by Jane Spencer
I have read memoirs by daughters who traveled with their mothers, and most say the same thing: "Don't do it.”
Mothers are unquestionably loved, but it seems they can be incontinent, cheap, bossy, slow movers, picky eaters, or all-of-the-above. In other words, not the best travel companions.
I am the mother in this story. In my sixties, I have some aches and pains but I am not incontinent. I am a budget-conscious, adventure traveler who has trekked in Asia, Europe and the Americas.
Trouble is, I am not a big city person.
New York City. Everyone said I had to go; they couldn't believe I had never been. I said I would go if my daughter agreed to be my guide. She did.
As an NYC aficionado, my daughter knew how to maximize our 52 hours there. Map in hand, she led me through the streets of Chelsea to the High Line. Built on a former railway line, it's a walkway rising above Manhattan's lower west side. Even on a dreary day in the last gasp of winter, it was fantastic to see the Hudson River piers, hidden sculptures, funky murals and preserved remnants of the mechanical age. I toddled along composing photos, while my daughter patiently waited.
In the cool March air, we huddled together on the top deck of a hop-on, hop-off bus. I snapped photos of the Manhattan skyline, careful not to let the tour guide catch me standing up, because low-hanging street lights had the potential to decapitate. Thanks to my daughter's watchful eye, I kept my head.
When I gasped with recognition at famous landmarks like Carnegie Hall, Central Park, the Time Warner complex, the Dakota apartments where John and Yoko lived, the voluptuous Guggenheim, the UN headquarters and Harlem's Apollo Theatre, my daughter beamed like a proud parent. After decades of being the mother, I loved the role reversals.
At MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) we chose our favourite artists and stood rapt before their masterpieces: the music-inspired colours of Kandinsky, the massive gardens of Monet and the sensual renderings of Georgia O'Keefe.
My daughter and I have always shared a love of art and have similar tastes, though I have to admit I was less receptive to one contemporary piece. In the atrium of MoMA, an artist had sifted a truckload of luminous pollen onto the floor in a large carpet-like rectangle. I expressed a desire to feign an allergic reaction and sneeze, though when I felt a hand on my arm escorting me away, I was glad it was my daughter and not a museum guard. "It has no meaning," I argued. "The artist just robbed the bees.”
I like to read and go to bed early but my daughter is a night owl. On our second night, she stuffed me into a taxi to go to The Hole, an art gallery in the bowery. The hipster atmosphere was such that I fully expected to see Lena Dunham of 'Girls' fame there. In case you don't know, 'Girls' is a gritty television show about young women looking for love, meaning and steady employment in New York City. I wasn't that far off in my expectations, a 'Girls' co-star had one of her paintings on display.
Some people travel to NYC to shop and spot celebrities. I had neither in mind, but when we tucked into a West Village cafe for lunch, I was more than a little pleased to sit close to the actor, Sally Field. Ms. Field will always be Norma Rae to me, though to my daughter she is the mother in Brothers and Sisters. We let Ms. Field enjoy her lunch undisturbed, but then Ilona, the flame-haired, 92-year-old artist made famous by Ari Seth Cohen's blog, Advanced Style, walked in and sat right beside me. I created a bit of a commotion when I recognized her. As Ilona and I chatted and exchanged cards, I searched my daughter's face for signs of embarrassment, a rolling of the eyes perhaps, but no, those days were long gone.
New York City with my daughter was a joyful experience. Being short and jam-packed with activities, it left little time for conflict. The grandeur and energy of New York City just swept us along, as if the setting was more significant than the individual characters. In any case, I refuse to make ironic comments, and will instead be a little precious: when I am old, truly old, I will squeeze my daughter's hand and in my waning voice, say: "Remember that time in New York? We shared lunches, walked forever and you were my guide. We got along so well, just the two of us."
Will my daughter remember our trip so fondly? I believe she will. Might she joke to her friends like daughters tend to, that her mother overpacked, undertipped (25% are you kidding?) and found the coq au vin too rich?
Nah, she wouldn't do that.
Jane Spencer is a retired teacher, avid traveller, freelance writer and photographer who now blogs at sixtyrisingtravel.com. You can read more of her adventures there.