raining right then.”
Hmm. I’m not sure I like your tone, sir.
“I only need the umbrella for one day,” I said. “We’ll trash it when we’re done. You think it’s got a day in it?”
“Hopefully,” he said. He had begun ringing me up. Even buying the worst umbrellas I could find, with emergency ponchos, I still rang up to $63.10. I wasn’t going to go higher in quality. That meant going higher in price.
I dropped those umbrellas into a brand new Pusheen backpack and walked across the street to Starbucks where I ordered myself a nice hot cocoa with an abundance of whipped cream. There was something about that whole experience that made me feel both very grown up and very childish. The backpack didn’t help my case. Walking to Bryant Park alone, did.
When I awakened this morning, I looked out at the Empire State building and it was lost in the drizzle and the clouds. A 90 story building that had boasted the colors of Christmas throughout our stay was no match for today’s gloom. We packed up and got out early, because our plan was to visit the 9-11 memorial and museum. A few other people made that same plan. So many that we changed our plan to stomping in disgust and getting back on the subway. Well, that’s not exactly how it went, but I personally was bitterly disappointed to skip that. We stood in the rain at the footprint of both the fallen towers and observed the memorial. Then we gave up on the museum.
We wandered the rest of the morning in a rainy Times Square and ate lunch in La Havana. The rain fell cold around us, but we had our $6.99 umbrellas, so we stayed not dry at all. One of the umbrellas only deployed by shaking it furiously, which becomes awkward in a crowd. Brady’s umbrella deployed forcefully at random, which at one point almost caused him a concussion. None of us asked him why he had it pointed at his own head, but it would have been a fair question to ask. The fact that none of us asked probably is its own answer. Jenna’s umbrella turned inside out three different times when the wind hit her wrong. And mine literally separated into two pieces. Other than that, I highly recommend the Duane Read $6.99 generic black umbrella.
The wet cold settled into us until we made it back to our hotel to gather our belongings. Our feet were soaked. Our clothes needed some time with a hotel hair dryer. But the colors. The colors. The colors in Times Square laid like mosaics in the wet streets. It was far more vivid than the dry days we walked it. Sometimes there are gifts in the rain. And colors in the rainy streets.
And sometimes the best thing one can do when it rains is to let it rain.
But there’s also something to be said for a quality umbrella.
After the night we had, I think I should probably stick to bullet points this morning. I’m also plunking this out on my phone, and we all know how phone typing goes for me.
Last night around 11:30, when I was threatening bodily harm already to the girls who wouldn’t stop flapping their gums, Jenna says, “What’s that creepy noise?” My answer was, “Go to sleep or the creepy noise will be the spanking you’re getting.” Oh, who am I kidding? She is who she is because she needed spanking and I just couldn’t do it.
Anyway, I’m good at the threats.
But, as I lay there with my good ear against a pillow and my bad ear to the air, I heard a noise too. A noise like dripping. A dripping like Niagara Falls. So I got up to check the bathroom, thinking our shower was dripping and discovered that the hotel room directly above us was raining right into our room. I grabbed the phone to call downstairs and Tim was at the door before I could even change clothes. Don’t worry. It’s too cold here to be indecent.
Tim didn’t have much to offer. No maintenance or mechanics were on duty and there were no rooms like ours available. I said good night to Tim and used every towel in the place to soak up the water and prayer to stop the water.
Then we tried all over again to get the talkers to shut up. Threaten and repeat.
This morning, I checked the situation and the water was no worse. I hope they fix it upstairs because I don’t want to leave this room.
Since sleep was abbreviated, I’ll keep the post abbreviated also.
After wandering a rather interesting neighborhood looking for the 2nd Street Subway station, we asked a man if he could tell us where it was. That man answered as kindly and articulately as any person I’ve ever talked to in my life. “Well, yes sir. It’s just right across this street, attached to the corner of the Whole Foods.” I was convinced he was Columbia University educated. Todd and Brady said he was homeless. Shows what they know.
Walking 34th Street with Todd and Brady at night and introducing Brady to Macy’s.
STOMP. What a great show they put on, in a theater they own in the aforementioned interesting neighborhood.
Riding the subway. The people watching is amazing. Not walking 30 blocks is a magic all its own.
The view from the 86th floor of the Empire State building.
The Black Magical Moments:
The 2nd Street Subway Station. Once we finally found it, we knew why it was hard to find. It’s because you shouldn’t find it. It shouldn’t be found.
Walking 34th Street with the girls. Let’s just leave it at this. I took them back to the hotel to stay with Andrew.
Brady got accosted by a dude selling airheads. “Don’t be scared, boy,” he said. We grabbed our son from the evil clutches and kept walking. We’re not scared, fella. WE JUST DON’T WANT NO STINKING AIRHEADS!
