“Are you done?” I asked her from the kitchen. “Marlee, answer me, are you done?”
My daughter, Marlee stood in front of the full length mirror, brushing and flipping her hair from side to side, ignoring me.
“Let’s try this again,” I suggested. “How much longer do you need? We’re only going downtown. It looks fine.”
“You’re just saying that,” she answered.
I sighed and shook my head in disgust. “I’m getting my shoes on because I need to go outside and get some air. It’s exhausting watching this.”
“No, don’t leave!” she exclaimed.
“You’ve been doodling with your hair for an hour,” I moaned. “It’s time to go.”
“What time does the boat leave?” she asked.
“It’s not a boat, it’s a ferry, and it’s leaving any minute now.” I looked at the clock. “In fact, the last boat left five minutes ago. It looks like it’s another weekend with Hanna Montana.”
“Are you serious?” she asked.
“I’m kidding,” I told her.
“You’re strange,” she commented. “What if we miss the boat?”
“Then we’ll find something else to do.”
“You always say that and we end up doing nothing,” she whined, pinning her hair back into a ponytail.
September 2nd, 2007, the day before Labor Day. Marlee had returned from her first summer at sleepaway camp in upstate New York the previous week. I’d promised her we’d have fun this Labor Day weekend, her first full weekend back from the wilderness. Every other weekend during the year, we’d go through the same routine. On Friday afternoons, I’d fight the traffic to pick her up on Long Island and bring her to Manhattan. Then we’d have Chinese food delivered, and before long I’d be dozing off to Miley Cyrus singing Best of Both Worlds and waking up to Kyle Massey belting out the Cory in the House theme song. The smell of lo mein and kung po chicken would reek so bad I’d have to open every window. She’d never notice that I’d cleaned up and aired out any residual odor.
On Saturdays, she would sleep until two in the afternoon, get up and watch more Disney until it was time for me to take four aspirin with another take out order. Sundays were my opportunity to sneak in a Yankee game on the YES Network while she slept. Shortly after she’d wake up, I’d have to drive her home. Weekends with Marlee had turned into an endless sitcom marathon.
When she had told me that she wanted to go to the Statue of Liberty, I was surprised.
“Really?” I asked her that night on her cell phone.
“My friend went with her Dad and she said it was really cool,” she answered.
“You don’t know her,” she replied.
I told her that the journey would be quite far and she would need to wake up early and shower. We would have breakfast at a diner near the apartment, and then head off for Lady Liberty right after. It would be a full day of sightseeing and picture taking. We’d sniff in the salty air and wander in and out of souvenir shops.
Even though I’d been a resident of New York for years, I was determined to blend in as a tourist as though I’d never seen this Lady before. The last time I’d even had a glimpse of this landmark up close was on an elementary school field trip back in the 60s. On the bus that day, my third grade friends kept calling her torch lady. I giggled with them and had no idea what was so great about a green lady with spikes in her hat. Four decades later, that green lady was still an American icon, a symbol of freedom, visited by millions of people from around the world. Some, like Marlee, would be seeing her in person for the first time.
Marlee woke up at noon. I had tried ripping the covers off of her at ten. She rolled over. At 10:30, I hovered over her and sang America the Beautiful. She whined and told me to “shut up.” At eleven, I poked her a few times. The end result was a slap on my leg. I shook my head and thought to myself in disappointment, “Another wasted sunny visitation weekend in New York.” At noon, from the kitchen, I had heard voices. Zach and Cody Martin and their Suite Life had entered our studio. Marlee was fixated. It was as if the remote had been under her pillow all night. She strolled into the kitchen at 12:30.
“Are we still going to the diner?” she asked.
“Diner?!” I yelled shaking my head. “Do you know what time it is?”
She sat down on our light purple suede kitchen chair and said nothing.
“If you’d still like to see the Statue, I suggest a shower, now!”
She stared at me.
“Now!” I screamed.
“That’s not fair,” she groaned, slowly shuffling towards the bathroom.
“Sometimes, life isn’t fair,” I told her.
