Whenever we’ve had the occasional date night, it’s usually been for some specific event in the City, and it’s always family we trust who has watched Kavya: her Massi in Manhattan. Sona’s parents in New Jersey. So when Sona bought a groupon for Project Playdate near Union Square, we were both a bit skeptical about whether Kavya would stay there for the entire time, even though it’s run by professional nannies (whatever that means). It sounded reasonable enough: “a three-hour pajama party filled with activities such as arts and crafts, story time, dancing, and a feature film. A dinner of all-natural, whole-food pizza is included.”
Kavya is excited about the pajama party and thought it was funny she was dressing up in sleepwear to go out. We find the place without any problem. We sign in, linger around for a few minutes, until one of the nannies leads Kavya up a short set of stairs and into what I’m presuming is the playroom. It’s the strangest feeling leaving Kavya there without either of us on hand. At night. It’s like the first time we dropped her off at daycare and peered through the window like street children. This time, there is nothing to peer into. We leave the stroller there, walk outside, cross the street, and look at the building. We have no idea what to do with ourselves without the stroller. It’s night time. There’s a glow of street lights.
The only logical thing to do is to walk the couple blocks to Union Square. It’s familiar stomping grounds for Kavya, and of course, us. Always daytime or early evening. She’s been coming here since before she could crawl. She knows where the park is, can point out where the Hari Krishnas are supposed to be doing their bhajans,and became animated when she saw white Sikhs doing yoga. “Just like Daadu,” she’d said as soon as she saw the familiar turbans, even if my father isn’t the most traditional yoga practitioner. He watches CNN or FOX in the background as he “meditates” and does headstands in the living room.
She knows the best place to take naps, and loves dancing to the musical performances in the middle of the square. Bagpipes and drums, folk songs, some guy juggling. She will dance to anything. When the weather is warm, music abounds and sometimes there are people with massive, soapy bubble contraptions. When it becomes colder, Kavya knows it’s hot chocolate season at the farmer’s market, followed by, or preceded by an outing to the Strand Bookstore.
As we’re walking towards Union Square, for once, we don’t have to consider what Kavya wants to eat. And yet, we still decide on tacos, one of her favorite things to eat. We go to a brightly colored restaurant on our way called Tortaria. They make the guacamole fresh. We pop into the place and it is packed, with reddish lights inside and outside. We decide to have a little night picnic date by getting our food to go and sitting on the steps near the Subway station, where everyone plays chess and congregates. Sona ruffles through the bag and takes out the tacos, a mix of beef, chicken, and fish with spicy guacamole. And boy was it spicy!
There’s this guy sitting next to us by himself with a bag from Duane Reade. He starts ruffling through it and scarfs down cherry tomatoes straight from the box. A girl sits down next to him. They talk about a friend who lives in Sheepshead Bay, whose commute into the City is hell. He offers her a cheese stick. She declines, so he rips through the packaging and eats through four in a row. He moves on to the celery, which is more of a challenge, but he manages to gnaw through it like he’r ripping apart a small animal, freshly killed. Then he takes out a huge can of beer and they both share swigs of it. Me and Sona are just finishing our tacos. A bloke sets up shop near the statue of Washington. He walks by us with a sign that reads, “6’7” Jew will rap for you.” I never got to hear him rap, but I was pleased to see a crowd amassed around him, mostly just chatting with him.
Meanwhile, Sona is fidgeting about, trying to figure out what else to do, now that the food is all gone and our objective is unclear. There’s an hour left before we need to pick up Kavya. Rather than traipse around somewhere else, we decide to just chill out. She doesn’t have to dig anything out of Kavya’s bag, or be in Mum mode. She isn’t thinking about deadlines, or interviews she has do. And for once, both of our phones are put away. The moment is entirely ours. I’m enjoying the fresh, breeze, and just sitting down and doing nothing. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t thinking about deadlines, grading, emails, or being in Papa mode. Or just sat down.
People often assume that New Yorkers are always in the on position, busy, rushing to and from places, unfamiliar with the act of sitting down and relaxing. It’s undeniably a part of City Life. When we first started dating years ago, we’d take the subway all over the City, and like clockwork a full five minutes before our stop, Sona would tense up and leave a perfectly good seat, just to be closer to the doors, regardless of whether it was completely empty of crowded. It was instinctual. Then she’d bolt out of there like a marathon runner. The first few times I followed in panic, afraid I would lose her if I didn’t hustle. But slowly, the mosey along Californian in me emerged, and she’d always get grumpy when I’d sit sprawled out on the seat until the doors actually opened. Now she’s much more relaxed about that sort of thing. If she manages to get a seat, she’s not moving from it unless she has to. When we can, we even take the train going in the opposite direction just so we can get a seat and sit next to each other. Nobody enjoys taking their time more than Kavya, or yapping it up with anyone.
Power-walking is often one of the most cited characteristics of a New Yorker, contrasted with the obnoxious tourists who walk incredibly slowly and abruptly stop in the middle of busy streets. Sona’s brother and sister powerwalk everywhere in the City and have a specific objective in mind when they leave their flat.The first time I went out with Tarun, my brother-in-law, it was the oddest, most organized beer run I’ve ever been on. We didn’t talk much, just power-walked to the liquor store that he’d found exact directions to with his iphone. We came back to the flat and then relaxed. In that order. But there are certain parts of the City that lend themselves to lounging about more than others.
It always astonishes me to see people relaxed amidst the circus of rush hour. There’s no room to move or breathe, yet somehow people manage to pull out paperbacks, hardcovers, or ebooks and start reading through like it’s perfectly normal. I have yet to master this New York skill. I usually just glare during my commute, and elbow my way out the doors to freedom above ground.
After we got used to the idea of Kavya doing her own thing, we looked up at the sky to try and see the stars. No luck. But Sona did spot an oddly placed water tank above the Whole Foods. We just sat on the steps, enjoying each other’s company. And most importantly, sitting and not doing a thing.
When we went to pick up Kavya, we asked her all about her pajama party and she couldn’t stop yapping about what she did, or about how it was the weekend, which in her mind is anytime she gets to stay up past her bedtime. We walked around Union Square in the evening, when she should have been knackered from the activities. Of course she was brimming with energy, so we took the really long way back to the train station, talking the entire way about deep things, like the issues facing Strawberry Shortcake this week, or belting out renditions of opening theme songs from shows Kavya watches. With all those calories being burned, we had to stop in and get some gelato. Had to. I ordered the stracciatella. She somehow heard crackers, and was quite jealous of my gelato the entire ride home until she passed out on my shoulders, and we carried her in. Everyday should be the weekend.