A neighbor asked me yesterday, "What do you do? Do you work, do you not work?"
I laughed, decided not to get defensive. "I wish there was a word for what I do that I could use to explain it," I said. I did not add, "that I could use to allay people's jealousy or judgment." Despite the fact that I take care of my kids and myself, keeping calm so I can ease the burden of my husband's many work stresses, despite that we are dipping in to our equities so that I can do so in an interesting way, not having to bring in cash daily makes me the envy of many.
"Well, it must be nice," he said, shaking his head at my luck, at the luxurious happy-go-lucky lifestyle he imagines I live. "Someday, I'll stop working and retire," he said.
I just looked at him, sunglasses covering my puffy eyes. I'd had a rough, emotional morning for a whole set of reasons he knew nothing about, cared nothing about, that were none of his business.
"Well," I said, "it's not all it's cracked up to be, so I'd enjoy now."
"I'd like to see for myself and I'll let you know," he said, distrusting that life is a challenge at any stage.
"Fabulous," I responded, walking away. "I'll be curious to know."
I went to Pep Boys to replace a tire with a nail in it, the second new tire of the summer, then headed uptown to pick up my kids from my in-laws, who had taken them overnight so the hubby and I could go out for a belated b-day celebration at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Dan Barber, the chef, is a friend of Geordie's from growing up and he treated us well, even allowing us a peak into the magnificent and crazy kitchen after our many-coursed meal. Quite the experience, a rare one judging by the bill.
After I picked up the kids, we walked in to Central Park and explored all the paths I first travailed after I had my oldest, Eli, and was living up by Columbia. It felt like Deja Vu except I had no stroller, was not wondering where I might end up living or if I'd ever be able to afford to have a car. (Though, after the tire blowouts, I'm beginning to think I still can't.) After hitting the hot spots, like the Reservoir, Belvedere Castle, the boat pond, Alice in Wonderland and the Mall, whose tree-lined path always gives me a grand sense of possibility, we ended up at Victoria Gardens, the amusement park at Wollman Rink. At great expense, the kids whirled and twirled on pint-sized roller coasters and had a blast until the thunder claps came and the rain began to soak the park and everyone in it. Luckily, we were given passes to let us come another day, two for the price of one, I say. We hid out inside until the deluge mostly passed and made our way among other wet park visitors to the nearest street to hail a cab.
"Finally, we're taking a cab!" Oscar said, throwing up his hands, having told me he hated me no fewer than three times on the long walk through the park.
When we got to Central Park West, however, it was off-duty time and no one seemed interested in picking up wet Brooklynites to take them back to their car. Finally, one cab slowed and my anxious 5-year-old jumped out in the street to hail him.
He rolled down his window to say he was off-duty.
"Please!" I begged. "We're just going to 93rd Street, just straight up 30 blocks... and I'll even pay you!" I said. The bedraggled hair and children probably helped and he let us in.
"See," I said, settling in, "you were going this way anyway, right? And now you can make more money?" Nice justification, eh?
"When you're done, you want to go home," he said, and pointed as we passed it to the exit through the park to the East Side, where he would have turned to get home had he not picked us up. We were passing where he needed to go by a good trafficky bit.
"Sorry," I said. "But thanks?!"
When we got out a few minutes later, I let him keep more than the regular amount of change and then remembered. I actually had some gold stars on me!
"Wait, I have something for you," I said, and handed it over. He smiled and looked at it. "A gold star..." he said. "Thanks."
My kids laughed, having never seen me give one out. They waved at the nice driver as he did a U-turn to head back to where he was going, to home. It's nice when people go above or at least just beyond for you, when they think about where you might be coming from or going instead of just themselves. It must make them feel good too, and feeling good is important, working or "retired."