My oldest grandchild, Collette, was graduating from middle school in May 2020. She liked the idea of her and I traveling together, choosing New York City as the destination. With her parents approval and six months to plan the perfect trip, I got busy. I bought airline tickets. Coco and I worked hard to find the right hotel. I purchased vouchers for various attractions she wanted to visit and booked us to see Dear Evan Hansen and Hadestown on Broadway. I contacted her aunt Sara who lives in the Big Apple for her ideas to round out our schedule. Coco and I were ready to roll.
Then, we heard about a mysterious virus that was killing people in China. When COVID-19 reached American shores, we hoped it would run its course quickly. Even after the pandemic forced a lockdown, I didn’t cancel the trip. By April, both Coco and I knew we weren’t boarding a jet anytime soon. I canceled all reservations and promised to rebook after things settled down. Words cannot describe her disappointment.
Fast forward to 2022. NYC was slowly reopening. Broadway had turned on its bright lights. With Coco and I vaccinated and boosted, I asked her parents for permission to move forward with the trip. Adam and Kristy greenlighted our plans, suggesting we go during her spring break. By now, Coco was a sophomore at Terra Linda High School. I brought her to my house one day after school to chat. Was our 2020 plan still a go? Did she have any new ideas? At first, she was pensive. After some nudging, she said she wanted to do exactly what we had planned but felt uneasy about us traveling alone. She worried about me getting sick and her not knowing what to do.
Her comment caught me completely off guard. Sure I have a few medical problems. Who doesn’t at my age? She knows I’m a seasoned traveler. I’ve backpacked through Europe and snorkled on the Great Barrier Reef. Heck, Coco and I flew to Costa Rica in 2018 by ourselves to attend a Spanish immersion program and nothing went wrong. What changed in the past two years to make her feel this way? After some soul searching, I realized Collette had the courage to say aloud what I prefer not to discuss. In December 2019, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disorder that wreaks havoc on the body. While I strive to manage my symptoms with exercise, diet, and medication, the truth is I often feel unsteady. I move slowly and tire easily. I have a slight tremor in my right hand. My phone alarm chimes three times a day, reminding me to take pills that keep me feeling normal. Few people notice my symptoms; I hide them well. Collette, on the other hand, has had a front-row seat to my evolving health care story. She gets what’s happening to me, and she still wanted us to travel together…with a safety net.
To solve this dilemma, we asked her mom to join us. Kristy kindly agreed to swap a relaxing vacation at home for a fast-paced NYC adventure she hadn’t planned. I’m embarrassed to admit that we treated her as an interloper instead of a travel partner. We gave her no say in the itinerary. Coco and I had already made "our" plans and we were sticking to them. On April 2, 2022, the three of us flew non-stop from SFO to JFK. We settled into the Row NYC hotel, one block from Times Square. Collette and I claimed our beds and suitcase space, leaving Kristy with the leftovers. That evening, we met Coco’s aunt for dinner. Sara introduced us to the subway, helped us buy a multi-day pass, and showed us around town.
The next morning, we took the subway to ground zero where we joined a tour group next to St. Paul’s Chapel. The guide had lived through the devastation on September 1, 2001, and relayed his heart-wrenching story to us. We visited the memorial and strolled through the 9/11 museum. We rode the One World Trade Center’s unique elevator, mesmerized by the view from the 101st floor. After eating lunch on top of the world, we walked several blocks to the cemetery at Trinity Church where we paid homage to Alexander Hamilton (Collette can rap the entire album). From there, we moseyed to Wall Street for a photo op with the raging bull statue. In the late afternoon, we took the subway home with plans to relax before dinner.
As we emerged from the underground, Collette declared she wanted to go to Times Square instead of returning to the hotel. My legs felt like two cement pillars; I needed to lie down. Kristy proposed that she and Coco go exploring while I napped. I thought her idea was brilliant, and we parted ways at 44th and 8th, our hotel's crossroads. An hour later, Kristy called to say they had found a place that sold half-price theater tickets. Did I want to go to a show that evening? My nap rejuvenated me enough to say yes. After a tasty Mexican dinner, we walked to the theater, put on our N95s, flashed our vax cards, and watched The Book of Mormon. The musical comedy was hilarious; all three of us loved it. We stopped for pizza, and by the time we returned to the hotel at midnight, Collette and I had forgotten this was "our" trip. She, Kristy, and I had become a pack, three generations of strong women who loved one another, set adrift in a city that never slept.
The following day, I appreciated how Kristy figured out the subway path to Battery Park where we caught a ferry to the Statue of Liberty. The fact that she and Coco used the stairs to reach the pedestal while I needed an elevator didn’t matter. What mattered is the three of us enjoyed the fabulous view together. Kristy taught Coco how to navigate the subway, nabbed tickets to Seth Meyers’ Late Night show, and got half-price tickets to a fourth Broadway show: The Little Prince (we didn’t quite know what to make of the story). She made sure we didn’t eat at chain restaurants or get lost in the swarming crowds. She got us to Central Park for a carriage ride. She nudged us to visit Grand Central Terminal to search for the black brick that Jackie O left behind as well as a secret whispering gallery (we found both). She rose at 5:45 a.m. with me to see Robin Roberts on the set of Good Morning America as Coco slept. When I rested in the afternoons, she and Coco shopped, searched for B&W cookies, and watched street entertainers. The trip was so much more vibrant because Kristy was with us. She became the glue that held us together, the energy we needed to make each day amazing, the opposite of an interloper.
Margie found a special way to bond with her grandchildren. Collette, Kristy, and I used her blueprint to create a similar experience for us, refusing to let the pandemic or my poor health and bad manners derail our ability to create lasting memories. Next up is a trip with my 15-year-old grandson, which I’m approaching with eyes wide open. Camden’s mother will not only be joining us, she’ll be a welcomed member of the planning team.