It takes us most of a day to get there, and when we finally do arrive the traffic around Canal street is so snarled we spend an hour traversing no more than eleven blocks. Still, there is no way to quash my glee or theirs. It’s the boy’s first time seeing the city, and for me it always feels like going home. My heart begins to beat to a different tempo in Harlem, and as we move down 135th street, we roll the windows down enough to let everything hit us in the face: smoked corn, roasted nuts, music thumping, exhaust, laughter, yelling.
The kids eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them, everything magic, and when we cut onto the Henry Hudson and the majestic buildings along the highway on the Upper West Side come into view, Sprout calls them castles. Later, when we’re downtown he has no more adjectives left. “Really, really tall” and “e-nor-mous!” no longer suffice.
The hotel is in TriBeCa, and by the time wecheck in all of us our starving. We connect with T’s parents and then, each of us holding the hand of a wonder-struck boy, we move up crowded Canal street through hawkers and buskers selling everything from wind-up toys to pricy knock-offs that require ducking into empty hallways and back rooms to purchase, making our way to Little Italy for food. We find a place without plastic menus, where the gnocchi Neapolitan is handmade. The boys eat two bowls.
Hunger sated we wander slowly back, stopping for torrone at a cart where the man cuts it with one swift whack of the cleaver, and then the boys eat it, somehow covering themselves, head to torso in stickiness. It’s a rookie mistake on my part, and the only time on the trip I’ll be caught without wipes.
Back at the hotel, Sprout falls asleep in a blink. Bean takes longer to unwind. We leave them with T’s mother, and stop for a glass of wine at T’s brother’s room, where their kids are awake finally, still on Japan time. We say our hellos, but after a glass, we’re itching to be off, and outside I can’t stop grinning as the night air hits my cheeks.
I know exactly where I want to be, and when we get there, there is a line until the next seating at 11, and so we find a table in a tiny café, share an affogatto, and sip glasses of white. Tired hits, but the feeling doesn’t last when the music starts.
In Smalls the walls are brick and covered with everything: evidence of literary lives, of musical greats, of love, of thwarted love, of things the way they were and things the way they are. A torn cover off a Salinger paperback. A dried rose tucked between bottles. Egg crate foam stapled to the eaves above the drum set. I sip something with grenadine and Markus Strickland carries in his horn, and people are moving, some leaving, but mostly dozens upon dozens arriving, and by some kind of perfect luck we get two stools at the bar where you can see everything: the alchemy of breath becoming song.
When they start to play I feel tears at the corners of my eyes, a grin so wide it makes my cheeks ache. Tonight, this is the way I pray, embodying song, swaying to the rhythm, complex, conversational, perpetual. There is a mirror tilted above the piano player, and also above the drummer, and their moving hands make poetry. Fingers flying, they are in some kind of hurtling conversation until the bdass slides in, whispering a solo, and everyone bows their head slightly, the notes tender, pleading, urgent, begging us to take heed of the only thing that will save us, and then the room swells up again, the sax carrying us all.
The night passes, and morning arrives, and we’re still there. I’m kissing his neck, his hand running up my back. Grinning, we leave reluctantly at 2:30, tumbling into other’s arms as we fall into bed; knowing only the fierce, uncomplicated language of desire, then sleep.
Somehow, miraculous I remember the Easter Bunny, and when they wake up, the boys find brimming baskets and tuck themselves under the desk by the floor to ceiling window and look out at the taxis already moving in fits and starts through the intersection below us, to count their chocolate eggs. T and I lie in bed, warm still, arm wrapped around each other, and when the boys climb onto our bed, Easter bucket’s titling, their fingers are sticky, and eyes wide.
Our kids are kids now, and that has changed everything about what parenting and adventuring means.
There are new horizons now, of What’s possible, and what we can imagine possible. I love the heft and sweetness of wee ones, but there is something about the way they steak a claim on you—the way you belong to them, body and soul. The way your space is never your own, nor your nights, nor any hour of the day. Having boys though, is another experience entirely, and we’re starting to explore what it means to move about, the four of us, in new places, on new adventures.
We talk about Paris. Guatemala. Portugal. We talk about taking a cross-country trip. And mostly, we talk about living in other places that aren’t at the end of this dirt road.
We spend the day the way any day might be spent: eating pastries, looking into shop windows, sipping smoothies, peaking into churches, riding the subway. We eat lunch with T’s brother and family, the cousins all squirming as we sit on the wooden floor in a Korean place, then take a zillion pictures. The air grows cold. We pick the wrong subway train. Pass the Natural History Museum. Stand forever at 125th street, then catch another train that takes us back too far in the other direction. We don’t give up. Unflagged, we finally get the local, getting off at 81st street. The museum is a zoo. So many people that after an hour we’re inundated. Tempers flare for the very first time. I need warmer clothes. T needs to eat. The kids fight over the penny flattening machine.
Finally T and I look at each other and laugh, realizing that we don’t have to stay. So we don’t. We go instead to the nearest pretzel stand and buy two big fat pretzels, salty and soft and then catch the subway back to the hotel.
We eat in our old Upper East Side neighborhood before leaving, and the rain arrives as we go. By 10pm, we’re nearing Albany and though we planned to make it all in one drive, we stop instead, admitting tiredness and tucking ourselves in at the nearest hole-in-the-wall hotel, and in the morning we head home as dawn spills like milk over the Adirondacks. It was a good trip. And when we got home T and I turned to each and said nearly simultaneously, “We are insane if we don’t do this every six months.”
Do you travel and adventure with your kids? If so, what tips and tricks have you learned?
For us, the best thing about this trip was doing very little while we were there. We mostly acted like locals. Wandered through SoHo, and took our sweet time. The Natural History Museum was something I’d put on my 36/36 list, so we had to go. But I’m glad we didn’t make any other plans. Spontaneous exploration always suits me best anyway. There’s ample time that way to take photographs and experience the delight of ordinary remarkable details.