Exhaustion is a constant companion these days. No surprise there, really. I wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night worrying about what I forgot to do the day before and wondering how in the hell I'm going to accomplish everything I need to do next. I get up crazy early and go to bed late trying to work a little quiet time around the kids' demands, and I live on coffee and spoonfuls of peanut butter most of the time. Full meals only happen when I have company or the kids demand something other than cereal, frozen pizza, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In another life, I did Bikram yoga and ate fruit and steel-cut oatmeal and cooked dinner on a regular basis. In this one, my self-care looks like the diet Emily Blunt's character in The Devil Wears Prada describes: "Well, I don't eat anything, and when I'm about to pass out, I eat a cube of cheese."
It isn't sustainable. I know this.
Yet still I tried to cram as much as possible into every single minute of every single day. These past few months as the move loomed, I justified it by thinking, "After the summer, I won't be able to do this. I won't be able to see this person or go to this place or be with this group or have this conversation--maybe ever again. It's worth a little exhaustion." For the most part, I stand by that logic. I've had some experiences I will remember for the rest of my life. But I'm running on fumes and can barely keep up with normal life at this point.
Today we finished up my son's bucket list with a trip to the Statue of Liberty. I bought the monument passes weeks ago, but it just so happened our visit fell on the day of the US Women's Soccer Team's World Cup victory parade. My oldest daughter and I watched the final game in an Irish bar Sunday night--she played varsity as a freshman in high school last year--so when I told her about the parade, she asked if we could go since we would be in the city anyway. Of course I said yes, even though it meant getting up and out the door earlier than anyone wanted. We went to bed last night without definitive plans, though, so in a slightly pathetic modern moment this morning, we texted each other from our respective bedrooms about whether it would be worth it or not. As I looked at her little sister snuggled up next to me snoring and her brother asleep on the other side of the room, I wasn't disappointed when she balked at first.
Then she changed her mind, and the machine that drives four people out of bed, through their morning routine, and into the car in under 45 minutes took over.
It was not a perfect day. We bickered and complained; we raised our voices in unpleasant moments; we had to deal with crowds and waiting in lines and trying to find a place to eat when we were already hungry and every place we stopped was bursting at the seams; there were tears from the youngest and insults between the two older kids. But mixed in and around all of that were moments of tenderness, genuine affection and amusement, laughter, and a sense of connection that has eluded us for far too long.
So when the ferry (which we told the youngest was driven by "fairies" so that she wouldn't derail the whole day with her fear of boats) docked at Battery Park, and the kids looked at me to see if I would make them walk across the Brooklyn Bridge--the one thing I had left on MY bucket list--or take them home, I pulled them to me for a group hug and set off for the subway that would take us back to the parking garage, the West Side Highway, and home.
New York (and the Northeast in general) is a gifted teacher, and I have been an eager student. I have learned as many lessons as this incredible part of the world could teach me at this stage of my life; lessons that have fundamentally transformed how I think and experience life. I'm leaving with gratitude and wonder and a determination to continue to build on so many positive changes.
But New York is also the city that never sleeps, and I am a woman who needs sleep in the worst possible way. As the ferry docked, I felt all those months of frenetic going/doing/seeing come to a close and knew in my bones I am done with my time here. I can't give in to the exhaustion yet because I have too much left to do, but there's a stillness around the edges now. I can feel peace waiting for me on the other side of everything that remains to be done, reaching for me across all of the sad goodbyes and endless tasks involved in moving, and I'm finally ready. It's time to go.
One week from today, almost everything I own will be on a moving truck headed for Texas. Next Tuesday morning, I will put one last load of furniture and clothes/toys out for Salvation Army, let Stanley Steemer do their best with the carpet upstairs, and then pile into the car with three kids and a dog and all our various gear for the first stretch of the 1500 miles between us and our new home. Fifty boxes, several rolls of tape, packing paper, and assorted moving necessities sit in a pile in the playroom downstairs. I have so much to do that I had to make a list of all the other lists I need to make to keep everything organized. Will it go in the car with us? Will it go on the moving truck? Can I ship it to the house in Texas so that if the truck is delayed, I will at least have a couple of things I need? I would be lying if I said I had everything under control.
