We’re having glorious, picture perfect weather. Low 70s, dry, sunny, and blue skies. The kind of days where, even in the hustle and bustle of NYC, it is extremely pleasant, people seem to smile more, are less rude. Well, maybe not less rude, but maybe I noticed it less. Maybe it was me smiling.
Max and I spent a great day in town yesterday. We rode the commuter train in. We took the subway. We arrived on time. Max had a checkup at his ENT and the doctor said, “Everything looks good.” It’s not every day you get a declaration like that. EVERYTHING LOOKS GOOD.
We headed back downtown on the subway and met a friend of mine near the American Museum of Natural History. Max and I had planned to go, but it was just too beautiful out. Plus there were so many school buses with class visits, tourist buses with throngs of visitors—it didn’t make any sense to go inside.
My friend told us about the fountains right next to the planetarium building, and so we went up the stairs and discovered this incredible place. Max went right into the fountains.
He ran and splashed and got soaking wet.
I patted myself on the back for having brought him a change of clothes.
When Max was done splashing, I got him dressed in dry clothes and he continued to play; running back and forth on the grass. Exploring every part of where we were. He started conversations with other kids and their parents. In between, he chatted with my friend. Hours passed.
The friend was someone I used to work with a long time ago. It was great to reconnect and catch up, and also to introduce Max to someone from my past. I spent years in NYC. Then I left. It is always good to be able to go back, to show Max the city I knew, to rediscover it, and to then find something new. It made me grateful. I could remember what I had done. I could be happy with my choices. I could soak in the sun and watch Max be happy and free. I felt happy and free.
Max was incredibly well-behaved all day. There was not even one tantrum, or meltdown, or fussy moment. I thought, who is this child? Lately, we’ve been having more of this kind of day. He has grown up. He reminds me, “I’m almost five and a half, Mommy. I’m a big boy.” He’s been counting down to his half birthday for weeks. Now it is tomorrow. When do we stop counting forward and up? Children want to be older. Then we get older and we want to go back. I’m constantly aware of time, of wanting to stop it, of wanting some things to never change, and understanding they will change and accepting that, but then immediately wishing things could stay the same.
I wish Max’s innocence, his smallness, his skin, everything he sees and feels and everything I see and feel during these moments where EVERYTHING LOOKS GOOD could somehow be protected and kept forever. The minute I get a handle on something, it seems it’s time to move on.
Yes, it is bittersweet and so much fun to spend time with Max like this. To have had all this time together, and to have gone through the more difficult years of neediness, of carrying, of the weight of things; I can carry less now. There is less unreasonable (or reasonable) whining and screaming. To come to this, another day where Max cooperated easily, where he understood when plans had to change, where I didn’t even raise my voice once, where I was just proud, so proud to be walking alongside my boy, my little guy, who I adore more every day. Who breaks my heart. Who fills my heart. Who still holds my hand. Who lets go of my hand.
The cliché — childhood goes by in a flash. It is true. Just yesterday was years ago. Max is always moving forward, even in those moments where he retreats back, needing my reassurance, needing to know I love him no matter what. I do, no matter what. When things are difficult, when he’s hurting, those are the times that require more of me. To show love, patience, understanding. Even in limit setting, to be firm, but not unkind. When Max lashes out, when he tests me, it is on me to help him.
I also feel it is very hard to do. To stand strong and firm and calm and patient in the face of a child who is out of control, or afraid, or sad, or whatever big feeling it is—to stand in that and not crack is often hard to do. But when I’m able to do that, to show him repeatedly, we may not hurt ourselves or others. To use his words. To find safe ways to self comfort. To find ways to express how much it hurts, how much we are frustrated, or angry—and not use intimidation, not use threats that could hurt even worse—I am proud. I am. Because it seems that strategy is working. Some days anyway, sometimes.
Maybe I’m calmer now. Maybe I understand things a little bit better. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been a parent to Max for five and a half years and that is not just a milestone for him, but for me, too. Maybe I trust myself a smidge more. Maybe I see that when I do trust myself, and I do what I believe is right, I can convey that to him with less doubt. I want to do right by him, and I always fear I will come up short. Maybe I’m not coming up so short. Maybe I know what I’m doing sometimes. Maybe I cope better when I make my daily mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Maybe I forgive myself, him, everyone —just a little bit more. I don’t know. It’s one step at a time, looking for the sunny spots.
We took the bus downtown. Anything to stay above ground, to look out the window. I pointed out one building where I used to work near Lincoln Center. I showed Max the route I used to walk home, down 9th Avenue. And all the way downtown, he pointed out buildings and exclaimed to me, “Look, Mommy, look at that building. And that one!” At the intersection with 49th Street, my old block, we took pictures.
I lived in NYC for so many years, but I rarely took pictures. Digital wasn’t big yet, and I don’t know why, but I lived there and didn’t take pictures, probably because I was afraid I’d look like a tourist. Not that there’ s anything wrong with that. So, now, I take pictures, and it is mostly to recapture something for me.
I didn’t recognize many of the new restaurants. Some stores were the same. I was happy to see the Seven Brothers Deli still there on the corner.
I wasn’t sad. I don’t miss my old neighborhood anymore. But memories popped up. The day we found out I was pregnant. And the day Andy said to me, “Your life is too big for this space.” The day I realized that was true. And then the day I packed up my tiny apartment and moved and didn’t look back. Max was around six months old. It was here.
We stayed on the bus all the way downtown to Chelsea Market. And we went to another place I used to work, and someone I knew from the show I worked on opened the door for me, and we hugged. It was nice to see him. So good to remember that I had worked here and I had made friends here, too.
Max was tired by then, so we did our rounds at Andy’s job, saying hello and goodbye quickly. We went downstairs and got delicious grilled cheese sandwiches for the ride home. Max took these shots on 10th Avenue as we drove out of town. I didn’t know he took them until after we got home. I appreciate that he wants to capture what he sees. I appreciate that he is able to take pictures and see, and feel, and be so present and that like many photographers and artists in our family, he has a need to document things on his own terms because it helps with remembering.
When we got home, Max asked me for his hero cape. I had made this for him when he was around two years old. He’d worn it once or twice, and it was my choice to put it on him. Max was never interested in it again, so it lived in my closet. I figured, oh well, it was still fun to make; it is a relic of his past. But, suddenly he asked me for it. This was his choice. And so after his bath, I put it on and he ran back and forth down the hall squealing, “I’m SuperMax!”
Yes, he is The Maximizer, maximizing everything. Max exhausts, delights, frustrates, and surprises me. Yes, I cannot believe how big he is, but still how small relative to the massive city buildings, to grown ups, to the world, to everything that is unknown.
The cape I made him years ago still fits. Which means it was probably way too big for him back when I made it. Perhaps heros grow into their capes exactly when they’re ready. “I can fly, Mommy. Watch me!”