Start Spreading the News
Subject: Start spreading the news, we’re leaving today
Place: New York City, USA
Rocket lollies at the ready
The man in uniform took the kids’ ice creams before they even had time to pull the wrappers off. He placed them in a plastic tray on a short conveyor belt. Matthew and Cameron stood bemused in the line, just as millions of immigrant children must have done when the nearby Ellis Island immigration centre was operational, waiting for their permission to enter the land of the free. Our children had been patient through hours of queuing for tickets, queuing for an ice cream, queuing for a place on the boat, queuing to get through security. But the loss of the prized ice lollies at midday in a New York heatwave was a trial too far for our three and four year old.
“Want my lolly back,” whimpered Cameron as he was forced through a security gate and his ice cream was sent off through the x ray machine. Fair enough, it was a rocket lolly, but this missile on a stick would melt in about three minutes time, and didn’t pose much of a threat to national security. I mumbled a quiet protest.
“Yeh but look at it this way,” Stuart said, as we stepped away from the x ray machine, put on our watches, our belts, and dropped all the loose change back into our pockets. “The Statue of Liberty, it’s got to be a potential terrorist target; it’s such a symbol of all that is America, of freedom and enlightenment. What anti Western terrorist wouldn’t consider it?”
“With a red white and blue rocket lolly?” I asked, strawberry popsicle dripping onto my chin.
The Statue of Liverty
From the start of the trip we promised the kids we would end at the Statue of Liberty, the place it all began for so many immigrant Americans. Apparently 40% of Americans can trace their ancestry back to relatives who passed the Statue of Liberty when they first arrived in the land of hope in early 20th century New York. But while so many throughout history arrived at Ellis Island with dreams of getting into The United States, we were planning to leave the country. Our departure wasn’t entirely straightforward either. I was thirty three weeks pregnant, and over the limit to fly on our round the world ticket unless I had a doctor’s note certifying my fitness to fly and promising I wouldn’t go into labour on the plane.
“There’s the Statue of Liverty, there it is, there it is Daddy,” Cameron jumped up and down, dropping half of his rocket lolly onto his sandals.
Unlike many of the iconic buildings and statues we had come face to face with on our big trip, Liberty (or Liverty as she had come to be known by the boys) more than lived up to her media hype. She was magnificent, her pale green copper body and flowing robes towering into a startling blue sky.
“See her finger? That’s bigger than Daddy.” I said to Matthew. He had his interpretive tour headphones clamped to his ears and wasn’t listening.
“Why?” asked Cameron. “Why is his finger bigger than Daddy’s?”
“Not bigger than Daddy’s finger, bigger than the whole of Daddy. And that book she’s carrying is the equivalent of an eight storey building.”
The children raced across the grass on Liberty Island while Stuart and I tried to take in the significance of the moment. We had finished our ten month, round the world adventure. And we had finished it here, at this magnificent symbol of liberty and enlightenment. We had done it; despite pregnancy, tantrums, heat, traffic and all the demands of travelling with toddlers. We had done it together, as a family.
A lesson in starting a new life
“Well, getting here was a lot easier for us than it was for them,” said Stuart, pointing at some of the photos and belongings of those who had come to America to start a new life over the years. We tried to recreate the experience of Ellis Island immigration in a simple way for the children.
“Thousands of people each day would come through this door and have a medical examination. If there was anything wrong with them, the initials of the disease or illness were written onto their backs in chalk,” Stuart explained.
“So Mum would have a big P written on her back.”
“P for Piglet?” asked Cam.
“P for Pregnant.” said Matthew, quickly catching on.
“Pregnancy isn’t a disease you know,” I laughed.
“Well done Matt, that’s right, P for Pregnant.”
“So Daddy would have SF for smelly feet. And I’d have an F for Farts.”
“Would I have G for grass?” said Cameron, obviously thinking back to all our I spy games in the car over the last eight weeks.
“No,” said Matthew. “You’d definitely be an SF, like Daddy. You have the smelliest feet in America.”
Cameron, beamed, delighted with his new title. “I taked off my sandals and we smelt them. Shall we do that now in this museum?”
On our way back through the City we stumbled across Ground Zero. A pit the size of a football pitch, it was an awesome open space in a ridiculously overcrowded landscape. We stood silently with many others, reading the interpretive displays, imagining the scene and its frightening aftermath. I swallowed a lump in my throat.
“What is it mama? What are the pictures?” Matthew demanded to know. Less than a year old when the tragedy happened, he was too young to have been aware of it. I tried to explain it in simple terms; how two planes flew into two of the tallest buildings in the world. Even while I was explaining I began to wonder if it was such a good idea to tell this story just six hours before we got on a flight back to England. I needn’t have worried.
“Wow,” said Matthew looking up at the pictures and examining each one.
“Wow,” said Cameron, momentarily absorbed by this new information.
“Can we have another ice cream now?”
Time to go home
It was time to check in for our journey home, and we crossed New York for one last time on the subway. At the airport the boys shook off their tiredness and joyously greeted the stationary planes with a familiar obsession.
“Hurray. There’s our Air New Zealand Flight. Isn’t it? Isn’t it Mummy? That plane there?”
“No Cam, and we’re travelling on a Virgin plane.”
“Yes, that’s right, Virgin Cove, with blankets and headphones and backpacks and everything,” said Cam, running up and down the airport shuttle train, peering out of the windows.
I looked out over JFK, with its’ mass of aircraft and industry, and longed to be in the air.
Over the year Family on a Bike had transformed itself into family on a plane, in a yacht, in a car, on a luge, on a train, and on foot. We had safely taken our three and four year olds around the world, conceived another on the way, become media stars, made contact with like minded families, and experienced everything from deep wilderness to urban chaos. Our bodies had had their fill of junk food, our minds were brimming with new experiences, and our wallets…well they were completely empty.
It was time to go home.