We Can Build Snowmen in Central Park
We’re moving from Los Angeles to New York in two weeks, and everyone from my best friend to the mail carrier is saying things like:
“You must be so sad.”
“You sure are going to miss this weather!”
“It’s going to be hard for the kids to live in an apartment, isn’t it?”
And I keep hearing my dad’s words come out of my mouth: “We’re excited. It’s going to be an adventure.”
Every couple of years during my childhood, Dad’s upward mobility in his company shifted my parents, my sister, and me to another city, or another state, and once even another country. I remember all of the moves. I remember dreading them, wondering whether I’d ever have another friend. Worrying that my clothes or my hair wouldn’t be right in the new school. I remember the sleepless last night spent in each house and boxes of my belongings all around my bed. I tried to memorize the homey, familiar feeling of the walls around me.
One January morning when I was in ninth grade, Dad pulled up to the side entrance of my school in Minneapolis in a light blue hatchback Volkswagen Golf. The air was frozen. White billows of exhaust puffed out of the tail pipe. He wore a stocking cap embroidered with a blue 3M logo, and his long, straight nose was red with cold. I stood on the stairs just inside the doorway, surrounded by my three best friends, Missy, Christine, and Christine. We hugged, and I wiped the last of my tears on the sleeve of my sweater. There would be no room for tears once I got into the car. On the inside of Dad’s car, our move would cease to be a sad event and begin to be an exciting adventure.
Sand and salt crunched under my tennis shoes as I walked to the car. I wasn’t wearing a coat because, if I knew my dad, we wouldn’t be stopping for food or a bathroom break until we were well south of Iowa City. The cold ripped through the loose weave of my sweater as I clutched a bag holding the green “Minne-Apple” t-shirt my friends had bought for me as a going-away present. I sniffed back the rest of my tears and opened the car door. Every corner of the car was filled with boxes, suitcases, shopping bags, duffel bags, and a cooler of fruit and soft drinks accessible from the front seat. On the passenger’s side, there was just enough room for my legs to straddle a small television set. Every item was arranged with careful, engineer-like precision. All of it would be unpacked when we reached Kansas City, Missouri, late that night, and each item would be replaced with amazing exactitude in the wee hours of the following morning as we began the final leg of the drive to our new home in Austin, Texas.
I had never been to Austin before. I’d never been anywhere in Texas before. All I knew of it was the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and my parents’ interest in J.R., Bobby, and Sue Ellen.
Dad shifted the car into gear. He looked at me and said, “Should we listen to some tunes?” He pushed a cassette tape into the stereo, and I gave him a shaky smile. My friends were still standing in the doorway. They would report back to English class in a few minutes. For them, life would go on just as it always had. They’d sit at the third lunch table from the back in the cafeteria, eating chow mien over crunchy noodles. They would finish the school day, get on a bus, and go home to watch “Family Ties.” They would engage in an hour-long discussion of the social interactions our half-blind Earth Sciences teacher failed to recognize that day. And all of it would happen while I was driving south on Interstate 35.
Music blared from the dashboard. Well, she got her daddy’s car, and she cruised through the hamburger stand now. Seems she forgot all about the library like she told her old man now. And with the radio blasting goes cruising just as fast as she can now . . .
An almost involuntary smile crossed my face.
“You like this song, huh?” Dad said, sounding pleased. I replaced my smile with a more neutral expression. It would be an unforgivable sign of teenage weakness to derive pleasure from my dad’s choice of music. I shrugged my shoulders, “It’s okay,” I said. “I don’t hate it.”
And she’ll have fun fun fun ’til her daddy takes the T-Bird away. As the song played and my dad tapped on the steering wheel, he started talking about the move. “This is going to be great. No more winters. No more snow. We can play tennis outside all year round.” We rounded a corner and drove down River Road with the frozen Mississippi on our left. I turned my head and looked behind me.
My sister and Mom rode in the sedan behind us. I was glad I wasn’t riding with them. I’d cry all the way to the southern border of Minnesota if I drove with Mom, and I didn’t want to cry.
In our family, Mom is the one who understands feelings. She is the one with the gift for empathy. She is the one who understood how tough it was to move to a new state in the middle of ninth grade. She is the one who knew how long it would take for us to feel like we belonged in Texas. And probably because of that, I needed to be with my dad and his unflinching excitement for the adventure of moving to a new place. Whatever sadness Dad felt about leaving our life in Minnesota, it was eclipsed by the adventure he saw a couple thousand miles south.
“It’s such a new city. Austin is growing all the time. And they have great schools for you girls. Did you know they have a huge football stadium, almost the size of the stadium for the Minnesota Gophers? And it’s for high school. Can you believe it? No more sitting on rickety bleachers in the afternoon. They have lights and vendors selling popcorn at those games. We’re all going to love it. It’ll be an adventure.”
I needed to hear those words just then. I needed to replace the vision of going to the Sadie Hawkins dance arm-in-arm with white-blonde Erik Erickson, his long Nordic face next to mine, with a new vision. A vision of cruising to a huge stadium to watch a nighttime football game with a brown-haired, cowboy-boot-wearing boy named Travis or Garret or Randy.
Well, you knew all along that your dad was gettin’ wise to you now . . . and she’ll have fun, fun, fun . . .
It’s been years since the visions of Travis, Randy, Garret, and Erik have faded into memories, but I find myself filling my mind and the minds of my husband and children with new visions of the future.
We’ll go to the Met together on weekends.
We’ll take the kids to Broadway plays.
We’ll eat great bagels and ride the subway.
We’ll hear at least twelve languages spoken on the street.
I hope the excitement for this adventure will help take the sting away from leaving behind the Pacific, a city full of friends, the best burritos we’ve ever eaten, a babysitter who is more family than employee, and trusted schools, teachers, and doctors. I hope the excitement will buoy us through the shock of living without a backyard in a place where winter coats are not accessories.
But we can build snowmen in Central Park.