NYC Here We Come . . . Again by Sharon O’Donnell

One truth about having age-gap kids (9 years between my oldest and youngest) is that parents often have to repeat vacations, particularly those with historical significance, with the youngest child. When my two oldest sons were young (7 and 4), we went New York City and did all the ‘touristy” things like visiting the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. When we visited the Empire State Building, the boys had their photo taken beside a huge cut-out of King Kong rising up above a fake New York skyline. Billy, our oldest, was an avid fan of King Kong and Godzilla movies, and this opportunity to have such a photo taken was the highlight of the trip for him. The photographer told them to act scared, and they did a pretty good job as Billy’s eyes grew wide and his expression frozen in terror, while 4-year-old David put his hands to the side of his cheeks in the Home Alone fashion, his mouth open wide. This was to be the last time my two guys would be uninhibited enough to do a creative, silly thing for the camera like that, and I cherish that photo for that reason more than any. When they returned to school after their break, they both took copies of the photo with them to share with their class, and the photo was a hit with their friends. Of course, it was a big hit with me, too, and has been included as one the many photos in the DVDs I did for each of their high school graduations.

The atrocities of 2001 had not occurred yet, and the World Trade Center buildings towered over the city skyline; we have another wonderful — yet poignant — photo of the boys going over to Ellis Island on the ferry with the Trade Towers behind the boys. I remember distinctly Billy yelling, “Make sure you get the towers in the photo!” That photo was on our refrigerator door for years, and in 2001 on the night of September 11th, I took the photo of the fridge after everyone had gone to bed and placed my fingers over the World Trade Center towers in the photo, trying to imagine a New York City skyline without them. I couldn’t. And I sat at the kitchen table and cried. 30 minutes earlier I had put both the boys to bed after the horrific day and laid down with each of them as the drifted off to sleep. When I was lying beside David, then 4, I felt his hand reach up and pinch my upper arm — something he had done as a toddler to calm himself that he had not done in a year or so. As all other Americans that night, I realized then in a deep-down kind of way just how much we love our children and how fragile we — and they — are. I detest that it takes such awful tragedies to bring diverse, opinionated people all together, but I certainly felt a union with others that I’ve never felt before or since.

I visited New York in 2004 when I went up to meet my literary agent, and I stayed in the Marriott Marquis right in the heart of Times Square and Broadway where I relished going to a performance of Avenue Q. Right afterwards, I bought the soundtrack and still have it in my CD player in our SUV, and I sometimes listen to it when I need that certain ‘something’ to put a lift or some inspiration in my day.

Then in 2008, we took a brief trip to NYC to attend a family wedding, and since our youngest, Jason, hadn’t seen the Statue of Liberty, we took the ferry over and visited it and Ellis Island. But the weather was cold and windy, and it wasn’t the most pleasant of trips. Jason, who was 7, says he doesn’t remember a lot of it now. He mainly remembers Ellis Island (which is now closed due to Hurricane Sandy damage) and also the walk we took at Ground Zero as they were building the memorial. After September 11th of this year when he saw news reports of the anniversary of the 2001 events, he told me he wanted to go to to the Trade Center memorial. And something within me stirred, and I realized I did too. He was scheduled to track out of school in late October for 3 weeks, and I would track out also from my teaching assistant job. The money from my new job would come in handy for just such a trip, an ‘extra’ that I otherwise would not have considered. So it was settled that Jason and I would go up to New York for 3 nights over our break to see the sites and a Broadway play. In planning our trip, I tried to squeeze in as much as I could during the short time we’d be there. I reasoned that Jason had been to the Statue of Liberty already when he was 7 so we didn’t have to include that in our itinerary; but, I was wrong. Jason wanted to go again since he didn’t remember a lot from before because he was young. Now he could appreciate it more. Thus, we are going to include it and repeat what we’d done before with the older boys.

I’m looking forward to our trip in a few weeks. Jason and I are the only ones going, as my husband has client meetings and also needs to stay here with our dog. It will be some mother-son bonding time, and I feel like we need it since we’ve been at that ‘beginning of the teenage years’ point of conflict recently. You know how 13-year-olds can be. Yet, I know when we go to the Empire State Building and see that cut-out of King Kong peering over the skyline, that I will think briefly of my older sons, of their young little boy faces, of that treasured photo of them with King Kong, and I will marvel again at how quickly time passes. Yet, I know there are so many memories yet to be made.