We took the kids to New York this past weekend for a quick trip, a bittersweet trip for me. On the sweet side, Saturday morning, we visited the American Museum of Natural History. I had not been in years, but we were inspired to visit by Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck. If you haven't read it, it's a great book for elementary and middle school aged children and some of the main action takes place at the museum.
We found the Minnesota Wolverine diorama that is featured in the book and were inspired to visit many more of the museum's signature dioramas. I turned my camera over to the kids and they had a great time photographing the animals. National Geographic, watch out!
In the afternoon, we had a picnic in the park with friends. The children entertained themselves while we chatted for a few hours over lots of yummy treats, mostly from the venerable Zabar's.
The trip was bittersweet because part of the purpose was to have a last visit to my aunt and uncle's apartment. My siblings and I all grew up visiting my aunt and uncle there. Those visits made New York a magical place for us and gave me the sense that anything was possible. I am so grateful for all those experiences and for the love and incredible generosity that my aunt and uncle showed us for so many years.
After my aunt died last year, my uncle decided that, for many good reasons, it was time to sell the apartment and move on. This trip, then, was a swansong for me and also a chance for our children to have one last hurrah in a place that was so important to their mother.
I woke up before dawn on Sunday morning, and lay there for some time feeling the presence of many memories swirling around me. The room felt thick with images and emotions from all of my visits there, so thick that they were nearly tangible.
I could see Midge there, popping around to lay snacks out on the coffee table, excitedly listing options for our stay in the city. Or curled up on the corner of the couch, listening to my latest professional or personal dilemma, working up some excellent advice, delivered gently. Or telling a story as only she could, zeroing in on the quirkiness of the situation and using a well-placed expletive or two to make it that much more hilarious.
Or, in the last year of her life, sitting on that same couch, both of us crying, as we discussed the cancer that was spreading through her body, and her efforts to accept death. And later, watching as she gamely walked out of her bedroom using the walls as support, in the nightgown that we had given her, to have a last visit with our children. Or later still, sitting by her side as she lay in her bed, so tiny and fragile, overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness, concern, and love.
The attachment to the apartment feels so strong, perhaps because of the intense emotion that I feel when I am there. Letting go is hard because I feel like I am losing my aunt again, that my connection to her is somehow diminishing.
I realize, though, that the memories are not in that place. They are in me and my uncle, in my mother and siblings and Gabe, and now, in our children, too. Even though I still miss Midge terribly, spending time with others that I love helps me remember her and honors her life. She was so dedicated to all of us, and it was she and Jay that created the magic of New York for us, not the apartment or the view.