Lucy cannot pass a tour/bus company employee without accepting a pamphlet. “Don’t take any pamphlets” has become a family catchphrase.
Jenna is an easy target for people dressed up like Elmo and the Grinch. They grab her for a picture and before we know it, she’s posed between two strangers wanting our money. We. Don’t.want.the.airheads.people.
The line to the view from the 86th floor of the Empire State building.
There are a lot of people visiting New York City right now who apparently had the same idea we did.
They should have stayed home.
Happy Holidays. Wishing you the good kind of magic.
Everyone knows. Christmas ends 6 minutes after it officially begins. It ends faster than the Thanksgiving meal. That’s why I try to get my lights and decorations up at a ridiculous rate. When the magic is over, it’s over.
It was over at our house by 3 p.m. on Chrismas day. Sometimes we could cool my mother’s Jets for another 18 hours, which meant that our tree wasn’t at the curb until 8 a.m. December 26. But that was all we could hope for unless she had plans.
We consoled ourselves with the toys. Avert your eyes away from the dead tree and ride that big wheel, Missy.
This year was tough all around. For everyone, not just for me. It was a year of character testing and refining and pain and growth and ultimately, joy. There are things you cannot go around. You have to go through. For this round, I think we are through the hardest stuff. We are looking back on it with a Yeesh emoji face, feeling relieved to still be on our feet. Feeling wiser, but only in the areas where we were tested. We’ll mess up again in a whole new category.
The magic of the season had taken a hiatus from the people and places we normally found it. So we took a hiatus, too. And we have found it in new places and activities. And though it is past 8 a.m. on December 26, I hope to prolong the magic for a couple more days.
This year’s magic:
Wandering the Time Square Walgreens for stocking stuffers on Christmas Eve while trying to avoid the girls who were in the store with me.
Matching hats and scarves that don’t make you sweat when you wear them. In fact, you’ll die if you don’t.
The New York public library. The Lions out front are wearing wreathes. This is my favorite building in the city.
The red and green light show put on by the empire State building.
Talking the girls into not watching a real TV show on Christmas Eve and day. Instead, we watched 12 hours of the Yule Log on Hallmark, with classic music and baby animals.
Ice skating in view of the Rockefeller tree.
Wandering 5th Ave.
Listening to my kids snore.
There have been some unmagical things as well. Some might call these the dark arts. Black magic. But I’ll save those for another post, when I’m slightly more irritated with children. One of them has me locked out of the bathroom right now so I’m working on a post in my head.
Happy Holidays from me and my red hat. May your holiday cause you to puff out your chest even if you got nothing to show for anything. That is my wish for the world.
When I began writing early last week, I did it because I was missing my mom. And because I wasn’t at all in the mood for Christmas. The transformative power of words continually surprises me, even though no one believes in that power more than I do. Instead of missing my mom tremendously and feeling bummed, I began to celebrate who she was and what she brought to the holiday each year.
We needed a change this year, so we cane to New York City as a family. This city can accommodate any person, any mood, in any situation. It has accommodated me.
So it’s a different kind of Christmas, with a different kind of magic. And here… Even here…I have passed my mother on the streets. Because the first time I visited NYC in the spring of 1989, she was with me.
Wherever you are today, I hope you are with people you love and I hope you can reach out and grab some magic out of the air in your space.
And if you are missing someone important to you, do your best to remember the joy. Walk a familiar route and you might just pass them on the streets.
When I stepped off the front porch steps into the crunchy yellowing grass of winter, I was already looking left. Just barely downhill from me and across the street was my bestie, Debbie. We operated with only two settings: best friends and I never want to see you again. I can remember so many stomp offs where I said that very phrase and yet I didn’t last even the afternoon before I was back at the best friend setting again. Fortunately, a third setting of ah, just forget it, this friendship is too much trouble did not exist. It was always worth the trouble. And we always patched it up.
Debbie’s house was a smorgasbord of forbidden goodies like HBO and her brand new betamax machine–the 1970s forerunner to the VCR. I watched The Food of the Gods at her house, mesmerized at the car sized mosquito that landed on the 1977 VW beetle, killing the poor saps that were driving it. I didn’t have HBO. I would be 15 before we sprung for a VCR. My brother broke it the first weekend by shoving one tape in on top of another. Which is impossible, by the way. He’s an engineer now.
On December 18, 1977, I wasn’t interested in inside games. No Rated R movies about oversized rats. No betamax. No playroom full of toys. I had Christmas on my mind. I had a few little piddly things on a Christmas list that year. But only one thing really mattered: a new Huffy. Both Debbie and I had asked for this. We had admired the aisle of girls’ Huffys in our Kmart, as little tears of longing formed in our eyes. It’s like Huffy had done their market research IN OUR BRAINS. We wanted those bikes. Bad.
