Spring break has never meant too much to us. It comes and goes each year without occasion, save for the noticeably fewer NYU students downtown. The streets quiet down a bit. You might randomly run into a few old friends who you haven't seen in years, fellow old-fashioned city dwellers who stick around town when everyone else goes away. But aside from that, spring break means business as usual. Or at least it did. Before we had a daughter in school.
What does it mean now? It means sleeping late, cooking more. Long, slow-roasted meals with fresh vegetables from the farmers market. Strawberries for breakfast. Painting our toes bright colors. Paul McCartney and Beirut and Iggy Pop. It means adventures in the daytime with my brood, weaving through the sidewalks of the village, taking our time, manifesting adventure. I may not be taking my kids around the world, but we discover whole universes here at home. Like our favorite treehouse, hiding in plain site in a magnificent city garden.
We've been to most of the gardens in the neighborhood, but this one is special- almost wild, and always full of music and wonder. The plants are luscious and unkempt in a way where you feel not the precision of what man can create but the fury or what nature can. The dirt feels different- it almost pulsates under your feet. The birds sing louder. When you stand in this garden, in the heart of Alphabet City, you're no longer in the city at all. You've entered a storybook. We like to call it Narnia.
Inside the garden we meet a man who feeds the pigeons and tends to the vegetables. Tomatoes, carrots, basil, we grow it all, he says. The children are enchanted. He looks Lou in the eyes and speaks to him like a man, and then hands him a rake. Get to work. Lou's eyes widen with pride and a grin spreads across his face. He rakes and rakes the patch of dirt he's assigned to until he's worn himself out. I am so proud of him. The man brings a bag of birdseed and teaches them how to call pigeons. Plumes of seed fly from their tiny hands and fill the air, and suddenly pigeons are everywhere, gracefully spreading their wings above us and perching on the branches at our sides. Biet says she thinks they are beautiful. The white one is her favorite.
We climb the ancient wooden ladder up into the treehouse for lunch. Laying upon the weathered wooden beams, we share mangos, apples, and cheese. I nurse Levon. I don't even know what time it is now. It doesn't matter. Biet disappears down the ladder and goes wandering, and after a little while of spending time with just my boys, I climb down to find her. I see her standing stoically in front an empty flower bed of overturned soil with a dusty found pocket mirror in her hand. A dozen or so pigeons hop about at her feet, combing the stones for rogue seeds and breadcrumbs. Her gentle hands silently tilt the mirror back and forth, up and down, until it catches the sunlight and beams it across the flowerbed, like a tiny golden spotlight coming from her fingertips. She sees me watching her and tilts the mirror up, shining the light into my eyes and blinding me momentarily. She laughs mischievously. The notion that she can control the sunlight is so grand, so otherworldly, that it overtakes her and she excitedly reports, "Mama look! I can make magic!"
My Biet. I love that you believe in magic. I do too. I love that you consider the birds of the city your kin. I love that you dive into your own little worlds sometimes, twirling your fingers in front of your face in spastic circles and crossing your eyes and not giving a damn who sees you doing it. And when I gently ask you what you're doing, you tell me matter-of-factly, "Oh Mama, I'm just making pixie dust." I love that you know that you're strong enough to build anything you dream of and wise enough to always come up with a plan to get it done. I love that you're a planner. I'm one too, you know. And I love that you are the most stubborn person I know when it comes to following through with your plans.
The sun is getting low in the sky and we say goodbye to the man. The birds are fed and the soil is raked, and it is time to say farewell. We plan to come back tomorrow, and every day of spring break, to tend to our garden. Next time we will bring seeds.