“Woah,” Claire said as we came out of the dark tunnel and into the sunshine. “This is New York? It’s AMAZING!”
We had arrived at Penn Station for a special birthday trip to the Big Apple. She’d been to New York before, but she didn’t remember it. This trip was going to be different. We were meeting her cousin Ashley (and Ashley’s mom Amy, who flew out from Texas to meet us because they are awesome) and we were going to celebrate Claire’s first decade of life.
“It’s so busy!” Claire said, “and all the cabs are yellow. And there’s someone dressed like Wonder Woman over there!”
I laughed. Her face – oh, her face! She wore the best expression of wonder and joy.
I felt a stab of longing like I often do at times like these. I simply cannot have a moment when one of my children is doing something perfectly adorable and not think of how much I wish Shawn was there to see it.
The thing about Claire’s reaction was that I was a bit caught off guard by it. I mean, she’s a city kid, right? She should be used to crowds and lights and the metro (or the subway, as they deem it in New York.)
But New York City is like nothing else, of course. New York is….New York.
The city didn’t disappoint. We saw a Broadway show, a 90-year-old woman in a pink feather coat and an impromptu hip-hop performance in a subway station. We ate dinner at a candy shop and a ninja restaurant, and Claire joked with all of our waiters. I watched the girls play for hours in the spring sunshine in Central Park and we bought pretzels and ice cream from sidewalk vendors every single day.
Everything was about as perfect as it could be, including the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center where we went the second day. Within about 15 minutes, Claire went from hanging on the ledge to twirling in the center of the ice…and somehow I ended out there with her.
I did not want to skate with her. I think the skates smell and there is a high probability I’ll get hurt and I don’t even like ice skating. But she said those words, “Please, mom?” with such a look on her face that I couldn’t refuse.
And you know what? It was fun.
And then something crazy happened. About thirty minutes after we arrived, people started screaming and clapping. Just 20 feet from us, a man had pulled out a little blue box and appeared to be speaking with some intensity to the woman by his side. It took a moment for me to realize what was happening: he was proposing to his girlfriend. She said yes, and the entire rink went completely crazy.
“That’s so cool!” Claire said. I smiled. Funny that it didn’t make me sad to see love like that – it made me happy. I’m not sure why, but it may have been because I got to see it while I was holding my daughter’s hand.
Finally, I had to call it quits, but Claire kept skating. I watched her from the side. They were playing music, and she was one of only a handful of people still on the ice. Over the loudspeaker, I heard a song come on and I watched it register in her eyes.
It was “Don’t Stop Believing” – the song that Shawn sang with her in the elementary school talent show a few years ago. I looked at her to see her reaction.
She was smiling and pointing at herself. I waved at her. When the song was over, she came over to the side. “Did you hear that they played our song? The one that Dad and I did at the talent show?” She looked at me expectantly.
“That’s one of my favorite memories,” I said, “and I bet he would have loved to watch you ice skate to that song.”
“Yep!” she said, and skated off.
That was it. We talked a little about their talent show performance later, but she didn’t dwell on it. How could she? We were in New York, and there was always something new to see.
But I remembered every moment about that ice skating rink. How it felt for me to hold her hand as we skated and she laughed at everything that happened. The look in her eyes as she watched two people get engaged. The emotion in my chest when I watched her dance to “Don’t Stop Believing.”
I saw it all at the ice skating rink: Joy. Love. Resilience. Those are three things that New York City has. And three things I think my girl has as well.