I thought I might melt in New York City. I thought I’d just sweat myself right into a puddle of DNA, right there on the corner of 14th and 7th (or was it 17th and 4th?). I stood on the sidewalk, in a sliver of shade cast by the tall brick building at my back, and I watched the crowd of people as they made their way up from the subway. “I could stand right here, all day long, just watching the people go by,” I told my daughter. I think she said something about needing to stop at Starbucks.
My children are adults, now. Who knows when that happens? Or how? Theories abound, as theories are prone to do. Some say children become adults when their parents tell them they’re adults. Some say certain birthdays mark the transformation. Others have a ritual to mark the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. I don’t know. Maybe everyone is right. Maybe it just sneaks up on us all, like the heat rising up from that subway tunnel…in degrees.
My daughter and I stood on the corner, waiting for my son and her brother to make his way up that subway staircase. I probably fanned myself. I don’t remember. It wouldn’t have mattered. The air was so hot, it wouldn’t have helped.
I watched two men in front of me. They both looked to be in their twenties, each one wearing a white, button-down shirt. One was drenched in sweat. He’s the one who bummed a cigarette and said, “I don’t know how you do this, man. Eight hours every day?” I wondered, too. Why the white shirts? Do what? Eight hours? Eight hours of what? I watched the cigarette calm the sweaty one down, and the two men parted ways.
“Mom,” my daughter was saying. “I’m going to Starbucks. I’ll be right back.”
“Wait,” I said. “Where is Starbucks?”
“Right around that corner.”
“How do you know?”
“I looked it up,” she was pointing at her phone. She had used it to get us right here to this spot. She’d driven us from Philadelphia to Hoboken, where she parked her car and led me to the train beneath the sidewalk, telling me which stop to watch for. There’s an app, it seems, for everything.
“But what about your brother?”
“We can text him.” It wasn’t necessary, though, because there he was, at the top of the steps.
My children are the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. Breathtaking, really. These days, I spend more time away from them than with them. They’re adults, you know. Grown people. So, when I get to see them again, after months and miles have crossed off squares on the calendar, I’m always surprised by how much they surprise me. They are stunning. They let me hug them on the corner, right there in front of the city bus, and I completely forget how hot it is.
We have one short day together in the city — like Elphaba and Glenda in Oz. Of course, I feel like singing. But I don’t. I know where the line is. Don’t worry.
We kill it, people. We walk our way all over New York. We dip down into the tunnels and we take the train. At one stop, we jump from our seats, run through the open car doors as soon as the train stops, leap across the platform and into the train across from us, just as the doors close behind us. We stroll the High Line, then tour an art exhibit of Polaroid photographs in the Milk Studios. We watch two models in coats and hats — clearly a photo shoot for Fall. We take the stairs to the top floor of the American Museum of Natural History where we stare at dinosaur bones and talk about evolution and God and The Land Before Time. We amble through Central Park, and we stand across from the spot where John Lennon was shot. We walk halfway across the Williamsburg Bridge. And back.
In the evening, we meet up with my daughter’s boyfriend, in the restaurant where Carrie and her girlfriends often ate in episodes of Sex In The City. I eat watermelon salad and my daughter’s boyfriend asks, “So, how was your day?”
I don’t miss a beat. “It was the best day ever!”
He’s not convinced. “Seriously?” he asks. He’s a practical sort of guy. I like him. I think he’s good for her, and vice versa.
“Yes. The best day ever,” I say.
“But, you’ve gotten married. You’ve had two kids,” he’s saying. “This is your best day ever?” Clearly, he is not persuaded, so (for many reasons) I resist the urge to tell him he won’t understand until he has kids of his own.
“Yep,” I answer. “Absolutely.”
“Well, you need to see the skyline, then,” he says. Later, he takes me to a look out point, where I can see the entire city, lit up from across the Hudson River. I want to write an ode to New York City, right there, and sing it at the top of my lungs. But I don’t. I know where the line is. Don’t worry.
One week later, back in Lincoln, I meet up with a friend of mine at the YMCA. We stand in the hot sun, next to the outdoor pool. She has three children, and they are splashing and swimming and laughing behind their goggles. “How was your trip?” she asks.
“It was so great,” I answer.
“I saw your pictures on Facebook. It looked awesome!”
I tell her it was the best day ever, and she doesn’t bat an eye. I tell her how my daughter’s boyfriend wasn’t so sure about my best day declaration, and my friend says, “Oh, absolutely! When you have children, there are degrees of best days. Every day with them is the best day ever!”
She nailed it. I might write a song about it. And sing it at the top of my lungs. When no one’s listening, of course. I know where the line is. Don’t worry.