Slice Of Paradise


The last day of work looms and I'm glad to have a break. My nephew, that brilliant four-year-old ball of personality, is coming to stay overnight with just me and Chuck -- no Mommy, Daddy, or Grandma in sight. We will look at dinosaur bones, ride the indoor Ferris wheel at Toys 'R' Us and eat sugar straight from the canister, if that's what he wants.

The last time Donovan came to Manhattan he had my mom in tow and he cried for his own mommy before bedtime. For this visit I've built no crying time into the schedule.

We start our adventure in grand style with meatball pizza from Frank's and root beer straight from the can. Donovan said his mother lets him do it; I doubt it is true. Our young hero makes it through two cans without a split lip or a spill. Mission accomplished, my darling is fed and unhurt.

After dinner we send Chuck to the couch with pillows and a blanket so we can snuggle in bed. Donovan spies a gold-domed building out the window and marvels at how high we are, eight stories up, closer to the clouds than to the ground. We fall asleep with a full bed: Donovan, Bunbun the bunny, green blankie, and me. I have never been happier.

Morning comes much too fast and Chuck makes us waffles and sausages. They are sweet and good and Donovan eats another meal without injury. I cut the waffles into tiny, tiny pieces. Choking, alas, is not on the schedule. Nor is lollygagging. "Donovan, put your pants on!" I scream, as he runs around the bedroom half naked. "Look at my butt! Look at my butt!" I know in my heart he is still a genius, even with this.

A fully clothed and properly bundled Donovan is intrigued by the elevator and insists on being the button presser. He also insists on hailing cabs or any passing cars or trucks, so sure of himself and so adorably aggressive that passersby laugh in their cars. When a cab does stop, Donovan politely thanks the driver and directs him to Toys 'R' Us. My Donovan has Manhattan in his blood. He fits in here with Aunt Rachel, and I could happily ride cabs with him all day long.

But a daylong cab ride is not in the schedule, so I settle for a trip to the toy store.

The Times Square Toys 'R' Us has a giant indoor Ferris wheel with each car decorated like a different character: Scooby-Doo alongside Barbie; E.T. above a thatch of Cabbage Patch Kids.

Today Donovan decided Jeff and Henry, his imaginary friends, would come along for the ride too. We load ourselves, both real and imaginary, into a car that resembles a giant red cartoon truck. We spin around and around for 15 minutes while I take lots of pictures. Maybe Donovan can use them for show-and-tell. Maybe my name will come up. Maybe every time he sees a Ferris wheel he'll remember this day.

All Ferris-ed out, we grab another cab and head for the Museum of Natural History. We drive around Central Park and see the bright orange Gates installation swirling in the wind and rain. The color is not saffron like I had expected. It's orange, brilliant orange, and Donovan is impressed. When we reach the museum he turns around and I take his picture. He holds up his hands, twists his legs, and scrunches up his face -- the bright Gates in the background bending and twisting along with him. The rain starts coming down in sheets, so we head inside.

Please note that I have not decided to take a four-year-old boy to a museum for hours and hours. In a moment of uncharacteristic sensibility, I decide that our first museum trip should be a short one: dinosaurs, butterflies, and the giant whale.

My Donovan had never been to a museum before and I sense his awe right away. The dinosaur bones I had promised are right there at the entrance and as soon as he spies them he tries to scramble up and touch. I guide him away from the bones and toward the sign that explains them. Before I can speak, Donovan starts explaining everything in the chart to me and another little boy standing by. "That's a long-neck dinosaur, and that's a short-neck dinosaur. That's a tooth dinosaur and that's a four-leg dinosaur." He was so confident and sure of himself, I didn't want to stop him. The serious father of the little boy was not so inclined. He turned to his son and asked if he wanted to know the REAL names of the dinosaurs. Without waiting for an answer he starts to give an impromptu lesson about prehistoric beasts.

I prefer Donovan's "Long-leg-o-saur" to the Brontosaurus. I'd rather he'd play the part of a four-year-old Adam, naming new things as they come into his world. Serious father be damned.

Our next stop was the butterfly room, a rectangular slice of moist tropical paradise all aflutter with butterflies. For the sake of harried parents and teachers, the museum staff lined the path to the room with bird dioramas making the 20-minute wait fly on by. Moments before the butterfly doors opened, Donovan turned away from a stuffed albatross before him and said, "I love you, Aunt Rachel."

Other things happened that day. We saw giant butterflies eat from an orange and dinosaur bones and taxi drivers. We ate McDonald's and played word games on the train. But my day stops outside the butterfly room when Donovan said he loved me without being asked.

Donovan is leaving soon, going to Florida with his sister and mom and dad. It makes my stomach hurt because I want to watch him grow smart and solid and strong. I want him to know me. I want to read to him and take him for dim sum on Sundays. I want him to love my city, and be changed by my city, almost as much as I want him to love me.

Rachelpink Rides the Bus:


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