By 1:30, her light blue and green Junior Mints shirt had been pulled over her head. The hour long blow drying escapade was almost finished. The day’s itinerary was slowly drifting into another time zone.
“The last ferry leaves at 4:30,” I told her. “It’s 2 o’clock now. We may not make it.”
“You promised Daddy,” she answered.
“If we leave now, we may have a chance, otherwise, we’ll have to do something else.” I explained.
She sighed and with reluctance said, “Fine.”
By the time we rode the elevator down to the lobby of the building it was 2:30. A warm breeze splashed our faces in the midday sun as we headed for the subway. I was wearing my cut-off New York Yankees t-shirt, jeans, and black Timberland Smart Comfort shoes. Marlee followed in her summer attire seeming anxious, yet annoyed that I’d quickly outpaced her.
Several hundred feet from the entrance to the escalator leading up to the subway platform at 125th St., I felt a rush of anxiety shoot through my system. What if we didn’t make it? What’s Marlee going to tell her friends? I could hear her on the phone. “Yeah, my Daddy really sucks. He said we would see the Statue of Liberty, but, I don’t know, we didn’t.” Kids, especially girls, talk in code. They’ll know how to unravel that sentence. “Oh, Marlee, I feel so bad for you, poor girl.” The voices faded in and out of my subconscious.
I took a few deep breaths and turned around to see Marlee running towards me and yelling, “Daddy, why are you walking so fast?!”
“Do you want to see the Statue?!” I snapped.
“Yeah,” she replied.
“Well, walking like a snail is not going to get us there.”
With an angry glare she blurted out, “You’re mean.”
“I’m mean. Who told you to get up at noon?” I barked.
We dashed up the escalator, through the turnstile, and hurried up the stairs hoping we’d see the next train barrelling its way down the tracks into our station. The platform was empty. No sight or sound of a subway. I paced while Marlee sat on a wooden bench. Sweat dripped off my forehead and into my eyebrows. My eyelashes itched. The inside of my mouth was dry. I took off my sunglasses, wiped my eyelids and sunglass lenses with my t-shirt, and paced some more. I’d become edgy. My cell phone clock read 2:45.
“When is it coming?” she wanted to know.
“If I knew I would tell you.”
“How do you not know?” she asked.
I stood in silence for a few seconds shaking my head.
“How about if I jump onto the tracks right now and let you know if I see anything?” I asked her.
“You’re so weird.”
“Do you realize I’m trying to get us there in time, so we can see the Statue?” I ranted throwing my arms up in the air.
She rolled her eyes, cleared her throat, and in a low voice said, “Whatever.”
The #1 train slowly made its way down the tracks, rolling into our station at 2:55. We’d take the subway four stops to 96th St., then grab the #2, or #3 express train across the platform and ride it downtown five stops to Chambers St. There, we would get off, cross the platform, and hop back onto the #1 again, taking it one stop to Rector St. From there we’d make a beeline for Battery Park. In my estimation, that was the most direct route. We’d have just enough time to buy the tickets, grab something to eat, and catch the ferry.
Marlee took out her ipod earphones the minute we entered the chilly subway car, stuck them into her ears, and dove into her musical abyss. I reached into my Met Food plastic bag, which housed my travel items, and pulled out Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a book I’d been reading for some time.
At 96th St., an announcement came over the loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen, due to construction, the #2, and #3 trains will be making all local stops down to 14th St. There are no express trains running today.”
It was 3:10. We’d have to sit on this #1 train the entire time. I closed the book, never said a word, and hoped for the best. Marlee glanced at me mouthing the words to a song. At 42nd St., the same pre-recorded voice spoke again. “Ladies and Gentleman, we are being held momentarily because of train traffic up ahead. Please be patient.”
We sat and waited. The subway doors remained open. We sat and waited some more. I put my hands in my face, slid my fingers through my hair, shook my head and thought, “C’mon subway, move, please. I’ve got a ferry to catch.” Harry Potter slid back into its bag. The time: 3:30.
Marlee took out one earphone and asked, “How much longer?”
“A few more stops,” I said nodding.