So naturally, I took the kids to the zoo today.
When he found out we were moving, my son put together his "NYC Bucket List" of things he's wanted to do for the past nine years. We checked off the Intrepid and Empire State Building a few weeks ago, but we still have a few stops to go and now the clock is really ticking. Though it makes little logical sense to anyone other than me, I feel the same urgency to get through the Bucket List as I do to have the house packed up and ready for the movers. So come hell or high water (or scattered showers that had us scrambling for cover in the gift shop), today we were going to the Bronx Zoo.
My son has no memory of living anywhere but in this house. His first pet (Linny the Guinea Pig) is buried in the backyard underneath a gravestone he made with his best friend across the street. His other best friends all live in the neighborhood, and together they've made it almost all the way through the elementary school that is exactly five minutes away (four if you're really in a hurry for drop off in the morning). He spent many a summer afternoon lost in play that migrated from our yard to his friend's house across the street before going up or down the hill and back again and included all the kids on the street, even the really little ones. He would sneak sodas out of our refrigerator to give to his friends and gleefully accepted popsicles--the sugary kind that I will never buy--at their houses. Before we moved here, I didn't know that a place still existed where kids could be outside until the streetlights came on, and mothers stood on the front porch and called their children's names when it was time to come home; the only real way to get into trouble was to go beyond the range of your mother's voice. He learned to ride his bike in the driveway and progressed from the toddler end to the deep end of the local pool over several summers as his swimming improved. One memorable summer, he unnerved a slew of lifeguards at the lake by diving down to the bottom to look at rocks for as long as he could before having to come up for air. He can tell you the best playgrounds depending on what you want to do (the good swings are here, but this one has the best slides, etc.), and he knows the best streets for trick-or-treating at Halloween and the best places to hide Easter eggs in the backyard. This is his home, and he loves it here.
The realities of getting ready for a move have thrown his world off its axis. Watching his toys make their way from his bedroom and playroom to donation bags to drop off stations or lined up on the curb for pick up has been like something out of Toy Story 3. He even went outside in the rain last night to sit on the mattress and sofa my oldest daughter and I dragged out for bulk trash pick up. He said, "I grew up on that couch," and he's right--we bought it when I was newly pregnant with him. I welcome this process of purging, and I feel lighter with every load that leaves my hands; he mourns the loss of the most insignificant McDonald's toy that he hasn't picked up in years because he remembers the day he got it, and that afterwards we went to play at the park, and he got to pet someone's puppy at the playground.
Saying goodbye to his class on the last day of school had him wailing a cry of lament that left both of us breathless and spent after almost an hour of rocking back and forth on his bedroom floor. Saying goodbye to the cats we can't have in our rent house was almost as bad. There are more goodbyes to get through in this next week that will have both of us on the floor all over again. I can't stop any of that from happening. I can't stop his little heart from breaking wide open, again and again.
So today we went to the zoo.
In the middle of January 1999, a 21-year-old bride and her new husband made their way up the stairs at the Kenmore Square T stop on their first trip to Boston. It was the first time she had ever taken public transportation, and a man in a turban must have noticed how lost they looked after they landed at Logan, because without him, they never would have figured it out. He had showed them where to go, and even helped her husband lug the big green suitcase she had used throughout college down into the tunnel and pointed them toward the proper train. Feeling proud of themselves for successfully navigating the rest of the way, they stepped out onto the street and braced themselves against the unfamiliar cold.
They were hungry and had some time to kill, so they ducked into a burrito place before trying to find the bed and breakfast where they would be staying. They barely spoke while they ate, preferring instead to look out the windows and process the busy sidewalks and snow banks and try to picture themselves coming home from work or the grocery store; not as tourists but people who belonged there.
After they finished their burritos, they consulted the printed Mapquest directions he had folded into a pocket with their plane tickets. They found the place in a neighborhood that looked like what she recognized as Boston from watching Ally McBeal and went inside, and he checked them in for only the second time in their lives as “Mr. and Mrs.”
That night they ate dinner at Legal Seafoods using a gift certificate they got for Christmas from an especially thoughtful aunt. He ordered beer with his dinner, but she drank soda because she didn’t like beer or wine and wouldn’t have known what to order anyway. They looked for the Citgo sign as a landmark to help orient themselves on the way back, and they borrowed the B&B’s copy of Good Will Hunting to watch when they returned to their room.
Over the next four days, they accomplished the stated purpose of the trip and visited the law schools where she had applied earlier in the fall. One had already accepted her; the other never would, but she still thought there was hope at that point. They took turns taking photos of each other visiting important landmarks (selfies weren’t a thing back then) and learned to navigate the T with ease, though she found herself reluctant to speak to him while they were on the trains—her Texas twang sounded so loud and thick in her ears alongside the foreign languages and Boston accents that made up the other conversations nearby. It embarrassed her; she knew the connotations it carried. It meant so much to her to seem like she could fit in.
He didn’t like to wait for her to get ready in the mornings, so he would go on walks while she blow-dried her hair and come back with Dunkin Donuts (another first for her) and stories of the neighborhood. They seemed on the verge of something so adventurous and exciting and undeniably grown up to be thinking of moving more than a thousand miles away from everything they knew to start their new life together.
Sixteen years and a lifetime later, I walked past the same corner after watching the Red Sox smack the Houston Astros around during their Fourth of July game. The burrito place isn’t there anymore, but I recognized the corner. I will always recognize that corner of one of the complicated intersections that make driving in Boston such a pain. I smiled, remembering the first trip but also a Mother’s Day trip with my two oldest children, my mom, and one of my younger brothers. My mom and brother went to a game at Fenway, but I decided to take the kids for a walk instead and went past the B&B where their father and I had stayed. I made my daughter stop and take a picture next to the sign, and when I showed it to him, he said, “Oh, wow. That’s really cool,” and meant it.
I was tempted to walk by there again today. It was, after all, the scene of an important life event, and I was still a little buzzed from my Dos Equis at the baseball game and feeling nostalgic. That was a happy time, and I have fond memories of that trip. I also have fond memories of other trips we took to Boston—we spent two Fourths of July here with the kids—and it would only be a small detour down Memory Lane. Just cross the street, go to the end of the block, turn right, and I would be there. Instead I forced myself to stay on Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
But when I came to the opposite end of the block, it took me a full ten minutes to cross the other direction and stay on course for the Public Garden. I stood there debating in my head what harm it would do to walk by one more time, for old times’ sake. I started to go that way several times, stopped, turned back around, reconsidered, moved that way again, and repeat. Now thinking back on it, I wonder what I must have looked like to the other people standing on the corner with me: like a toddler who needs to go to the bathroom? Or someone trying to remember some dance steps? Most likely I resembled someone who can’t decide whether she is coming or going, which isn’t far from the truth. Eventually I kept moving forward, but not without a sigh and more than one backward glance.
There are two things I consider my biggest failures in life. To be sure, they are not terminal failures. I have gone on from each of them to become more comfortable in my own skin, more aware and vocal about the life I want to make for myself. But they are failures nonetheless:
1) I quit law school after one semester, not even a year after that first trip to Boston. When push came to shove, my motivation to be a lawyer stemmed from a desire to make a lot of money and impress my father, two things I have since decided are not worth building a life around.
2) Earlier this year, I divorced the man who lugged around my green suitcase and brought me donuts and eventually gave me three children who are my reason for being on this planet. I loved being a wife; I was really good at it. But despite being an expert in making things work, the marriage was a Humpty Dumpty-style catastrophe that even I couldn’t put back together again.
But this is not going to be the story of those failures; this is the story of whatever is coming next.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.