Is It Possible To Nourish My Dreams While Raising A Family?
Last night I stayed at an airbnb in Nolita. These trips to the city are precious to me. They are a reminder that the world is bigger than the Pennsylvania suburbs where I live, that my role in life is more than being a chef and a chauffeur and a 24/7 caretaker, that being a mother may be the overarching theme of my life story, but it is not the only chapter.
I make too much of these trips, I know. The time I spend dreaming of my city trips would better be spent growing my roots right here, in my suburban backyard. Better spent making real friends that I can meet for coffee and talk with about kids and exercise and home improvements instead of conjuring up dream friends in the city to drink absinthe and converse about ghosts and poetry and hidden places with.
In my dream world I live in a tiny apartment in the East Village with bookshelves and fresh bagels and a stream of visiting friends. From my windowsill I grow fat roses and sweet smelling peonies. Each morning, before heading out to write in a dimly lit coffee shop on Mott Street, I take a moment to water my flowers. I breathe in their heady scent and watch as they open up their petals to me in gratitude.
In my real world, I live in a big split level home with plenty of bedrooms for guests who never come and a big wooded backyard for kids who would mostly rather be indoors watching YouTube. There is a bald patch on the grass where the former residents once had a garden. A few years ago, I planted some seeds, but the groundhogs ate all the seedlings and my daughter pulled her blue plastic swimming pool over the bare spot and that’s just how it’s stayed.
But, it’s a happy home, a warm home, the perfect home from which to lay down roots.
While I often long to water my dream flowers in the city, I work hard to tend to my roots right here at home. I cook my children nutritious meals and send them to good schools and try, try, try to raise them to be strong, capable, upstanding adults.
But every now and then, when the days stretch out long and uneventful and the small town streets feel too monochrome and empty, I hear my dream flowers whisper to me and I know that they need care as well
So, here I am, waking up on a rainy morning in Nolita.
Last night was lovely. Dinner and drinks with an old friend. But, afterwards, there were missed connections and lonely hours wandering the streets and an early retreat to my tiny sweatbox of a room where I fell asleep to the pulsing energy of a city that will never really be mine. And, instead of longing for my suburban home, I berated myself for letting my real life get so far from my dreams. If only I had moved to the city when I was younger, laid down my roots here… I’d be at home in my dreams, instead of always feeling like a hapless tourist bumbling about alone on foreign streets.
Today, I’m waking up to driving rains and more missed connections with friends and I am tired and wet and wanting both to go home right away and also to stay right here, alone, unneeded, rootless, flowering.
I resist the urge to stay in my room until it’s time for my bus… to let the blistering heat of the 1000 radiators lull me into a trance and miss my last few hours in the city.
As I walk through the rainy streets, the maroon faux fur coat thrift store treasure, which felt so glamorous last night, flops against me like a wet dog… and the dank smell rising up from it makes me wonder how faux this fur really is.
So, I cave and buy an umbrella off the street to add to my collection. I have never once come to the city with an umbrella, but I always leave with one. The growing pile of Empire State umbrellas has become a tally of my escapes. Physical proof of my dream world’s existence.
Having nowhere in particular to go, but determined not to waste my last few hours of freedom, I trudge forward, up and down Spring Street, across Broadway, in and out of the zig-zag streets of Chinatown.
I am alone. I am in a crowd. I am alone in a crowd.
Around me people are carrying briefcases, grocery bags, backpacks. All of them busy, rushing off to very important meetings and urgent appointments. Only a fool would be wandering around in this crazy downpour for no reason.
I am a fool. I am in the rain. I am a fool in the rain.
Most people keep their heads down, their eyes focused on their phones or the puddles they are trying to avoid. But, I look forward, my eyes seeking passerbys, aching to claim some tiny spark of connection to this city of my dreams.
I trudge forward, rain drops collecting on my eyelashes and smiling lips, relinquishing any chance of looking like a cooly detached local. Not many people smile back. But I don’t take offense. It’s miserable out and they are New Yorkers after all.
But, even New Yorkers, with their no-nonsense stride and fixed expressions, can use a moment of connection. I count every mutual nod or shrug of the shoulders as a small victory. Yes, the weather is terrible, but we’re in it together after all.
I am an outsider. I am an insider. I am an outsider on the inside.
On Canal Street, I spot her. A tiny elderly woman in a bright red coat wrestling with an enormous umbrella. Every time it flips inside out, she bursts into peals of laughter. I rush over to help her and my umbrella flips inside out as well.
We stand together, laughing, soaking, laughing some more.
I ask her if she needs help and she gives me a gummy grin and says, “Sorry. No English.” But, who needs English when we have the rain, when we have laughter, when we have the whole world on one tiny island. We are two flowers, our petals open to welcome in the rain.
The numbers on the crosswalk are counting down, and though I have nowhere urgent to be.. Perhaps she does. Grandbabies to tend to or an anxious husband or a doctor’s appointment.
I reach out a hand. “Can I help you across the street?”
She laughs. I laugh.
Her umbrella flips inside out again and I fix it and hold out my arm for her to hold onto
“Are you sure you don’t need help?”
She laughs again and shakes her head.
I am running across the street now, the rain drenching my face, my inside-out umbrella dragging me forward like a band of sled dogs gone rogue.
When I am across the street, I look back, and she is still standing there… a big smile on her face. She waves at me and I wave back. We share one more giggle and then I am off to the bus, to my children, to my husband, to the suburbs… and she stays there, on the street, in the city that will never be mine.
I think about her again on the ride home. Imagine her tiny figure getting smaller as I walk away, her fluffy red coat a mirror of my own, her eyes the twinkliest part of the city that dreary day. I wonder if she has a family to go home to right there in Chinatown… children and grandchildren that love her, that need her… both roots and flowers. I wonder what it would be like to live in your dreams.
My daughter flies into my arms when I arrive. Her arms wrap around me so tightly I can feel my heart pounding against hers. After a few moments, she releases her grip and I look into her sunlit face.
She is a flower. I am her roots. We are both growing.