Tomorrow I’m taking the girls to NYC. We’re renting a minivan with our friend Dani and her little boy, Finley, and heading to the city just for the day. (We need the minivan to accommodate the three enormous car seats. And it’s cheaper than a train.) The children’s fathers have abandoned us and are staying home, apparently to work, or something equally dreadful. Fine, we say, we’ll have all the fun.
To recap, the players will be:
Me: A grown-up, relatively capable, has visited NYC twice before (see more below), aspiring calm and collected Mama.
Dani: Also a grown-up, very capable, and infinitely cooler than me.
Alyce: Three years old, exceedingly cute, asks a question every 4.3 seconds.
Finley: Eleven months old, handsome, and maybe also cooler than me.
Shira: Eleven months old, delicious, and teething.
I’m really looking forward to the trip. I love New York. I’ve always dreamed of living there, though I don’t expect that will ever happen (and I’m good with that. I have lots of other ideas to try out instead). When it comes to New York, I am happy to settle for lots of visiting. My first trip, a glorious three days, took place a few weeks after Matt and I got married. He was doing research at the Jewish Theological Seminary and had sublet a wonderful faculty apartment right next to Columbia. I was teaching in Toronto that summer and flew down for a long weekend. We were both still glowing from a fantastic wedding, and at twenty-one weeks pregnant with Alyce, I was glowing all by myself enough for the two of us. We spent three days eating, strolling, sweating, and gazing (in MOMA). A truly exceptional holiday it was.
My second trip was less idyllic. I know that I sometimes have a tendency to exaggerate now and then (for the sake of a good story, no doubt), but the following description of events is entirely true. I know good people who can vouch for me.
We had recently wound up in Delaware and some good friends from Canada, Kaylie and Jay, were in our neighbourhood getting ready for a big trip to Ireland. (It turned out that in a few short days, during their trip, Jay would propose to Kaylie, in the middle of a downpour, I think. Kaylie, please correct me if necessary.) They were flying out of New York and wanted to spend the day nosing around Manhattan. Being the nice people they are, they invited me along for the day. Matt had to stay home so it was just the three of us, plus ten month old Alyce. The logistics of the trip didn’t scare me. We’d drive 45 minutes to Philadelphia and hop on a train to Penn Station. And Alyce? The two-hour train ride each way was going to coincide almost exactly with her morning nap and bedtime, respectively, so obviously I would just nurse her to sleep each time and we’d be on our way. La la la la la, everything will be fine. Sure she’d probably miss her afternoon nap--or she could just nap while we ate lunch, or wandering around in her carrier if she really wanted to sleep--but she’d be fine. I felt brave enough to invite her along on our day of fun and I didn’t mind schlepping all her stuff around with us (umbrella stroller, ergo-type carrier, diaper bag). And we’d be in good company, able to lean on Kaylie and Jay when we needed them. Mostly I just wanted to be that kind of parent who didn’t think that babies and kids had to stand in the way of a little adventure. I still want to be that parent, and in many ways, I am. But sometimes adventure turns around and bites you on the baby.
It was on this day that I learned not to depend on babies for consistency of any kind. Yes, I could usually rely on Alyce to nurse willingly around her nap time, and that said nursing would induce Alyce to accept the inevitability of said nap, but I was truly delusional if I thought all this would happen on a train. With lots and lots of people. As our train moved closer to the city, I realized that her morning nap was not going to happen. I instantly panicked, and everyone who has ever spent time with a baby who likes her regular naps will understand why. Sleep begets sleep, right? So you know where this is going.
We arrived in New York and I tried very hard to imagine that Alyce non-nap never happened. I was so happy to be back and the four of us decided to start our day with a wonderful tourist stop: the Empire State building. Minus a tiny anxiety attack in the longest elevator ride of my life, it was a successful visit. It was stunning up there, and Jay took one of my favourite photos of all time, that of a pigeon casually hanging out on the edge of the building, seemingly unaware of the gizillion foot drop at his feet. (I know, birds fly, but it still makes me nervous.) I can’t remember what we did next, but soon it was lunch. I always remember the food. Jay had some things he wanted to do (like maybe escape my overtired Alyce), so Kaylie and I shared a great lunch. The rest of the afternoon is a blur, between me worrying about Alyce’s eleven minute nap as we wondered around the MOMA store and worrying even more about what was to come in the non-sleeping department. Yet I continued to have hope for our train back to Philadelphia, which would just be the two of us since Kaylie and Jay were taking off for Ireland.
Let me just take a moment to speak to the non-parents of the world. For many of us, from the moment our child is born, we obsess over sleep. These wee babes come into the world needing just the right amount of sleep (no more, no less) in order to make it through each day. Miss a nap? I wouldn’t want to be in that house. Babies--at least my babies--develop a terrible case of crazies without one of their naps. Miss both naps? Run fast. You might as well be running, since you won’t be getting much sleep that night.
So fast forward to my train home. It’s around seven, an hour past her usual bedtime. Alyce and I board the train, having said good-bye to a grateful-to-escape-us Kaylie and Jay. We settle into our seat next a kind-looking woman in her fifties. I unhook my nursing bra, maneuver Alyce into nursing position, and get ready to relax for the two-hour trip home. Of course, this did not happen. Not the nursing or the two hours. Alyce instantly lost her mind. LOST IT. She refused to nurse, refused to sleep, and refused to even look me in the eye. She was an angry, tired baby. My kind neighbour tried to lighten up the mood a little bit, smiling at Alyce, even rubbing my arm. But after the first two hours of Alyce screaming (remember, this story is exaggeration-free), stuck somewhere in New Jersey because of a broken something, I finally broke down and lost my own mind. She wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t stop screaming, and I didn’t know what to do, or how to defend myself if my train mates ganged up on me. At this point I called Matt and told him that I didn’t care how he did it, but I needed him to meet me in Philadelphia. With the both of us crying I was in no position to find my car, late at night in a city I had never been in before, and drive home. I was worried we wouldn’t make it home. So my most amazing husband found the only cab in Delaware (why does this state not have taxis?) and paid the nice man one hundred dollars to meet his wife and daughter at the train station. And he never said another word about it.
So naturally, we’re going back. I like an adventure. I’m now have a few extra years of experience under my belt (and another baby, but who’s counting), and were driving our own car. I also have episodes of Dora and the Wonder Pets on my phone that I’m not afraid to use.
P.S. Could this post have been longer?