Discover more from I've Got a Feeling
If you're going to San Francisco
Be sure to laugh-cry on the tiny train
Last week we took a trip for the first time as a family of four. Though I can’t say I thought about it until it was over, this is the largest nuclear family I’ve ever been a part of. That sounds a little sad now that I type it out, or maybe just sort of… lonely? It hasn’t been. I grew up a happy only child with two parents, and then I made a family with an only child and two parents. Now I have a whole other family with two children and two parents — plus a co-parent/ex-spouse and his partner, if we’re looking at things expansively. I am the mother of two children! That still sounds very odd. I have no idea what siblings are like— how to be one? how to parent them? — but so far, our two are going easy on us. At age ten, June is a doting big sister, and Ames, who is three months old today, can’t yet wreak too much havoc. He can barely hold his own head up.
Anyway, last Wednesday, we four boarded a plane to California to visit our assorted families for Spring Break. We returned home on Sunday night with only 75% of us having shed tears during the trip, a true victory. Ash said they wanted to cry a few times but didn’t. And I only cried a little — a laugh-cry, really, on the Tilden Steam Train, after having slept poorly, rushed to get of the house on time, hauled a bunch of baby stuff into the car and out of it again, and then waited in line for a long time with a lot of extended family and many strangers. As we climbed onto our little wooden bench seats in our own little train cars, I knew something was coming, a laugh or a cry, though I couldn’t say which. As we toot-tooted around the first curve, the adorable little engine burping its adorable little cloud of steam over us and a few dozen other families, I decided to nudge myself toward a laugh by waving my arms in the air and screaming WOOOHOOOOOOOO! It worked. I laughed, and I laughed, and then I gasped out a few sobs too while I was at it, to ease the tension. Then the train ride was over, and no one was the wiser except Ash and June, who know a Classic Molly Wizenberg Laugh-Cry when they see it.
But for a first trip with Ames, a first trip as the four of us, I’d call it a success. I remembered tips and tricks I’d learned years ago, when traveling with young June: that a travel stroller is worth its (heavier-than-you’d-expect) weight in gold, that kids of all ages love a subway ride, that you can put a Pack ‘n Play literally anywhere, that white noise will save you.
June and I got a whole day to ourselves in San Francisco. I have taken for granted how well I knew the city as a kid and a young person: my aunt, my mother’s identical twin sister, lived twenty minutes outside the city with her family, and we visited them often. I felt more at home there than I did in Oklahoma City, and I wanted to live there one day — always assumed, I think, that I would. San Francisco seemed like a place where I could be the kind of adult I hoped to be, inasmuch as I could even articulate such a thing when I was fifteen, sixteen. Seattle would turn out to be my city, twenty years now and counting, and I don’t plan to change that. But it felt immeasurably good to show June the city that I once loved best, though both it and I are different now.
We went to the Japanese Tea Garden and climbed the drum bridge, and then we climbed it a second time, because June wanted to. We went to a Chinese bakery and bought everything that looked good — this, and this, and why not — and it cost us only $17. We drove to Fort Point and stared up at the Golden Gate Bridge and west to the Marin Headlands, velvety green from the record-breaking rains this spring. June grabbed my hand and said, This is amazing, this is amazing, over and over with such awe and enthusiasm that I had to ask if theywere exaggerating for my sake. They were not!
A friend of June’s who has been to San Francisco a few times had recommended a tour of Alcatraz. It was something I’d never done, so I booked us two tickets on a night tour. We sat on the open deck of the boat with our puffy coats zipped to our chins and the wind snarling our hair and shared a palm-sized oval-shaped pastry we’d brought from the Chinese bakery. It was labeled only “Cheese Cake,” but when June bit in, their eyes went wide. They handed it to me wordlessly, with great care and slowness, as though it were a robin’s egg or a butterfly. It was nearly weightless, like a handheld soufflé, and barely sweet, surely the best thing we ate all week.
Alcatraz was fascinating, eery, confounding. How is a person supposed to feel while visiting the historical prototype of a supermax prison? There must have been nearly a hundred people on the tour that night. I wondered what each of us was doing there, especially when I walked past a family snapping photos of their teenage daughter posing inside one of the 5’x9’ prison cells. I will say that I was glad to see, at the end of the cellhouse tour, an exhibit called The Big Lockup: Mass Incarceration in the United States, exploring and illustrating the link between slavery, racism, and the world’s largest prison system.
It was dark when we left the island, and on the ride back, we watched the bridges shimmer. I told June how, when I was in college at Stanford, I’d drive or take CalTrain to meet my aunt Tina for a weekend at her house, and in those four years, there was never a time, not one, when I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and didn’t look up in wonder and think to myself, WHOA, I LIVE HERE! Once, crossing the bridge in the passenger seat of Tina’s car, I said it aloud. Tina confessed that she — she who had lived there her entire adult life — had never stopped feeling that same way.
I think it’s important to let a child, your children, see you feel wonder, awe, active joy at the things of the world. I suspect that June might become a New Yorker one day; I don’t know that they’ll ever have the relationship with the Bay Area that I did and do. But I like the thought of them getting to see me in a place that has been so important to me. I don’t have any plans to take them to Oklahoma City, my hometown, not now that my mother lives here in Seattle. San Francisco might be as close as we get. Here, June, is where I got my nose pierced when I was 19 by a man named Stryker. Oh, and here’s the restaurant where I worked one summer in college, where I discovered what a wretched line cook I am. There’s the Larkspur ferry, the one that my cousins and I were allowed to take by ourselves into San Francisco when we were not much older than you, and when we got to the city, we went straight to Union Square to eat grilled cheese sandwiches at the cafe at Nordstrom and spend our pocket money at the Hello Kitty store. I like so much to navigate a city with June, who still wants to hold my hand, though they absolutely loathe my tendency to jaywalk. I wonder if Ames will too.
For those reading closely, yes: I do have siblings. They’re half-siblings on my father’s side. (Including a new one, as detailed in this post!) But because they are significantly older than me — like, fifteen to 22 years older — I grew up without any of them in the house, so my experience was essentially that of an only child.
June uses she/they pronouns.