My children have moved several times over the course of their lives. Probably too many. I have worried about this – about the effect all these moves might have on their sense of security; their understanding of “home.” Not long ago, I confessed this to a friend – one who has moved her own children several times, including transcontinentally – and what she said to me was this: “There are parents who stay still. You don’t. That’s simply the mother they have, and it’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing…it’s just one of the things that make your family what it is.”
I like to think that’s true; that they’ll grow up feeling like they’ve had the opportunity to experience many different places, and that those places – and the people who they’ve met and loved – are still a part of them. It is true that they have a mother who is restless, and who tends to impose her restlessness upon them, but along with all that restlessness comes adventure.
I grew up in a completely different set of circumstances. Shortly after I was born, my parents bought an apartment on the West Side of Manhattan, in a converted piano factory with massive arches that used to frame horse stalls, and wrought-iron balconies crisscrossing a large central courtyard that grew tulips in the spring and was the stage for what I firmly believe was the world’s scariest Halloween display come fall. Most of the residents were in the theater or film industry; that was who gravitated towards Hell’s Kitchen back then – or maybe it was just the only place in the city they could afford. When I was twelve, a director who lived on the first floor asked me – out of the blue – to audition for a commercial, and by the end of the day I had an agent and had set off down a path that would shape the next two decades of my life. I feel the butterfly effects of that chance meeting in my life still.
That meeting – the ripples it made – was neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It was just one of the things that made me who I am.
As I grew up and went to first one school, then another, then to college in Boston, then set up homes in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Malibu, and (my favorite) a rickety little house in Westchester that was surrounded by trees that went flaming red each autumn, my parents stayed where they were. They were romantic about New York, and talked about it more like a family member or an old lover than like a city. They thought there was simply nowhere else for them to be – everywhere else was too-something or not-enough-something-else. Our upstairs neighbors, Scott and Bruce, own the restaurant down the block that practically functions as my parents’ kitchen, they eat there so much. Scott and Bruce sat at the head table in our wedding.
During the pandemic, I cried on the phone to my parents a lot. I kept looping the memory of the last time I saw them over and over in my head. It was the day after the European lockdown was announced, and we were in an airport, saying our goodbyes before flying home to separate coasts. I went towards my gate and they went towards theirs, and then suddenly I was breaking away from my line and running to give them one last hug – because while of course I didn’t know what was about to happen, I also…didn’t know. For the next year, they would go weeks without even stepping foot outside their apartment, ordering groceries from Amazon and stockpiling huge amounts of Lysol in their cabinets. We’d FaceTime – a lot at the beginning; less towards the end – and I’d beg them to move out of the city, to be closer to me. Because sure, it’s just a five-hour flight, but the pandemic showed us just how far apart we are.
I just want my parents, I’d say.
They said no, then they said maybe, you never know – except I did know. I knew they talk about it and talk about it and spend hours looking at homes with actual yards on Zillow, but that when it came down to the act of actually selling the apartment where they’d spent the last 40 years, where they’d raised me, where they’d sprinkled lost pets’ ashes over the bougainvillea in the back corner of the garden: They wouldn’t. They’d never, ever leave.
Except they did. And they are. And in just two months, my parents will live a short ride away from me, in a magical little town filled with music and art and twisting roads for their motorcycles. On Saturdays, my children will swim in a pool with their grandma and grandpa. For the first time in god knows how many years, I will be able to stop by to say hi. Just because I miss them.
I’m not overjoyed; not exactly. I feel the same way about New York as they do; it’s the only place in the world that I can accurately describe as being like a piece of music I know by heart. The thought of staying in a hotel room when I visit rather than in our home; making plans with Scott and Bruce rather than running into them in the elevator; walking past the gates to the entrance and not having the key – it’s overwhelming for me, so how it must feel to them, I can’t imagine.
I almost titled this post “End of an Era,” but of course it’s not. You can look at it as a good thing, or you can look at it as a sad thing, or both at the same time…but what it comes down to is the choice of family over all the rest. And that is everything.
More photos here.