Sleepless, but not Seattle
During bedtime battles I consider handing in my mother pass. I lack the unflappable calm of my mother, and the line of women that came before her. I’m the black sheep mama of the family. A friend’s quote from this week, rings in my head, “behind every great kid there’s a mum who’s pretty sure she’s screwing it up.”
Thank heavens for blizzards. The blanket of snow brought a quiet in, and out, of the home, once the winds had died down that is, and the flakes no longer flicked at your face like tiny razor blades. Boy, bundled up like an arctic Michelin man meets a classmate, and they take turns (almost) to careen down the hill on his sled, beside his apartment block – a place where smiling doormen tip their hats at you when you walk in, feeding my 1930s delusions.
As the flakes give way to blackened slush the family troop south to the Upper West side and pile into a dear friend’s apartment. Their living room/kitchen, which can barely accommodate their family of four, is filled with three guitarists, a cellist, a violinist, a pianist and all their respective instruments. A vat of chili bubbles on the range. Wine is schlurped. Junior is passed around like the bowl of chips, grinning at everyone.
Then the room explodes with improvised music. After a few blues numbers the eldest daughter (10) steps forward to sing. The musicians exchange impressed glances. I tear up, then glance over at the casting director in the corner (a neighbor) and wonder whether he’ll say he was there in the February of 2013 when a star was born.
Junior and I eventually toy with sleep in the bedroom. We sit in the dark, but for the lights of Columbus Avenue shining up from the street four floors below, as he guzzles his drink. Through the window I spy similar quintessential Edwardian apartment blocks. The streets that run off this avenue are lined with the aching beauty of New York’s brownstones.
Then the group breaks into an Irish ditty in the next room; it’s lyrics full of longing and myths. I think about the immigrants that helped build this city, who, most likely, piled into tiny apartments and sung out about the worlds they left behind on the other side of the ocean. I look down at Junior, swinging between drowsy and wide-eyed awake and wonder if my great grandfather would have sung a Sardinian lullaby if he had stayed here. Or whether my grandmother’s sister had had a circle of partisans to share music and memories with.
I quickly relinquish the quest for sleep and rejoin the party. The cake is cut, the eldest has written Music Party over the pink frosting I had watched her spread on earlier, whilst she sat on the bottom bunk and her sister and Boy put the world to rights beside her. Typical school night, really.
Next morning mum wakes to find she hadn’t set her alarm, with barely ten minutes to prepare a lunch, a breakfast, rouse and help a sleepy Boy dress and get to school. I lurch, groggy eyed, about the kitchen when the beautiful realization dawns on me. No-one has jarred me awake for the past seven hours and I’m screeching towards consciousness in a city that is like compost for imaginations. So I’m missing a little shut-eye. Best place to do it really, in this sleepless city of dreams….