On Friday morning, I left Ben and the kids at home and got on a plane to visit one of my oldest friends, Megan, in New York City.
I've done this a number of times over the years. It is always a giant, delicious gulp of fresh air (okay, maybe that metaphor's a little off seeing as how the air itself is considerably fresher in San Anselmo, but no matter). It is always a turning point. The first time I visited as a mother, Lana was just over a year. I had just reclaimed my body from the babies and I was still working my way through the maternal frumps. Three days with Megan, three days of accessorizing and leaving the apartment with only a little handbag instead of juggling a diaper bag, a snack bag and changes of clothes for adults and children, three days of artful outfits, both borrowed and purchased, that I didn't need to protect from vomit or poop, was a rebirth. I returned to the Liz of old, the girl that enjoyed being pretty. I haven't let a day pass since without putting on the glam. Not because I feel like I have to, not because I'm concerned with what other people make of me (or okay, not much) but because it makes me happy. There it is - a cute outfit brings me closer to God.
These trips, finding myself in this sophisticated city, walking and eating and shopping with a woman who is my sister in every way but genetics, a woman with whom I was a teenager, with whom I'm still a teenager, drinking and laughing and gossiping until our heads hit the pillow at night, these trips have become a palate cleanser for me, the sorbet between courses. A way to remember who I was and am so that I can more firmly and happily embrace my family when I return.
People-watching on the parking shuttle and covertly observing a young married couple, particularly the woman that was me ten years ago. She was in turn watching me and I wondered if she knew that I was a mother. Maybe, I fantasized, she thought I was unattached, professional, mysterious. Then I realized that the lanolin I was pulling out of my bag to put on my lips, the leftover Lasinoh "for breast-feeding mothers", was probably a give away. Not to mention the emergency lollipop, used to keep Mihiretu from the unintended nap, jutting out of a zippered pocket.
Watching "The Real Housewives of D.C." from West coast to East and "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" from East coast to West, munching on organic junk food - raw chocolate pistachio brittle, cacao-coconut truffles, gluten-free peanut-butter cookies - and, to really up the sinning, ordering a Diet Coke from the flight attendant. And, oh, could I get more ice?
Stretching out on the air-mattress the first night and realizing that under the comforter was a quilt I had made Megan ten years ago. Walking through her new apartment and seeing all her belongings that I know so well. There's the painting that hung in our apartment in L.A. when we were twenty-four, the one Megan made of feathery wings on a hanger - the background a blue I associate only with Megan - a meld of midday sky and cornflower. There's the photo of her mom, the inimitable Toni Boynton, in the late sixties, gorgeous and glamourous in a bouffant - a photo that I gazed at in wonder on the wall of Meg's house in Sausalito when we were freshmen in high school. The texture of a long friendship.
When I'm with Megan in New York, I completely let go of the reins and simply follow her around. I pay zero attention to subway stops, dinner plans or even where the hell we are. My life is, at this point anyway, all about being responsible for at least three other people at all times. I'm also pretty into control just generally speaking. For whatever reason, the combination of Manhattan, which is just foreign enough and Megan, whom I have a long history of following around, allow for a child-like freedom. It is like when we were fifteen and I was on board for whatever adventure Megan had planned - even if it was just walking down to Golden Gate Market to buy a Diet Coke.
On our trip to Century 21, the giant discount department store opposite the hole that is Ground Zero, I discovered the magic of jeggings. Jeans plus leggings equal jeggings. How else to answer my greatest current fashion question? Leggings too stretchy, jeans too bulky, oh my goodness, jeggings!
On Sunday evening I took a walk through Central Park alone, letting the crisp fall wind whip around me. As I walked contentedly, I made a series of realizations. Number one, I was strolling in New York City in a real cute new outfit, unencumbered by small children. Number two, Mihiretu is almost four. Number three, I live in Marin. It seemed that maybe, possibly, I might be on the downhill slope of the mountain of stress that's been the past eighteen months. Maybe things are getting better all the time. And so I started whistling a little tune. "I Have Confidence" from the Sound of Music. Soon I was exiting the park, walking around the block towards Megan's apartment, peeking past doormen into fancy Upper West Side lobbies. I approached two men on the otherwise empty sidewalk, deep in conversation. The one facing me looked familiar. As I grew closer, I realized it was Peter Krause, the actor from "Six Feet Under". Yay, a celebrity siting, something I had grown accustomed to in L.A. and have been sadly deprived of in Northern California. As I was abreast of them, the other man turned and faced me. I was gazing directly into the eyes of Matt Dillon. I passed and as I did, out of the corner of my eye I could see him turning, like a flower to the sun, to check me out. I was so deliciously happy for my thirteen-year-old self, the girl who lived for "The Outsiders" and "Rumblefish". When I got back to Megan's apartment, she assured me that he checks her out all the time, but that's cool, I'll still take it.
Getting back on the plane Monday afternoon, having had my full of best-friend-chatty, Malbec and jeggings, I was ready to again embrace my family. To quote my dear Maria Von Trapp, we all need to be out in the world, to be free. And how glorious it is to return to the nest and my chicks, mouth metaphorically full of worms.