We’re halfway across the Throgs Neck when I catch a glimpse of Minnow, quietly cuddling her favorite purple dog in the backseat, and burst into tears.
“What’s that noise?” she asks, craning her neck to see around the boxes and mounds of clothing we’ve loaded into the car.
My husband shoots me a reproachful look. I’ve made it a rule to never let my children see me cry, but the events of the past month have tested that rule’s durability. “Mommy is sad,” he states simply.
“I didn’t even let her say goodbye,” I emit between sobs. “She has no idea that she’s never going back.” In our haste to pack the car and beat the late-day traffic, I had completely forgotten to ceremoniously mark Minnow’s last exit from our apartment by having her wave bye-bye to each room, as I'd planned. It was, in my hormone-fueled estimation, an epic mom-fail.
“She’s two,” my husband reminds me. “She’s already over it.”
To prove his point he addresses our daughter through the rearview mirror. “Minnow, you know we’re not going to live in A7 anymore, right?”
“Because Mommy and Daddy bought a bigger, better house.”
“But that house isn’t ready yet, so we’re going to stay with Mimi and Grandpa for a little while.”
Minnow doesn’t respond.
“Is that okay with you?”
As we continue across the bridge, wisps of doubt swirl through my mind. This is what I wanted, right? To be pregnant with our second child. It was all I could think about in the months before we conceived, but now that we’re nearing my due date, our old life- the three of us living in a rented two-bedroom walk-up in Bronxville, New York- feels just right. Peanut is changing everything, and I struggle against so much change at once like an overturned tortoise seeking solid ground.
As a mother, I also worry about what all this change will do to Minnow and her fragile, two-year-old psyche. The Bronxville apartment is the second in which Minnow has lived, and the first that she has truly known but will probably not remember, in her short twenty-nine months. We moved to Bronxville eighteen months ago after we outgrew our majestic one-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. What that apartment lacked in space it made up for in charm and convenience, with its sweeping vistas of the American Museum of Natural History and one-block walk to the 77th Street entrance of Central Park. On Thanksgiving mornings my husband and I could watch the Macy’s Day Parade balloons bob by our windows minutes before we’d see them appear on the live television broadcast. It was a matchless home with a Shake Shack on the corner. We were going to live there forever, or at least until we had our first child.
But our first child, Minnow, came unexpectedly- a few months after our first wedding anniversary- and because we weren’t yet ready to shed our Manhattan skins, the three of us toughed it out in our shared bedroom for as long as we could muster. Three weeks after celebrating Minnow’s first birthday- in true Upper West Side fashion, with afternoon tea at Alice’s Tea Cup, a picnic supper in Sheep’s Meadow, and cupcakes by Magnolia Bakery- we boxed up the life we had crammed into 600 square feet and headed north to Westchester County, where, for the same rent, we could afford an extra bedroom, a formal dining room, and double the square footage.
The Bronxville apartment was the perfect transitional residence for a family reluctant to part with the allures of city life. The 25-minute morning commute into Grand Central on the Metro North was easier on my husband than his former indefinite sojourns underground, waiting for the B or C trains to materialize. The Bronx River Pathway proved to be a suitable, if not wholly comparable, substitute running route for the Central Park Loop. And although, in solidarity with our suburban neighbors, we bought a Jeep, I still preferred to do my errands the Manhattan way: By buckling Minnow into the UPPABaby and high-tailing it to the post office, cheese shop, wine store, and children’s boutique, collecting bulky packages in the undercarriage as I went.
Although I missed Manhattan terribly, the Bronxville apartment gradually grew on me. It was there that Minnow mastered the art of toddling, and then walking, and then, to our downstairs neighbors’ chagrin, the art of galloping at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning while pulling a plastic toy tow truck behind her. It was there that Minnow jubilantly used the potty for the first time, before steadfastly refusing to do so again for several months. And it was there that I discovered our cozy little family would soon be expanding.
I will miss the mornings spent eating sliced banana and watching Sesame Street with Minnow in the sun-drenched living room perched high in the treetops. I will miss the afternoons spent trailing Minnow as she scoots around the playground adjacent to our building in a plastic canopied car, loading invisible groceries into its trunk. I will not miss the minutes spent pleading with Minnow to climb the 53 steps to our apartment on her own because my belly is swelling and my doctor says I can no longer carry her. Simply put, I will miss the days spent together, just the two of us.
Like I said, Peanut is changing everything. When we learned about this pregnancy, we knew our days of living in a spacious but inconvenient fourth-floor walk-up with no overnight parking and shared laundry facilities were dwindling. After almost four years of renting, it was time to buy a house.
And buy a house we did, with its own driveway and washer and dryer. It’s an old, four-bedroom, side-hall colonial with a whitewashed brick façade and impeccably manicured lawn in an excellent school district on Long Island, my husband’s native land. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better house for our family. When we close in three weeks, it will, without a doubt, be one of the happiest days of my life. But right now, as we prepare to plunk all our well-loved belongings into storage and temporarily move in with my in-laws on the North Shore, I have never felt farther from that first apartment on the Upper West Side, farther from that transitional apartment in Bronxville, farther from home.
We finish crossing the bridge and merge onto the Cross Island Parkway. I wipe away the tears blurring my vision with a glove-compartment napkin and glance at my husband, deeply focused on the road ahead, and my daughter, drinking in the view of the Long Island Sound from the security of her car seat, and am reminded of the chorus of the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes song “Home:”
Let me come Home
Home is wherever I’m with you;
Yes I am Home
Home is whenever I’m with you.
If home is a state of mind, rather than a place, then I am determined to make this next episode of my life the homiest yet.