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I am not who I once was. We spent four days in London for half-term and now I am ready to lounge around for the rest of the week in bed, recovering. (I actually did spend, like, two in it this morning.) Does everyone feel destroyed by holidays of various kinds, or is it just me in my middle-aged, pre-perimenopausal state? Or is it just me, as a mother, when holidays are no longer vacations but (as we all know) trips? Or when the holiday is on top of a cross-Atlantic move and takes place is one of the biggest cities in the world?
That said, a nine year old is no screaming toddler and can be a pretty excellent trip companion (when not at a museum) (when not walking endless blocks) (when not bored by adult conversation). I have never enjoyed Portobello Market as much as I did with her, roaming the stalls, stopping for fish and chips and boba and jumping on a double decker bus and watching the city go by (in the dark, we didn’t see much). She even held my hand (!!!). It was bliss.
But now I need a vacation from the vacation. My husband always laughs at me because the second we hit the bus/train/cab on the way home from any airport/train/bus, I always say, “I am so fucking happy to be home.” (Forget that Cambridge was not home two months ago but was I ever glad to see its small, small self.) His mantra could be, “I am so happy to not be home.” He is a nomad, would be were it not for me and, you know, obligations of adulthood. One of the very funny contradictions of our married life: we each hitched ourselves to the person who would force us to do the hard thing (make a home/leave it).
Our kid seems to have a bit of both of us in her, and while there was complaining (she is, we learned, not a fan of museums — I actually tried to take a very sweet photo of her drawing a Cézanne painting, only to discover she was writing in her Tate sketchbook, “I HATE MUSEUMS!!!!”), she showed so much willingness to try new things, to get on yet another tube, to eat at another odd place, to schlep all over London.
When I said up top “I am not who I once was” what I mean is that, my God, I am not into schlepping around all day long anymore. I am old! I have no idea how I did it in New York for so many years, or in London on previous trips or in Paris where I lived for a couple of summers, but my energy level is much lower and I am so much lazier now. I sort of prefer to settle in a neighbourhood and pretend I live there, which is what we did, at least part of the time, visiting lovely bookshops and cafés in Belsize Park and walking on Hampstead Heath and having old family friends over for bagels and lox. During those strolls, when we gawked at the gorgeous houses and the rolling green hills, I texted my parents — who lived in the neighbourhood in the early 1970s — “How did you ever leave?” “It was very hard,” my dad wrote. “A very happy time of our lives.”
But while I am also not who I once was, I also, it seems, still am: I remain the person willing to leap onto a tube whose doors are about to close, to ram my body between the sliding things to hold them open, to push through a pack of people to get to the right food stall, to yell my order over the noise. I guess the New Yorker in you never truly leaves your body. I want our kid to learn the grit and confidence and chutzpah it takes to live in a city like London, like New York, that demands more of you than a place like LA or Cambridge or even Vienna. A place that puts your body on the frontlines every day as you push your way toward the things you want.
I’m not sure why I think this is important when I seem to be over it. But it strikes me as something one should get a chance to try on in one’s youth — to test your body’s ability to make it to and from, to and from, again and again, to go up and down escalators and through tunnels and up and down stairs and through turnstiles and shove yourself onto crowded trains and reach for a place to hold on tight and yet again walk up and down those steps, and get home, and think: I did that. I did it.
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