That afternoon, one full week before Christmas, had us kicking around her yard together. Without a bike, I had to walk the 50 feet to her house. Like an animal. I wish I could remember our intentions on this particular day, because it would make a better story if I could. My mother would remember. But I don’t. It’s possible that our intentions were straight up mischievous and my brain has blocked the memory to preserve a better opinion of myself. I can’t tell you what drove us to be standing in front of her backyard shed that day. But we stood there together and each grabbed a metal handle to slide the doors open. And like a cartoon drawn in unison, our mouths dropped open and bounced back a little against our chins. Two of the most beautiful bikes we’d ever seen were propped up together against the left wall of Debbie’s shed. And we needed to shut those doors and get out of there. Fast.
As we snuck around the side of her house and plopped down in the front yard, we both replayed images of glory in our heads. A peach one, #5, Peaches. And a pink one, #2, Sweet Thunder. I secretly hoped mine was the pink one but didn’t say that out loud. I didn’t want to give potential disappointment a place to take root. Whether or not we meant to spoil our Christmas surprise, I can tell you we knew we had. And at that point, we vowed to keep our secret and keep ourselves off the naughty list.
It was a long 7 days with this burning secret in our chests. We didn’t discuss it anymore, but it was in our eyes every day for a week. Oh, the things we had seen. I was wearing my guilt like a bad pair a bellbottoms.
On Christmas morning, I came down the stairs to find Sweet Thunder leaning against a chair in our living room, reflecting the lights of our tree. I was thankful I got the pink one. And I was thankful the madness of pretending I didn’t know was finally over. (I think we both confessed our sins within a day or two.) And I was thankful to have a sweet, sweet ride to get me to Debbie’s house that much faster. With rubber grips and a padded seat, I could cut my travel time from 2 minutes to 18.7 seconds. And I did. Almost daily.
Those bikes were rolling Christmas miracles. Cadillacs. The possibilities open to us were endless. We’d wait until the current shed scandal died down a little. But when that all blew over, Peaches had a basket. Practically luggage. An interstate bike. I was smelling the state line.
As a younger person, I never branded my family as one that
was entrenched in Christmas tradition. We had things we always did, but not
necessarily on a certain day every year or in exactly the same way. The more I
scour my mom’s photo albums of my childhood, the more certain traditions stand
One of our traditions was to decorate my sweet grandmother’s Christmas tree. My Mama always bought a real tree from a nearby lot and she had a type she always went for: short and fat. Every year, she bought a tree shorter than all of us and fatter than a cousin tug-o-war, After the tree was purchased, we picked a date to come over with my cousins to decorate and read the Christmas story out of Luke 2. I can’t think about the holidays without thinking about this. I was a stupid little kid who didn’t always know what was best for me, so I tried to get out of this event a time or two. I wanted to ride my bike or hang in the neighborhood or watch Happy Days reruns. I quickly learned that this was the one event there was no getting out of. Ever. No rearranging it. No cancelling it. No changing it up. This one was in stone.
Because it was the most important thing to my grandmother. And
that made it the most important thing. Period.
Later in my adolescence, my grandmother began to come over the afternoon of Christmas Eve and spend the night. This seemingly minor change in our routine brought me a comfort I can’t explain. I loved having her there. I loved that she wasn’t alone. I loved that she woke up in the house with us. It made me feel one layer more protected from whatever awaited me on the outside. She was the fleece to our blanket.
From year to year, there were the smallest of changes. The tree would change. Because again, it was a LIVE TREE. I have no words to waste on purveyors of the artificial. Some years it wasn’t as fat as I previously described. I feel I have to admit this, because I found pictorial evidence and the tree in the photos is quite fit. Short, but fit. Like a gymnast. But I didn’t lie about the short part. My 10-year-old cousin is taller than this tree. And the reader would change. We all liked to read aloud and we were all decent readers. I remember this being such a competition that at the end of arguing over it, we all needed the Jesus who was about to be born. My grandmother got smart, though, and started prearranging the readers and writing them down, so there’d be no repeats the following year. And the baked goods changed from year to year.
But there was always a 6 oz glass bottled Coke for each of us. And there was always a large jar containing full sized candy bars. And there was a spirit of joy in that tiny, one bedroom apartment, where we hung the 50 year old vintage ornaments and listened to the words and music of the season.
Sure, we misfired on a gift or 50 over the years. And we clearly stunk at handcrafting sleds from recyclables. But I think we had the big stuff right.
Happy Holidays. Enjoy the photographic fiasco that includes a red beret, large, wooden parrot earrings, snide expression, man’s plaid dress shirt, and Jane Fonda hair style.