I’m writing this from a place I’ve written before, a train working its way up the Northeast corridor. It’s a good spot to reflect. Right now, Sophie and I are somewhere in Connecticut. She is to my right, laboring away at studying for a science test, which in her world appears to consist of color-coded writing in a spiral notebook while eating M&M’s and listening to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”. Based on what comes out 107.9FM in Boston these days, it could be a lot worse.
I wrote a couple of years ago about a weekend I had alone during a dance competition. Sophie doesn’t dance anymore though. Lily does, and she and Nova are grinding out a competition this weekend in Concord, New Hampshire. Months ago, Sophie and I sat at dinner at Border Cafe in Harvard Square and thought about this particular weekend, and what we should do with it. Even that dinner was fantastic; there is nothing like anticipating a weekend away with your daughter who you suspect in the future won’t be interested in such a weekend, let alone planning it.
It was a chilly fall evening and we were sitting outside. I think we both wanted to brave the elements because we could, and because we both knew the season was fleeting. It is New England after all. We were talking about flying somewhere that was a great food town, and given the evening, mostly picked spots that were warmer. Maybe New Orleans. We also tossed around Austin and Atlanta.
Weeks later, indoors, we landed on New York, which is how we ended up on this train today. For the past couple months since I bought the train tickets, I’ve thought ahead to spending a weekend in the city with my teenage daughter, the one who once fit between my elbow and my fingertips, who once looked at me with the earnest open eyes of a 10-month old and said “Gee” with a hard G. But as a sandwich generation man, I overlooked the many reasons that it would such an amazing couple of days together.
For one, I almost ceased to be sandwich generation this weekend. With some guilt, I admit that I didn’t check in with my father. That didn’t work so well on Yom Kippur but it was a luxury not to juggle that responsibility. I also didn’t check work, barely checked in with Nova and Lily, and didn’t touch base with my relatives who live in the city. It was just us.
It was wonderful. I got to focus in on this wonderful human being who is usually half of “Sophie and Lily”, or 1/3 of the women I live with every day. I could tell a dozen stories, but instead I have one that describes the weekend.
We are on top of the World Trade Center having finished the tour and looked at the city through all 360 degrees of the panoramic viewing area at the top. We are considering getting something to eat or drink so that we linger a little longer, and I notice a very classy and elegant bar area looking north toward the Empire State Building, Central Park, and beyond. Of course it faces that direction – it’s pretty spectacular, even on kind of a hazy day.
Sophie asks me if I want to stop there, and of course I do, how could I not – but instead I say, “No, it’s OK, we can get going.” She stops me and replies, “Come on Daddy, we should go in.”
It is a thoughtful and perceptive gesture, and takes me completely by surprise. I hesitate for just an instant, then agree, and so instead of leaving and thinking about what might have been, I walk with her over to the hostess stand.
The hostess leads us to the bar and we take our seats. We share a moment at the bar looking out the window, her with a raspberry mint concoction and me with a Sean Minor Cabernet. We sit and talk, not rushed. It is perfect. When Sophie was young, she would frequently be overstimulated and as a result, she learned to recognize impulses and emotions in herself. Now that ability to look inward manifests itself in awareness, and confidence, and sometimes, empathy t0ward others. I feel sometimes like I never ask to get to ask for what I really want, because I am sandwich generation and because I am my mother’s child. She somehow knows that about me, and doesn’t want me to miss out on something that she knows will be important to me.
Like I said about the gesture: perfect.
In case you are wondering: we achieved our goals of overeating this weekend. It was New York after all. We had dinner at Chelsea Market at Los Tacos Number One, dropping a mere $20 for amazing and fresh tacos for the 2 of us, and my favorite, re-imported Mexican Coke made with cane sugar and served in a glass bottle. Once upon a time that was a rare, hard-to-find treat and I’m therefore conditioned to say yes every time the chance presents itself. Our ‘dinner’ Friday night was frozen hot chocolate and berries and cream at Serendipity. Lunch at Eataly. Breakfast at Zucker’s bagels. Dim-sum in Flushing with our friends. We saw a musical and wandered Times Square in a chilly drizzle.
We also rode the subway incessantly, which she loved. She had the appreciation of an adult and the giddiness of a small child. Apparently there is something for a teenager about being trapped in car-centric suburbia, and suddenly being able to hop onto a train accessible within blocks of anywhere you’d like to go. Or at least my friend said during dim-sum. He is right, I’m sure.
I saved my Metrocard, and every museum brochure, and every receipt.
And yet — the gesture at the top of the World Trade Center is the one that I’ll remember. Freed of sandwich generation constraints, I had the space to recognize it. Thinking about it now, I can’t help but feel so much pride in having a small hand in bringing someone like that into the world, and shaping her a little. I don’t get to shape my father much.
Sitting there at the bar, she looked at me and asked me if we could do a trip like this again next year. There is only one thing you say when you get a question like that during a special weekend: yes.