Way Down…

You may recall that our Christmas gift for our kids this year was a treasure hunt that ultimately led to the following IOUS:

  • Lunar New Year parade!
  • Cat Cafe!
  • Hadestown on Broadway!

Since then, we’ve been excitedly counting down the days, nervously tracking COVID numbers, and just generally feeling like this, like so much else, was going to frustratingly not happen. I’ve been looking forward to this since July, and that’s a recipe for disaster, right? I was so convinced Murphy’s Law was going to get us. I got my car in for a tune-up. I had several stress dreams about getting all the way to the Walter Kerr Theater and not being allowed in because I’d forgotten a vaccine card. I dreaded learning another letter of the Greek alphabet.

But… we went! Nearly all of it happened! It was a fantastic weekend!

We stayed with our friends Jake, Virginia, and Beatrix, who live in New Jersey. Virginia and I go way back. We met when we both worked at the Bittersweet Bakery, during grad school. We lived together for the year before I got married. Jake was an actor at the American Shakespeare Center, which is how he and Virginia met. And Beatrix, age 8, better known as Cotton Candy Girl, is their amazing daughter. Many of these photos are by Virginia, but I’ve lost track of which ones…

I was thrilled that my kids hit it off with Beatrix right away. They had met her a few times, but hadn’t spent any serious time with her. I figured “Friend to Most” would be fine, but Petra sometimes gets overwhelmed by “people time,” and she’s been having a rough time learning how to politely ask for space when she needs it. Beatrix was excited to have the kids there and planned to have them both sleep in her room, “like a three-night slumber party.” My kids are both hella picky about their sleep environment, so again…I was nervous about the intersection of expectations and reality.

But … it was amazing. They all did really great. The first night was rough, as Silas and Beatrix (I think mostly Silas) wouldn’t stop talking. But they all were cheerful and friendly, and the next morning, Beatrix proudly made the other kids breakfast.They enjoyed one another’s company, and I could not believe my luck.

Beatrix, Silas, and Petra drawing together.
They spent a lot of time creating together.

On Saturday, we were supposed to go to Chinatown for the New Year’s parade. The actual lunar new year was two weeks earlier. When I bought the tickets for the show, back in September, the parade was listed for February 12. But I guess it got moved because of Omicron? In any case, it wasn’t happening when we were there. We talked about just going to Chinatown to hang out, but the kids were having such a great time playing together, we ended up just chilling out in New Jersey, going for a long walk, getting bagels, enjoying being together.

Virgina, JC, Jake, Silas, and Ivory (dog) walking along abandoned railroad tracks. In the middle, Beatrix is looking at something on the ground.
Rail trail connecting parks

On Sunday, it was The Big Day! It snowed, and I was certain this, this, was what was going to derail my whole fantasy. But it didn’t stick, and although it was cold, it wasn’t dangerous.

Aili, Petra, Beatrix, and Silas in the car on the way to New York City!

We went into the city, where we met my friend and former coworker, Sky, at the Koneko Cat Cafe. It was really neat. There were two rooms (plus, in better weather, a “cat-io”). The cats can move freely between the spaces, and also can get into a private area when they’re tired of being petted. They had about a dozen cats wandering around, all adoptable. It’s hard to tell because we were all masked, but everyone was super happy just playing with kitties. Before too long, the kids had learned every cat’s name and habits, and had grilled the staff about every detail of their daily responsibilities.

After that, we had the best ramen of my life at a bonkers noodle place (Ivan Ramen), and went looking for the Ponyo bowls I’ve been questing after forever (they didn’t have those, but I found some very cute other bowls) at Pearl River Market.

And then (drumroll) we got to the theater! Hadestown was absolutely incredible. Seeing any play live feels like a gift, after all this time, but that particular play was phenomenal and also appropriate. “The world come back to life,” indeed. I wrote in more detail about the play itself on my professional site, but here, all I will say is that all of us were blown away. My favorite moment might have been the gasps from the kids when the walls split apart—they’ve never seen a set that did those kinds of effects. Silas was completely enthralled the whole time. Petra isn’t as much of a musical fan as he is, but my mom gave her some sensory headphones, so that she was able to “turn down the volume” for herself, and that helped her enjoy the experience. Afterward, she kept saying, “That was even better than Hamilton!” (which she has only seen the first half of, on Disney+). Even several weeks later, Silas is still talking about it. He’s reread Working on a Song yet again, and now is listening to the original concept album with an analytical ear. I am so, so, so happy that we decided to get these tickets and organize this whole thing. 100% worth it.

I also just want to shout out to the joys of going to a city with people who know it well. Jake and Virginia were fantastic guides, driving us everywhere, figuring out where to go and how long it would take to get there. So much of what is stressful about city travel is trying to figure out the logistics of a few place. Having wonderful and knowledgeable hosts makes a huge difference.

After the show, we went back to their place. The kids watched a movie together, JC went to spend some quiet alone time, and Virginia, Jake, and I watched the Super Bowl. I’m not that into sports, but Jake knows football, and also does commercial voice overs, so he dramaturged the whole experience, which made it probably the most fun I’ve ever had watching a football game. The only depressing thing about it was realizing that I’m now solidly in the demographic the halftime show is pandering to (that said, loved it. Forgot how solid a rapper Dre is).

Aili and Virginia enjoying mimosas

Virginia and I enjoyed some Galentine’s Day mimosas. They might not be traditional for the Super Bowl, but that’s what they get for scheduling it on the best day of the year. And this really was an incredible day, not just because we got to see a fantastic play and hang out with adorable cats, but also because we were with delightful people. One of my favorite things is having friends that I can just pick up with, almost as if no time has passed. We don’t see each other often enough, but we make our time together count.

When we got home, I sat the kids down and asked them what they remembered about our last big Christmas gift trip, when we went to Costa Rica. They excitedly remembered going in a boat across the lake to La Fortuna, swimming in the river, and seeing a sloth moving through the trees. I said, “Do you also remember that we got stranded after we went to the hot springs and we were nervous that we might not figure out how to get back to the town before dark? Or that the beach at Manuel Antonio was crowded with spring break college students? Or how long it took to get there?” They told me that they remembered all of that once I mentioned it, but they didn’t think of it right away. I told them this was because we had focused on what went right about that trip (and so very much did go right).

“Your Christmas present this year wasn’t seeing Hadestown, which happened in a few hours and then was gone. It’s the memory. Do you know that every time you remember something, you actually rewrite it in your brain? Whatever story you choose to focus on, that’s how the memory will be for you. It’s up to you. When friends ask you about our trip, you can choose to tell them about how it felt when Andre DeShields counted off the top of the show, or what you learned from the people at the Cat Cafe, or what stories you made up with Beatrix. Or you can choose to tell them about how the ramen at the restaurant wasn’t exactly like Dad’s, or that you had a hard time sleeping the first night, or that the theater was crowded and the guy in front of us kept moving his head around. But which ever story you tell, that’s going to color how this memory is for you, for your whole life. And the memory is the only piece you can keep.” I think they’ve taken this to heart. Every time someone asks them about the trip, they gush about everything that went right.

I am beyond grateful, for all of it.


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