Fall is upon us and, with it, the inevitable forced return of routine. In Park Slope, it seems, this year more than most, the return from Montauk, Maine, Fire Island or far-flung European destinations means block parties. Big ones, scattered among many closed-off streets, complete, of course, with bouncy castles.
At yesterday's 10th St. block party, to which we'd been invited by a friend, my children played happily, far too long, in an uncrowded bouncy castle. We left them to their nausea-inducing play, feeling nauseous ourselves even watching, and meandered through stoop sales, shopping through other people's junk to, hopefully, find some joy. I almost bought a hat.
"I need a new hat," I said as I placed the taupe-colored cap on my head.
The girl selling it looked at me as if I was a bit dim-witted. "It's not new..." she said.
"Well, it would be new to me, different than the one I wore last year," I said.
"That's true," she said. She offered, in lieu of a mirror, to take a picture of me wearing the hat with her phone, but luckily her phone proved mirror enough. I was in no mood for pictures. I was dressed wrong for the cool day, as for summer, having thought it was warmer than it was. I needed to get in my Fall style groove, but I was fighting against it, not ready. This hat was not going to help, even at the low price of $5. I decided against it.
I'm trying to be better about deciding no on things instead of just buying them and wondering, later, if I'll wear them. I have a closet full of things I've worn once or twice just out of obligation, because I spent the money. But I'm conflicted. Sometimes I want just a few options, but, probably more often, I like to have more to choose from.
I found my friend's stoop sale and saw what looked like a box of young adult books on her table. I was confused. She has two young children, the oldest in kindergarten.
She misunderstood my confusion. "Oh, I know, you think I shouldn't be selling them..." she said.
"No,I'm wondering why you have them?!" I said.
"Oh, they're not recent, these are mine, from my parents' garage."
All of a sudden I was interested. I had always wanted my parents to have saved my books. It's hard to remember, sometimes, the titles that had great impact on your thinking unless you see them again. A lot, like Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary, have stood the test of time but others, like her boxed-set of Paddington Bear books or Benji, the novelized version of one of my favorite-ever movies, have not. I snapped them up before she could change her mind. I felt guilty as slips of paper with to-do lists from a time where wall-to-wall carpeting and wallpaper were de rigeur and yellowed tissues fell out of the books and, with them, memories. I could tell she was conflicted.
"They even smell like my parents' basement," she said. Really, they smelled like anyone's musty old basement, to me, but who was I to judge? They were her memories.
As I stood, still rifling through the books, trying to sell my kids on reading ones I loved but knowing it was going to be difficult when they couldn't see the cartoon version on Nickelodeon, my friend introduced me to a woman, to the mother of the little girl who had just gone inside to "marry" her own daughter.
"She used to live next door, but she abandoned us, moved to Rye," my friend said. There was an awkward silence, as there always is when a defector returns. It is hard to know what to say not to put people on both sides of the situation on the defensive. If she's happy, we're all idiots here, stuffing ourselves like sardines into our little spaces. If she's not happy, she's the idiot, sitting, bored and lonely in her big space. But, of course, none of us are idiots. We are just making different choices.
With little segue, she began her defense. "It's just so different in the suburbs, we're not adjusted yet, it's hard to know."
I just smiled sympathetically. "I always say that if you have the gnawing desire to do something, then you have to give it a try, otherwise you'll always wonder, regret it."
She nodded. "We had just talked about doing it for so long..." she said. Obviously, the jury was still out. She looked around a bit longingly at the city scene around her, at her daughter jumping happily in marital bliss with her old best friend. "People keep asking me if I like it, if it was the right thing to do. I don't know."
I laughed. "People always ask, as if anybody else can decide for them, as if anybody has The Answer. Like if you were happy or not it would mean anything about what they should do," I said. "It's like a friend I have who's divorced, and all the moms come up to her, quietly, and ask her if she's glad she did it, if they should do it, if they'd be happier. She's become the poster child for divorce, as if every situation is the same."
She smiled. "I guess the key is to just be happy with what you have," she said, somewhat resignedly.
"I guess," I said, "except you still have to decide first on what to have..."
As we gathered our shaken-up kids from the bouncy castle and waved goodbye, I felt bad. I wished I had my gold stars on me.
"It's so hard to decide," I said to Geordie as we walked down the middle of the street.
"What?" he said, panicking. "It's not hard...I don't want to move to the suburbs!"
"No," I said, "that's not a hard decision for us, but it is for so many people. It's hard to be so conflicted...about anything."
I was reminded in this moment of the sage advice of my son's first pediatrician, Dr. Michael Yaker, who I have likely quoted on this blog before.
"Look," he had said, staring at me kindly, sympathetically, helping me sort through the scary amount of advice I'd been given in the first hours of motherhood. "You're going to do it your way, and that's going to be the right way, for you."
I went into the woods of Prospect Park the other day, mere steps but seemingly 100 miles from civilization, to think, to write, to get to my own way. Unlike the boy scout camp up on Mt. Lemon, high above the heat of Tucson, where I used to sit under the tall trees this time of year and contemplate, between High Holiday services, there were torn condom wrappers, broken glass and a mean, hissing squirrel who obviously felt I should get off his turf. New Yorkers can be so territorial. But yet, still, now like then it is important to take that time, to escape the way everybody else is doing things and just figure my own way into this year's routines.