When my first-born son was seven months old, I decided to visit my family-of-origin in New York City. I was feeling somewhat lost in the place I had arrived—motherhood, and infants in general, were a foreign territory for me, and I was in a work transition, without a foot in either world.
The trip was an adventure in travel. We boarded a bus in suburban Maryland—mother, child, and the slimmest of supplies in a backpack. My trip was not filled with expectations; I only hoped to survive the journey.
We spent our first day in my mother’s neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Alphabet City, avenues A thru D, was home to a New York blend of Latinos, bohemians, senior citizens, and druggies. On Fourteenth Street, the broad shopping avenue, we bought a cheap stroller and then headed toward the East River Park in search of a playground. My son was enthralled with the city streets. He wrinkled his nose and snorted at all the passersby. There was so much to see!
We crossed over East River Drive on a walkway littered with glass and garbage. On the strip of grass and asphalt alongside the river, city dwellers took their rest and relaxation—conversation, strolling, jogging, softball. However, the tranquility I typically would find in a large body of water was lost to me.
The playground we sought had been torn up for renovation. As we made our way back across the walkway, dodging large shards of glass and inhaling huge volumes of auto exhaust, my mother said, “I love the smell of fresh-cut grass.” I looked around. How she could detect a molecule of this scent?
We made our way to Tompkins’s Square Park, a 10-acre urban green space with a long history, and found a playground filled with kids and parents of all ages. As my mother swung her grandson in a swing, I chatted with an East Village stylish young couple. We talked about parenting matters, such as baby proofing our respective apartments. We commiserated about the difficulties of finding enough space to move things out of our child’s reach. Yet as we talked I realized that not enough space in New York City was another order of magnitude small than my two-bedroom apartment. What space could they have? How did they manage?
We carve out a place where we live—a place we eventually call home and which becomes some measure of normal. We smell a blade of grass in the asphalt or find relaxation in a crowded park.
I returned from our trip fatigued but having found some peace. Visiting my family for a few days, returning to the place that first defined my world, I found some grounding in my new life. I love New York.