You know you are a REAL writer when…
You are observing your gifted daughter teaching her Fourth-Grade students a stone’s throw from the Hudson River and the only thing you can think of, besides how so damn proud you are of her and where did this kindness, this brilliance, this clarity, come from? is, “I need to leave, find a quiet place, and chronicle this moment.”
My daughter’s lively students, overjoyed at the opportunity to learn through game-playing, consists of 25 nine and ten-year-olds, among them, quiet Michael (not his real name) who is deaf, and confident with his mathematical tallying skills; Anna, a shiny pink-jacketed, braided girl who goes out of her way to help other students be successful. Then there’s competitive Sam who believes in rules as long as he’s in charge of making, and breaking, them. George, tall and withdrawn, stands on the outside of every group he joins, does his soft-spoken best to get his ideas heard, but is repeatedly snubbed. Nathan, reminds me of one of my grandsons; he’s happy, accommodating to others, and patiently waits his turn.
My daughter’s class is a microcosm of every family, every classroom, in the past, present and future; each person vying to find a safe place where they can grow and learn and be themselves. My daughter, and her talented teaching partner, provide such a wonderous spaceship in the midst of Manhattan, a brisk walk away from the ice-skating rink in Central Park, where I’m sitting right now with a cup of passable coffee, wearing a lightweight puffer jacket, in 41 degree-cold.
It’s windy, burr chilly. Elton John/Brittney Spear’s remix, “Hold Me Closer (Tiny Dancer)”, blasts across the rink speakers, as head-nodding tourists line the rail, snapping iconic NYC photos that never ever look or feel as good as the real deal. Late Fall leaves drift like snowflakes, muffling the clip clop, clip clop of the $140 VIP horse-drawn carriage tour. And here I sit, feeling, seeing, hearing conversations from people from all over the world, one talking to a friend about the place he proposed to a woman who declined his proposal, another British couple, red-faced, as they cozy-up and share funny photos of their preschoolers; “He looks like a Dashound!” the woman laughs. “No, a vampire,” her partner counters, pointing to the screen.
Seated across from me, sits a table of talkative, chain-smoking, buzz cut, conventioners. Next to them, is a wheelchair-bound elderly mother and her daughter, pausing with a hot drink before trekking back to the pathway.
You know you’re a writer when you have so many sights to see, places to absorb in NYC, but the first and foremost thing you need to do is sit at a very cold green metal picnic table, plant yourself amongst regulars and tourists alike, and set aside an hour to understand where you are, this place—you—them—and what it all means and what we can all become if we revert to being students, like the kids in Katie’s class: Writers. Readers. Mathematicians. Scientists. Artists. Musicians. Chefs. Leaders. Caregivers. Inventors. Builders. Farmers. Athletes. Healers. Discovering our passion. Discovering our destiny, the seeds of which were planted, I believe, in the womb.
How could I have not been a writer? Middle child, the one with an imagination, the one misunderstood, the one with compassion for others, the one who dabbled, tried her best, took chances that occasionally worked out, the one who craved acknowledgement, but valued being alone on a freezing afternoon in Central Park so she could figure stuff out.
Did I mention it was cold? That my hands are cracked, almost frost-bitten, but still I sit here with my lukewarm coffee and write?
Then, me thinks: If everyone was a writer, the world would be a better place. We would notice the overwrought mama with two wild toddlers, maybe be less judgmental when they have a tantrum and throw down a cup of hot cocoa. We would observe the couple to my left, grimaced faced, gazing past the Essex House into the impending rain clouds. We would smile at the balding, wheelchaired-grandma, perhaps admiring her strength at being here on this ridiculously cold afternoon.
Yet the street artist sketches and the violinist plays Mozart beneath the bridge and the runners run and the cyclists’ bike and the writer finds a way to get her fingers moving so she can greet the apparently fake Buddhist Monk when he approaches her with a neon green business card that reads, “I’m deaf. Please help.” So, I do, against my daughter’s warnings about handing out money to strangers. Clearly a tourist. Always a sap. Oh, Mom, she would say.
“For things like love and giving?” I would think. But she’s right. She’s almost always right that daughter of mine.
Two more days. Two more days to love up my grandbabies, one of whom is turning a momentous year-old on Sunday, and let my daughter know how proud I am of her, for the kind of mother she is, wife, teacher, and daughter. She’s a New York tough cookie, this daughter of mine. She won’t put up with B.S.
Strong. Wise. Courageous. Supportive. And beautiful. How did I get so lucky to have a daughter like her?
While my fingers are still working, I just want to say how blessed I feel, how grateful I am, to wander alone in NYC, to kinda know where I am, and realize that even if I get lost, I can get found. In the cold. In the heat. In the desert. In the Eastern Sierras. Along the Central Coast and up in Oregon. It’s been a heck of the last six months, from selling my home, being retired from teaching for a year, to traveling, visiting family, and rolling into the holidays with a backpack on my back and my Eurovan loaded with enough hot cocoa to feed my grandsons three times a day for a week, which I will need to do when I return to California, jump in Luna Bella Blu and head to the Central Coast for our annual Thanksgiving Camping Adventure.
Another next. But for now, I’m in the now.
That’s why I write, to freeze into the porous soil these glistening jewels, these first “mama” coos, and Art With Grandma moments that make my life especially sweet and crazy and surely blessed.