I am my own bad middle-of-the-road radio station. I keep finding myself singing, “Hot town! Summer in the city/Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.” No offense to The Lovin’ Spoonful, but at this point, belting out that old chestnut in public is like warbling “Yerushalayim shel Zahav” at the cool kids’ table at camp. Though I suppose it could be worse; I could be singing Nelly’s version. There is nothing sadder than a Jewish mother rapping about guns and blunts.
We will, of course, be spending the summer in the city. Nu, where else? I actually love it here. Even if we could afford a place in the Hamptons, I wouldn’t want one. (Okay, the Catskills, maybe.) Who wants to sit in traffic, experience angst about getting a table at Nick & Toni’s, then spaz about the traffic getting home? Why bother, when you have Coney Island, the Tompkins Square Park sprinklers, the fabulous water-feature-filled playground at Pier 51 on the Hudson River, the delightful free kids’ concerts every Tuesday and Thursday in Madison Square Park (which also happens to be home to Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack, for all our high-design hot-weather salt, fat and frozen delectable needs)? Who needs the commute when, on our brick patio, Jonathan is lovingly grilling inhuman amounts of meat? The summer’s soundtrack is the whir of the blender making frozen margaritas, the trashy playlists of East Village Radio on the Internet, the unpredictability of the party shuffle on iTunes on our home computer, and the elderly stereo speaker propped in the window of the Hell’s Angels clubhouse across the street. (Which is inexplicably blaring “Windy” as I type this—who knew the Angels had such girly-man taste in music?) We suck ice pops. We visit friends’ rooftops in Brooklyn. The air hangs over the city like an electric blanket. We slurp our watermelon, savor the tiny breezes, look over at the still life that is the Manhattan skyline. Bridges sparkle like diamond necklaces, as in one of Josie’s favorite books — “Tar Beach,” by Faith Ringgold.
Summer is when I’m most acutely aware of the East Village and Lower East Side of my ancestors. When the neighborhood kids are hollering and splashing in front of open fire hydrants, and the shopkeepers are fanning themselves as they sit on folding chairs outside their storefronts on Orchard Street, you can practically see the ghosts. They’re hanging out laundry on fire escapes, playing stickball on Delancey, slouching on the stoop and watching time trickle past.
As our kids get older, class distinctions become clearer. Wealthier families send their kids to private school, where they learn important Piaget-ish things, and to gazillion-dollar afterschool enrichment programs, in which they learn to French inhale. But in the summer, things seem to equalize again. We all sweat. Sure, some families disappear to their summer homes, but everyone who remains here feels like part of a tribe. We’re never so bound up in the life of the city as we are during summer, when our kids are home from school. We schedule play dates and listen for the ice cream truck and debate trekking up to Harry’s Shoes for back-to-school oxfords.
We don’t do the overscheduling thing here, but Josie’s got some stuff going on “all by my own self,” as she’d tell you. She’s taking her very first drop-off swim class at the Y with her friend Raphael. She’s signed up for four sessions (at $25 a pop, veyizmir) of Creative Movement for 3-year-olds at the Peridance Center on Fourth Avenue. I’ll play hooky from work, and we’ll check out the Maurice Sendak exhibit at the Jewish Museum and sculpt some goop at Lafayette Street’s Children’s Museum of the Arts.
And we’ll do some traveling, too. We’ll visit Bubbe in Newport, R.I.; Josie’s big enough to do part of the Cliff Walk now, and we’ll pop Maxine in a backpack and admire the waves and the mansions. Jonathan’s cousin is getting married in Orange County (or The O.C., as I now smirkingly call it, again pretending I am an actual participant in popular culture though I have never seen the television show), so we’ll pack up the entire brood and head out to California. Maybe we’ll hit Legoland while we’re there. Certainly we’ll visit Disney’s California Adventure (our usual Disney connection, Auntie Ellen, can’t finagle free tickets to the real Disneyland during summer vacation months, but for a 3-year-old the manageably small California Adventure park is almost as good). There’s the ickily named Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train ride, in which we sit in a giant grub from the movie “A Bug’s Life” and wend our way through mounds of animal crackers and half-nibbled cupcakes. I don’t recommend this if you’re pregnant (it’s not a centrifugal force issue; it’s that there’s an awful lot of giant partially chewed food for someone with morning sickness to ponder), but for children and for people who like to watch children scream in bliss, it’s golden. There’s the Sun Wheel, a huge Ferris wheel that Josie keeps calling the Wonder Wheel (ah, my Coney Island baby!); a carousel, and some old-school Astro Orbiter whirling rocket ships. It’s all kind of low-rent compared with Disneyland proper, which makes it very charming in its way.
Josie misses school. She’s through with nursery school at Gani, and in the fall she’ll be off to the East Village Community School. (She’s only in prekindergarten, but we’re sending her to one of those newfangled progressive public schools where there are mixed-age classrooms and the curricula run in two-year cycles. We thought she’d do well with older kids, actual kindergarteners just like in “Ramona the Pest.”) She’s not old enough to see summer as a vacation, a break from the daily grind. She loved the structure of preschool — the art projects, the social life. She misses it. I don’t think she understands that come fall, she’ll be in a building with big kids, and not all her friends from Gani will be there. We’ll see how it goes. For now, we’ll all try to enjoy the heat and the slowness and the ice pops and the summer’s mysteries.
Write to Marjorie at mamele@ forward.com.