When we finally hit the Rector St. station I was relieved. We darted up the stairs, crossed Trinity St. and headed over to Broadway. Marlee trailed behind.
“C’mon, let’s go!” I hollered down to her.
“What’s wrong with you?! Why are you hurrying like this?” she yelled out.
“It’s almost 4 o’clock!” I shouted.
“So,” she replied.
“So?” I hammered. “Maybe we should just go back home. I’ve had enough of this day,” I told her.
“No, I want the Statue,” she answered.
We entered Battery Park and in a somewhat calm disposition, I hunted for signs that read Statue of Liberty. Different crowds had gathered for certain events. It was all unknown territory for me. I had stopped and asked a few people where the ferry departed from. Some stared at me and shrugged. Others shook their heads. I thought to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Where was the ticket booth and line for the Statue of Liberty?” My eyes began to water creating a film over my contact lenses and my vision became distorted. I had to blink a few times and calm my nerves.
Deeper into the park I saw a sign that read, Tickets for Statue of Liberty Cruises with an arrow. We hurried to the ticket booth. The line was wrapped around the building several times. Hundreds of people were waiting for tickets. At 4:10 we quickly entered the line. The minutes ticked. We stood, stared ahead, and waited in the humidity. The line didn’t move. More time passed. Then a security guard dressed in a light blue button down shirt, black pants, and a hat addressed the crowd.
“The last ferry out leaves the dock in twenty minutes. Twenty minutes, folks, last ferry out. A few tickets remain. Those waiting will have to come back another day.”
I glanced over at Marlee. She had tears running down her face. Then she hiccupped.
“Marlee, what happened?!” I asked her.
“I wanted, (hiccup) to see (hiccup) the Statue. You promised, (hiccup)” she cried.
I squatted down and looked at her in the face and whispered, “Listen, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just a Statue. It’ll always be here. Let’s get up real early tomorrow and come back. We tried, Cookie. I did the best I could.”
I felt terrible. Her tears and hiccups were now uncontrollable.
“But, I wanted (hiccup) to see the Statue (hiccup) today, Daddy,” she wept.
“So did I, Cookie, so did I,” I said.
It was 4:15PM. The line hadn’t moved. Marlee was quietly hysterical. We would have to head for home shortly. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my left shoulder. I turned to see a young blonde woman standing next to me with her daughter. In a southern accent she asked me, “Are you here with your daughter?”
“We’ve got two tickets to see the Statue, but, unfortunately we can’t go. Would you like to buy mine?”
People on the line stared at us. I looked around and made sure this wasn’t some television stunt. “Are you serious?” I questioned.
“The tickets are good. We purchased them earlier today. We can’t go due to our schedule. You can just give me face value,” she said.
I gave her $40. She handed me the tickets. I thanked her. A sobbing Marlee tried to smile. In seconds, the woman and her daughter were gone. What had happened? It was surreal. The time, 4:20. We dashed from the ticket line, hopped onto the ferry line, and looked behind us. No one. We were the last passengers to board. The ferry pulled out promptly at 4:30. We had managed the impossible. Marlee saw the Statue for the first time and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a memorable day.
On the way to Long Island the following day, Marlee reached down from her passenger seat, unzipped her duffle bag, and pulled out the framed picture of her and me standing in front of a gray metal fence. Behind us, the Statue of Liberty, beneath a light blue clouded sky. We’re both smiling for the camera. She clutched the picture.
“Daddy?” she asked.
“You did it. We saw the Statue. It was so great. I had so much fun,” she smiled.
“I did too,” I told her.
“I love you Daddy,” she said.
“Love you too, Cookie.”
After dropping Marlee off, I replayed that tap on my shoulder in my mind over and over. It occurred to me what an amazing daughter I have. Once we had entered the subway, she never complained, asked me about the time, or whether or not we’d make it on that ferry. Deep down she knew. She had absolute faith that dear ol’ Dad would come through. Whether it was by some twist of fate or an act of God, we were destined to get onto the ferry that day and I was the hero of a 12-year-old girl. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem