by bam

New York City is not the shabbiest nor drabbest place to find yourself when, in jetting half across the continent with barely a few hours’ notice, you’ve packed so swiftly you’ve forgotten your toothpaste and grabbed the one pair of hand-me-down shorts that might fall to your knees if not for a safety pin (which you’ve also forgotten).

So, when the Big Apple called eight days ago now, and the caller was the first human I’d pushed from my womb, I leapt into MamaGear at the very first mention of the awful words“spinal tap.” By the time I’d arrived, the scariest of things (we won’t mention those ever again) had been tucked off to the side, and it’s now a matter of doing a whole host of things to avoid unseemly surgery. Those things entail navigating the labyrinth that is the American health insurance system. So, eight days in,we still seem to be spinning our insurable wheels. Of course the boy would take no pause in his drafting of complex legal opinions, so when I’m not listening to the Muzak of phone-systems seemingly stuck on permanent “hold,” I’ve done the unlikeliest thing I’d ever imagine I’d do with these out-of-the-blue, faraway days: I’ve made lemonade. Of this pile of lemons, of course.

After an apartment cleaning of whirlwind proportions––when nervous I find that scrubbing dust bunnies out from the nooks and the shadows is as soothing a balm as ever there was––I decided to use my non-nursing hours to make like a Big City Girl in the liveliest city that I’ve ever known. 

First off, I embraced the behoozies out of the love of his life who had raced to the ER when I couldn’t get there, and then dodged her way out New York Fashion Week (she works as an editor at one of the very big fashiony slicks) so she could stick by his hospital bedside (even in the room with the, ahem, handcuffed roommate who turned out to have a whopping case of the red-ringed virus, Omicron edition). 

And once we got the dear boy home to his aerie, and he got on with whatever he could of his normal existence, I’ve used these days on the far side of the country to hop onto trains, and to hoof it for miles, spending long hours of time with some of my most favorite souls in the world, several of whom happen to have found themselves rooted in this island afloat in the near Atlantic. 

I’ve found myself sitting in City Hall Park with a soul I adore as a sister, a sweetheart I long ago babysat on Saturday nights. And more than once the other afternoon, as the New York sky sprung a drizzly leak, I felt tears in my eyes, and a panoply of lifetime picture shows flashing across my synapses, barely believing that two long-ago girls from Brierhill Road now were kneecap-to-kneecap on a bench near the foot of the great Brooklyn Bridge. And the afternoon before that, I was out on Long Island, joyriding alongside one of my long-ago bridesmaids, a beloved soulmate and sisterly friend who’s suffered unimaginable losses in recent weeks, months, and years. Those hours we spent, side by side, and rarer than rare, were as delectable as hours could possibly be. And we seized them with all the gusto we’ve got.

Not only once but twice I’ve sat across a café table from my very chic and heavenly sister-in-law, and delighted in seeing the city through her very wise and deeply-studied eyes. I’ve made friends with the neighborhood shoe repairman and dry cleaner and pharmacist and plenty of doormen (even the building’s dryer repairman when my six heavy loads of washing and drying, um, nearly triggered the fire alarm), and I’ve stood drop-jawed as Fashion Week and its legions of oddly-coifed characters have jammed doorways and intersections and staircases and street corners with their paparazzi and haute couture paraphernalia.

And through it all I’ve done what mamas do best: kept very close watch on my boy who is hurting (and who still cannot feel or flex his left lower leg or his foot). Absorbing the rhythms of his every day (even if those rhythms appear highly counter to any semblance of stress-free living) is rarer than rare in this long-distance world that is ours. To see up-close what he juggles each day, to trace some of his footsteps, the people he knows, the people he loves, it’s a window of grace that was never expected, and decidedly unplanned. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not even a fresh tube of toothpaste. Or a pin to hold up my pants.

Flying home later today. Bless you for your umpteen prayers, candles, love notes. All will be well, as Julian of Norwich insisted.

Have you stirred any lemons and sugars and icy waters of late?

From New York, with love