New York City is a fairy tale. From the moment it rises on the hazy horizon from your foggy airplane window, it’s a living thing. I crouched with my son on the observation platform at the top of Rockefeller Center and whispered, “Listen, can you hear it breathing?”
A parade tiptoeing ten blocks away. Sirens cat-calling each other. Shuffle-thumping construction and a thousand agitated taxi cabs. The snick-whoosh of the wind between buildings, snapping flags and rustling leaves. Restless garbage and the forever-static of millions of footsteps.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
When the train cars were crowded, my son held me and I held the rail, and we braced ourselves against the momentum.
“I’m the luckiest kid in the world,” he crowed, dancing from toe to toe in front of a display. Three enormous dead buffalo. “I’m seeing something from a book! In real life!”
At the museum, I watched him. Not the animals. Not the architecture. I watched excitement curve his fingers and squirm through his skinny arms. I watched him bounce and point and dart and dash, electrified in a way he so seldom is, my little boy. I love him always and forever but in those moments it was almost more than I could bear, loving this strange little creature. I laughed it out, giggling helplessly and hurting with joy.
We’re all tourists.
We walked until our feet ached and sweated and ate and aimed our camera phones with something that felt like desperation. Trying to catch this, that. Trying to keep it.
We rode the Staten Island Ferry on a drizzly morning and steamed back toward the downtown skyline. Lady Liberty stood sentinel. My son asked for a hotdog. Misty grey skyscrapers sharpened into focus and rose and climbed until they towered over the ferry depot.
It was windy and loud and it scared me to let my son stand at the rope as the water churned below us, but I knew I was living proof that kids can hang out on boats without being lost the depths below, so I breathed through my fear and watched him fly, arms outstretched, lips parted in a delighted oooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh that the wind snatched away.
I’m afraid more often than I want to be. My anxiety is a choke-chain. But when my son curls up on me and falls asleep, trusting and safe, I am his world. I am that monument, that tower, that living city.