In December my friend Iris went to New York for six months to be nanny to her newborn (and first) grandbaby, Amelia Jane. She would stay with her son Jordan, his partner Danielle and the baby in their two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment.
This plan evoked various responses from the Muumuu Mamas: ‘WHAT!?!’ ‘Omigod,’ ‘Isn’t it amazing that they asked you?’ ‘It will be an adventure.’ We ended up enthusiastic and supportive, but also convinced that Iris was going to need a break. We resolved to go to New York one weekend and kidnap her.
With money issues and schedule issues, only five of the Mamas ended up making the trip in April. We took the first flight out of Gainesville. The others were exhilarated, but Joe and I had run out of coffee, so I was uncaffeinated and subdued. I bought a cup the minute we reached the airport, and then realized I couldn’t take it through security. So they went ahead and I sat, happy alone with my coffee, until I heard Michelle’s laugh like rippling water, and my vacation began.
As we waited at the gate, a man overheard Michelle describing a report she had seen on TV about high-intensity cardio exercise, and he entered the conversation. Fully caffeinated, I felt the Muumuu rising, and offered to demonstrate the intense cardio I do when I have no machines. This entails a super-rapid bouncing on my feet while flailing my arms in the air. I heard the man say “I didn’t see it,” so I did it again. It turned out he was talking about part of the TV show, but I’m sure he benefitted from my thorough demonstration.
In Newark we took public transport - airtrain, New Jersey transit, subway. When I was little I would follow my parents through train stations and subways without a clue, and when in my fifties I finally negotiated the system alone, I felt like a grown-up. This time too, I felt able and free, competent in New York City. I’m too old to worry about looking like a tourist, since that’s what I am, and we asked directions of many smiling people. I think people like to see a gang of women “of a certain age” having a good time together - if they think that we're 'cute', so be it.
WAITING FOR THE TRAIN IN NEWARK - MARCIE, MICHELLE, JULIE, LIZ, PEGGY
The six of us (including Iris) had two rooms at a midtown hotel. Some guidebook had said midtown was a desert, but we found plenty there to enjoy. And I loved looking up and up, to the angles and curves, glass and blue and copper.
We all had wondered about six women sharing two rooms - that’s a lot of togetherness. But it went beautifully - it was like a slumber party, except that we fell asleep by 10. Michelle, a member of the Gainesville band Other Voices, wrote a song in the shower and sang it to us. Julie read us a poem by Billie Collins about beginnings, middles, and endings, and cried as she read. click We talked about our parents, our children, ourselves.
We did as much as we could, and ate as much as we could, in our four days. Our first night we met Iris’ son Jordan for drinks before dinner. I lived with Jordan when he was three - it’s a treat to see him grown. Only after he left to catch his train did we realize he had picked up the check.Our dinner reservations were across the street at Basso 56. We were warmly welcomed though we were half an hour early, we sat long over our meal and the waiters never rushed us, and the food was unpretentious and perfectly prepared.click
After dinner we walked, enjoying the buildings and store windows. Picture six middle-aged women in their sensible walking shoes looking into a store window at pumps with five-inch heels curved like a scimitar. Picture them breaking into song. Do your best to picture the smallest of them demonstrating her Irish jig in front of a huge sculpture of a rat. I tried embedding the video but alas, the technology defeated me.On a rainy morning we took the subway to the Tenement Museum on the lower east side. click There we toured the tiny apartment of the Moores, Irish immigrants who moved into the higher-status German immigrant neighborhood. The tour was very well-done, packed with ideas and information, and it helped us imagine their lives.
Afterwards we walked to Chinatown in the rain for lunch - the Muumuus tolerated my crankiness, though they were as hungry and tired and wet as I. The restaurant was almost empty, but the remaining diners were Chinese, which seemed a good sign. We couldn’t understand the waiter, and our happiness and enthusiasm had no effect on him, but he took our picture impassively, and brought dishes until the lazy susan was loaded.
While I took a nap, the others visited Grand Central Station. While I visited my niece and her family in Washington Heights - quite a transit adventure, as the subway was being repaired - the others walked on the High Line and ate a French lunch in the Village. One afternoon we went to the theater: Marcie, Peggy and Michelle to Once, a musical, and Iris, Julie and I to Old Hats, a clown revue by Bill Irwin, David Shiner and Nellie McKay. We were worn out, and ate in our room that night - the company was terrific, the food so-so.
Sunday was our day for walking around Brooklyn; we wanted to see Iris’ habitat, and of course, meet the baby. We decided to visit Ground Zero first; we took the subway, and saw the construction fences stretched around the site, the new World Trade Center rising in all its American hubris. Young men were peddling books of photographs. They pointed out the huge neighboring building that remains, and then pictures of the vanished towers, dwarfing it.
We walked down to City Hall and across the Brooklyn Bridge., The weather was warm and clear, the water sparkling.
At the end of the bridge we walked down and around to a neighborhood called Dumbo (down under the Manhattan bridge), to an outdoor weekend market of food vendors. We shared spring rolls, Ethiopian vegetables, fried fish, pecan pie made with bourbon, a huge black and white cookie, a salad.
Jordan, Danielle and Amelia Jane met us there. Danielle was instantly at ease, gracious and friendly, she and Jordan both besotted with their adorable baby, in a zebra-striped onesie and a blue denim hat. All the Mamas oohed and cooed and took turns holding the baby.
We walked the rest of the day, first along the water with a fine view of the Statue of Liberty, and then through Brooklyn Heights with a stop for shoe shopping.
Our subway ride to Bay Ridge was creepy: one of the tracks was blocked off for asbestos removal, and dust was flying. In Bay Ridge we sat out in the sun while Jordan served us grilled vegetables and wine.
Then we walked and walked and WALKED past beautiful fancy houses to a middle eastern restaurant, where we ordered too much food.
We walked home to Jordan and Danielle’s, and bless him, Jordan drove us back to the city.
My favorite parts of the trip? The food, of course. Theater. The wonderful streets of New York and Brooklyn. Meeting the baby and Danielle, checking out Iris’ temporary life, and seeing Jordan thriving. But the best part was being together on this adventure. Six women who care about each other, ages 55 to 67, all with children, many with grandchildren. We are quick to inquire, to comfort, to rejoice and grieve together, with tears ready to spring, but laughter the dominant note. Whatever would I do without the Muumuu Mamas?
Note: There are probably far too many pictures of Muumuus. But it makes me so happy to look at them that I can’t resist. (My resistance is way down anyway because I have a bear of a cold.)
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Next post: June 7