Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Once More, with Feeling

Traditions are funny things. One year, you do something because it seems like it would be a lot of fun. The next year, you do it again, and by the third year, you have stumbled into a tradition.

When I was in college, and for a number of years after, my Thanksgiving tradition was to come home Tuesday night and spend all day Wednesday in New York City with my friend T. He and I would go in bright and early, spend the morning wandering the Village, hit Ray's Pizza for lunch, then go to Times Square to buy half-priced tickets to whatever Broadway show was available. While I blank on what we did for dinner, we always ended the night watching the balloons being blown up for the Macy's Day Parade. T was (and still is) a big guy at 6'4", so we never had a problem moving through the crowds and making quick time from block to block. I probably carried nothing more than a wad of cash and chap stick and we walked, window-shopped, and blissfully chatted a day away.

While T and I remain friends, due to distance, time, and our respective spouses (Hi D!), that tradition had to end. What replaced it was one build on travel. Once my husband and I started dating, we started sharing family holidays. In fact, he met my parents for the first time at Thanksgiving during one of the last years we had a big family dinner at my uncle's house, so he got to meet everyone all at once. Poor guy. Until we finally moved to the same state (roughly) as our parents, we spent each year on the road, trying to avoid traffic. Some years we succeeded and made the trek from Boston to either Jersey or Pennsylvania in record time (usually helped along by the fact that we left insanely late at night.) Other years, we got stuck and once spent seven (or nine, we can't remember) hours making a three-hour drive. Once we moved to the area, we split holidays, alternating Thursdays and Saturdays with either set of parents (and siblings on his side, random hanger-ons on my side). As per tradition, we do celebrate my daughter's birthday (as we once did mine) because it falls so close to the holiday.

Now, I've added a new tradition to the mix, spending at least one day with my best friend (my old college roommate and the godmother to my oldest) and her daughter, who usually fly in for a week or two from the West Coast. Our daughters are three years apart in age, but only one day apart in birthdays, which means we get to celebrate them together. The past few years, this meant taking them for ice cream. This year, it meant taking them to NYC and the American Girl store.

Obviously, this trip was a tad different than the ones of my halcyon youth. No Village (though we did get cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery), no Broadway show, and we were all probably in a dead sleep long before that first balloon got blown up, but it was still awesome in its own way. This time, I saw NYC from a child's eyes. Times Square, in all its lurid glory, at nighttime is like being stuck in an overly bright, crowded, and commercial-filled laboratory. It's unnatural brightness made it seem like an alien planet. While the grownups marveled at the tree at Rockefeller Center, a survivor of Hurricane Sandy straight from the Jersey shore, the kids just wanted to know why it wasn't lit yet. They enjoyed the Ferris Wheel in the giant Toys R'Us, but had no interest in looking at toys they weren't allowed to buy. Instead of window-shopping along 5th Ave, they sang and held hands, ignoring the diamonds beckoning from the displays. When we asked them to take a picture in front of a dazzling array of jewels, my daughter looked at the storefront and asked if it would be a good place to buy her new earrings. The store in question? Cartier. The answer, no.

When we finally entered the Holy Land of overpriced dolls, the monument to parental stupidity and indulgence that is the American Girl store, the girls made the most of it. Each one deliberated carefully over her choice of doll and clothing. The adults just made gagging noises over the prices. My daughter was using her own hard-earned money for the doll and one outfit, but still managed to con me and her godmother into buying her additional ones. The other little girl was enjoying the benefits of birthday money from grandparents (and me). We reminisced over the first time I had my eyebrows waxed (a complete disaster), while watching her daughter's new doll get a complicated new hairstyle at the doll hair salon. (Yes, a hair salon for dolls. Dolls!). We finished out our long and exhausting day at the American Girl Cafe, a restaurant on the third floor of the building designed to delight children and adults alike. Honestly, it was the cutest restaurant I have ever seen. The dolls get to sit in chairs at the table and are served little plates and cups, right alongside their new owners. The staff talk directly to the children and the food is surprisingly good and very prettily arranged. Back in college, my old roommate and I would have never missed an opportunity to drink with dinner. While the store had an extensive drinks menu (to soften the edge of the credit card bill, I'm sure), I stuck to lemonade, she went with unsweetened iced tea and coffee. Boy, how times have changed.

Next year, we might take the girls to Radio City Hall and tea at the Plaza. We may even try to include their little brothers. Who knows? But it's been three years, so the tradition of a shared birthday for our girls is pretty much stuck. This is a good thing. One day, the girls will get to old for this, or situations will change and my friend will no longer be able to visit us during the holiday, or any number of things could happen. But I'll always look back on these days as good ones, filled with love and joy, gossip and goofiness. Maybe one day, T and I will do the city again, with spouses and kids in tow, and take our lives full circle. Maybe not. Maybe my old roommate and I will ditch the kids and spend the day shopping, or taking a tour, or getting facials. Who knows what the future will bring? But for now, I will enjoy what I have and take next year when it comes. With or without the overpriced doll.


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