N is for Nature/Nurture
Noted by: BoNnie
A few years ago, my parents had a trip planned to see me in New York (they live in California). My dad had just had hip replacement surgery though, and wasn’t quite up for flying. These were the doctor’s orders, not his, for if you know the man, you know he’d rather be right back into the ocean with his scuba gear strapped to his back than be a patient in the sick bed. He doesn’t milk it, is what I’m saying, though maybe my mom would have a different opinion as his stay-at-home-nurse. Anyway, the point of this is that my mom, instead of cancelling her trip, decided to come out without him.
I’m one of those unusual people with parents that are still married (weird, right?) and as such, I tend to experience them as a unit. My weekly phone calls are even with both of them on the line. What transpired that first mom and daughter time in NYC was so special to us that we’ve made it an annual tradition. We tend to do the things that we probably wouldn’t do if Dad were around. Not saying it’s better or worse, just saying it’s something special—something that’s just ours.
We’ve been to many subversive theatrical experiences (a Joey Arias extravaganza complete with penises in various forms, and many FringeNYC productions); we’ve partaken in drunken feasts at Roberta’s; and we’ve traipsed around the underbelly of Brooklyn (at least the parts that are sort of mom-friendly, though my mom can handle much more than you might think!)
All that lead up is just to say that Mom was in town, we were due up for an End of the Line trip, I hadn’t seen Tania’s mom in ages (she’s a short train ride away in Connecticut), and so everything was in place for the double mother-daughter subway extravaganza. And while I’ve said my mom can handle more than you might think, we still wanted to choose one of the easier end of the line destinations, and therefore it was to be the N Train to Astoria.
I’ve always loved Tania’s mom, Sally Jo. She’s got a spirit that is contagious. I find her to be deeply interested in the world around her, and not afraid to live life to the fullest. She’s not afraid, for example, to ask for a taste of something on the menu when she doesn’t want to get the whole thing (you never know, right?) and she’s always up for a good time. From the year that Tania and I lived in the dorms together and she’d make her periodical visits to the city, to the Thanksgivings I spent with her family, and even some time in San Francisco at the Museum Mechanique sharing a good chuckle with “Laughing Sal”, I’ve always enjoyed my time with her. Most of all I love how much Sally loves Tania. It’s apparent in her every action.
Getting to know someone’s parents really reveals a lot about a person. And I always find it fascinating to meet someone’s maker, so to speak. But if you mash that together with your own maker then you’ve got multiple levels of relating going on. It’s pretty special energy. I think back to the years living with my parents, and which of my friends’ parents my own got along with. There weren’t any great friendships formed from it. Parents are sort of just forced into interaction during the years that their kids choose to spend time together. There is no guarantee that they will like each other just because their kids do.
I’m happy to report though that it seemed like Tania’s mom and my mom liked each other just fine. Did they exchange contact information and will they keep in touch? Well, no, but we just completed a circle in a way. A circle of understanding.
Okay, long winded intro is up.
We met on the Union Square platform of the N train to trek up for our second journey to Astoria (the first being the Q train a year ago). The train was rushing into the station, and we could see each other down the platform, so we all ran to meet in the center car, and just made it as the doors closed.
After catching our breath, the introductions were made. We chatted about my mom’s trip, did some reminiscing, and before we knew it we were on the streets of Astoria. As we strolled along, Sally shared a particularly amusing story about a mugger whose attack weapon was a dildo (!!), as we headed in the direction of a restaurant that this helpful Astoria resident recommended:
Along the walk, we were all in agreement that there were some very beautiful gardens to look at. Both our moms tend a garden. My mom has her tomatoes and her zucchinis, and Tania’s mom grows all kinds of things from flowers to vegetables. I’m the one of the bunch with the brown thumb. I manage to keep a cat alive just fine, but I even killed an aloe plant which barely needs to be watered, so you catch my drift. Still I love a fresh vegetable or flower so kudos to those who have that kind of patience.
We travelled down Ditmars Blvd and arrived at the recommended destination.
Tania and I both felt a little uneasy about it though. The menu looked a little whatever, and we wanted to take a quick peek down the road at the remaining possibilities. Since we had been walking for some time, we left our moms in their chairs while we continued the exploration. Just to be sure.
There was a park right on the next block by the water (Astoria Park), and a corner restaurant that seemed to be more interesting and lively. We made the choice to move our mothers there without even looking at the menu to see what type of cuisine it was.
Which turned out to be Greek. Fine with us! When in Rome, errrr, Astoria!
We agreed to share food and we all have our little nitpicks—no meat but fish for Tania, no lamb or mushrooms for me, no eggplant for my mom—which presented a small challenge but we got through it quickly, and came around to these items:
Spinach Pie Authentic Greek
Greek Salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, feta cheese, olives)
Tzantziki (yogurt, cucumber, mild garlic*, dill spread)
* uhhhh, the garlic was not mild at all, but I do like it garlicky!
Traditional Saganaki (baked cheese)
Dolmades Yialantzi (hand rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs)
That was topped off with three glasses of red wine to start our afternoon off right. They brought us bread and butter, which we devoured (my emergency pretzel stash in my bag had held us off before the walk, but we were starving by the time we sat down to eat!)
The food was delicious. My mom has a slight problem with decapitating shrimp (sorry, Mom, but those actually are little animals with eyes and heads that we are eating), but otherwise we enjoyed everything. Even without the taste of lamb stew that Tania’s mom wanted. They did send us a complimentary dessert. And you know what the best tasting dessert is, right?
We strolled through the park afterward and snapped these shots:
Then spent some time with the pooches that were up for adoption and hanging around the park.
Sally made the comment that I’m more like she is and that Tania is more like my mom. Well, we were born just three days apart from each other, maybe we were switched at birth! Though that’d be hard between a New Jersey and a California hospital.
It’s funny to think of that, actually. Here are these two women on opposite sides of the country, pregnant at the exact same time with two girls that were destined to find each other as sisters one day. There’s something kind of witchy about it, if you ask me. Something that can trip me out if I think about it too long.
People exist on their own tracks and spheres and then suddenly those worlds collide and everything changes. By that token, as those two women birthed and reared the two of us, we at the same time decided to apply to NYU, got accepted, and then ended up in the same dorm room together. How do we find anyone? Stuff like that still feels like magic to me. The romantic in me can still hope that my man is wondering in some sphere right now and when we collide it will be fireworks.
Anyway, this End of the Line trip was magical in its own way. There’s magic in the creation of another person I think, and then it’s so interesting to think of what that person got from their parents. I like to think that I got my dad’s determination and ferocity, but that those qualities are tempered with my mother’s generosity and kindness. Tania says from her mom she got the love and ability to appreciate the the subtleties in life like a flower or the way a dog’s ear flops.
Those people passed those things on to us, and then I could list off a million great things that have happened in my life as a direct result of Tania. I consider Tania to be my family. My own parents have always been very fond of Tania, and regularly ask how she’s doing. I bet they too can get tripped out thinking about us two kiddos in the dorms at NYU in 1998 and where we’ve come to since. My dad (not so) secretly hoping that I’d have taken a similar path to Tania’s. But really, we are on the same path, still. After all our many twists and turns. We’re here. We’re family.
And she didn’t even have to marry my little brother for that to happen.
So, Στην υγειά σου! To family and all its many shapes and forms!
(That was “Cheers” in Greek, if you couldn’t tell!)