The windows are open and a steady evening rain is starting to fall. There are dishes and laundry and toys as far as the eye can see. For the first time in 14 hours, the house is quiet. At first the quiet unsettles me. A round of bed and crib checks before I can fully let out that breath I’ve been holding in all day long. Three very different, very bright, fiery red heads are all finally resting. For some reason, I am amazed when they sleep. I think it is because they are so curious about every single moment and breakfast cereal and bath bubbles and pirates and addition and hot dogs and weddings and Barbies and basketball, that I am actually shocked when they allow themselves any time at all to just rest. I wonder if their dreams at night are filled with more of these questions.
Already the boy, the preschooler, the baby, they have such distinct personalities. I think about what I teach them during the day: Use the napkin, wash your hands, brush your teeth, tie your shoes. I think about how irrelevant and not particularly useful any of that will be for them in the long term, other than in the most functional and hygienic of ways. But none of it will help them with the other stuff, all those questions, all those big ideas, the stuff of their dreams.
I think about what I want to really tell them, really teach them, and it is this: Go to New York.
Go there in your 20s and be like everyone else who ever packs a bag and wonders if they’ll make it; Sit with your own uncertainty. It is the first thing New York City greets you with, and you should know this feeling because most of life is spent in the gray and you won’t always succeed. You’ll need to tease out that feeling. Will it be fight or flight? Do you run when you don’t know the answer or outcome? Or will you stay, not knowing how it will all turn out, not knowing if any of it will be good, certain all of it will be hard, but just staying because you have mettle enough to find out.
Learn how to live on very little money because most likely, you will have little, at least in the beginning or maybe the whole time through. You’ll be in one of those charming little hot and sticky New York City walkups. You’ll stretch $40 worth of groceries for three weeks and learn how to turn something fabulous out of five pieces of linguine, a slice of American cheese, and that Chobani that could probably last one more day.
Walk. Walk everywhere. Walk the city end to end as often as you can because it’s great exercise and it will help you develop a sense of direction. New York City is a grid and it will serve you well in more ways than one to know your North, your South, your East, and your West.
When you walk, realize how small and insignificant you are. Remember that almost always you are the least important person in the world. Humble yourself.
But also walk tall and feel proud that you are making it work there on your own. Go to parties with lots of important people and let yourself feel like the most important person in that room. Impress yourself.
Treat brunch appropriately, like the religion that it is in New York. Wait two hours for Strawberry Butter.
Have a local diner and eat there both at normal and not normal times. Know the guy who runs it. Be on a first name basis with him and eat cheese fries with him on nights when you’re not ready to give up on the night.
Karaoke. Don’t ask. Just do it. Close your eyes and fucking sing like your heart is going to pop out of your chest and take your throat with you. Don’t get fancy. Start with Neil Diamond.
Learn. Realize how legitimately small and stupid you are (and I mean that in the best possible way) and learn from the brilliant people, libraries, schools and museums that surround you.
Both literally and figuratively, keep up with the pace on the sidewalks and subways during the morning and evening commute. If you don’t, you will be trampled.
All those things that you’ve been afraid to do that you’ve never done? Do them. Go on the blind date, take the trapeze lesson, try the Korean BBQ. Go. Do.
Work your ass off doing stuff you never thought yourself capable of doing. Test your own limits. Challenge yourself in ways you never have. Become the crazy work 24 hours a day person just to prove to yourself that when pushed, you step up. That you can lean in and not fall over.
Be lazy. Stop working and on those rare NYC summer days that are not oppressively hot, go to Sheep’s Meadow and lie down and feel how small and close and far and tall and how much of everything this city is. Of how much of everything you are when you are in it.
Buy the shoes in the window that you think you have no business buying. You don’t think they are very “you,” but the girl you are walking with whispers in your ear that if you buy them, they will be you. She is right. And they are.
Run around the reservoir at Central Park with the music almost as loud but not quite as loud as the sound of your own heart thumping strongly and rhythmically in your chest. Imagine yourself the hero or heroine in every major movie that took place right where you stand now. Your city is your stage. Assume the role of a lifetime.
Get that amazing job you worked so hard for, and then celebrate like a fool on the street corner. Remember that at any one time, you are both the most and least sane person on 36th and Broadway.
Take three days off from that job and take a staycation in your own city. Take the Circle Line, visit the Statue of Liberty, and the Empire State Building just to name a few. Be a tourist and learn the outward appeal of your city.
Go to Union Square and watch the street performers. Shop the farmers market and if book stores still exist, go to The Strand. Grab some shitty deli coffee, a bagel, and a bench. Sit and feel the pulse of life coursing around you. Cherish the more subtle, inward appeal of your city.
Streets Fairs. My God, the street fairs. They are all the same and never miss any of them. Stroll them and buy yourself inexpensive workout clothes. One word: Mozzarepa.
Go to where the towers used to stand. Pray to whatever God you believe in. Stand in their shadows and feel small.
Get on the subway and sit with yourself, observe. Do not automatically plug in, look down, and tune out. You will assuredly miss something, someone that matters. Talk to strangers. Do not be afraid to open yourself up to other people’s gifts and hearts.
Don’t talk to strangers. Be slightly afraid of their gifts. It is New York City, after all.
Don’t buy the New York Post. It is smut.
Fine. Fucking buy the New York Post. At $.25 that is a bad habit you can probably afford. Plus, it has both Page Six and the Weird but True column.
Walk the High Line. Have the perspective of what it is like to both look down on life and blend into the skyline at the same time.
Open yourself up to the possibility of love, even if it ever only begins and ends with the city itself.
Be like the city you are in: Be a walking, breathing contradiction.
Learn to embrace all of the parts of you that shouldn’t mesh together yet always do, seamlessly, to make up all the parts of you. Learn to love yourself, fight for yourself, and stand up for yourself. Whether you stay and raise a family or yourself or leave after just a few months. Leave not as you came: Leave with a piece of it in you.
And so it is, all of your life lessons all rolled up into one neat little package. Kids: Go to New York.