New Year’s Eve, 2019. Our 8 year-old son, Alex, is still operating on PST, which means midnight in NY is 9:00 p.m. at home. We decide that he can stay up for the fireworks show at Central Park so the dazzling blazes and heart-booming explosions may light our way into the unknown future 2020 will bring. We are all aglow under the flashes—Me, Mark, Alex, Alex’s Grandma, and thousands of strangers. It is no small thing to pull off such a mind-blowing event. We know this, but this is NY where everything magnificent seems easy and with that sense of ease we intuit our own sense of power. We seek these feelings so that we can feed on them once back at our mountain place.
The extravagant show does not disappoint. It ends in an even more extravagant finale. We turn toward each other for hugs and wishes of happiness in the days ahead and then quickly shuffle as we and the crowds funnel onto side streets to walk to subway stations and nearby towers, the collective relief buzzing around us. I’m sure it’s not just me. Everyone feels it: we are strangers, and we trusted each other enough to pack ourselves together in this famous park IN NEW YORK for midnight explosions. No bombs took lives, no gun fire erupted. There’s a lightness in the air and a feeling that good prevails as people toot horns and spontaneously shout, “Happy New Year!” as if this cold winter night means something apart from our belief that it does.
The next morning, we wake to the first day of 2020. We wake to 2020 and a child who wants out of the city. He doesn’t like all these buildings, too much concrete, craves the cedar trees and lichens of his mountain in Idaho and will only survive if he can climb the rocks at the south end of Central Park. We eat lunch and make a plan. Dad will do the dinner shopping, and Mom and Grandma will take him to a climbing place where he can feel the earth beneath him. The three walk the six blocks to Central Park West and then down winding paths where Alex can run free and breathe air scented by green. But, once at the south end, Mom can see that the rocks he wants to climb are not safe for a child without ropes. He runs ahead. She runs after him as he ascends to places she cannot reach.
And so the year begins with massive heartbreak as Mom screams from below the rocks “not that way!” and her child sobs and wonders what is wrong with her cause “daddy would let me,” and then more screams from below, “I’m not daddy!” and, then, as they take a tear-filled shortcut back to Grandma’s apartment through Lincoln Center so Mom can find a moment of peace in the 10 second walk past the reflecting pool, there comes a full-throated protest: “this is NOT the way HOME!” Followed by a full throttle meltdown and a sit-in. And now Mom wonders if she will have enough time to get this kid to the apartment so she and Dad can have the night they have been looking forward to for two months—dinner at Momofuku Ssam Bar (now closed) followed by David Byrne’s American Utopia (now closed).
Mom’s hair will suffer, but with Grandma’s prodding and promises of treats, they make it back in time for a quick shower before a 4:00 departure. Through more sobbing and “please don’t leave me!” and “why do you have to go to shows?” Mom instructs Grandma to let Alex watch as much YouTube as he wants. All the marble runs he wants until we get back. He is distracted opening Jelle’s Channel as Mom and Dad offer a quick kiss and dash out the door. Will grandma survive this night? She has Uncle Sam’s help. Uncle Sam will play poker with Alex, and, anyway, the child has free reign on marble run videos, and we got them crab cakes from Fairway for God’s sake.
On West 66th now, and the glow of Mark’s green eyes soothes. We take a sigh together. We will have six hours to feel it all, all the love we have co-created in 19 years that is now mostly wrapped up in the care and guidance of this child who is brilliant, autistic, loving, and hard. It’s a paradox that the difficulties of parenting Alex—the arguing over nothing, the endless charts tracking social goals, the tachycardia, the parent-teacher meetings, the therapy for his hands, the Why? Why? Why?, the sweat, the too tired to connect, the endless math problems, have made us closer. Where there used to be a need to transition from that to this, there is now this, immediate this. We are together, and some kind person is giving us this moment to cherish each other by taking our hard kid that few see as the blessing we do, and I see you, and I love you, and thank God we only had one, and will you marry me? And laughter because we are already married. Surely, there must be a stronger statement. Will you double-marry me?
(to be continued)