Traditions

October 17, 2015 – New York, NY

My mom wrote in a journal while she was pregnant with me that I spent Christmas Eve in New York City. Before I was even born, I had history in that city. As a young girl, I enjoyed riding the train there to visit the American Girl Doll Store. We rode in yellow taxi cabs and bought warm pretzels from carts on the corner of the sidewalk. As I grew older, I wanted to see the skyline during sunset from the tip of a tower. I’d look down at New Yorkers rushing across the roads and I’d imagine myself amongst them. I wanted to familiarize myself with the city before eventually moving there, because as soon as I finished high school I’d find my way there. 

On February 22, 2014, my mom and I rode into the city on the train to celebrate my fifteenth birthday. I researched spots in the city to visit. I came across Magnolia Bakery. I saw that it was popularized by Sex and the City, though I’d never seen an episode in my life. My mom and I decided to check out the Rockefeller Center location. 

A line wrapped around the outside of the tiny bakery. Being February in New York, it was cold, but we joined the line. We moved rather fast, and as we got closer to the door, the smell of baking cookies beckoned us in. Workers behind the counter listened to customers over the loudness in the little room, selecting specific cookies and cupcakes to box up so that they could move along the customers. 

As soon as we got inside the door, the heat seeped into our bones, rendering our jackets obsolete. Lined up on top of the pastry cases, glass stands held full sized cakes. Inside the cases were cookies of all kinds, pies, cheesecakes, and banana pudding. Then there was a whole case full of cupcakes, and since it was my birthday, I approached it with no hesitation. My mom and I each got cupcakes, and they were handed to us in a cute little box with the bakery’s name on it. We took that box outside and devoured the treats.

I’d opted for vanilla cake with a vanilla buttercream frosting (dyed pink). The cake was so moist it practically melted in my mouth and the frosting was so fresh that I could taste the confectioners’ sugar. 

Magnolia Bakery became a tradition for my mom and me. We went into the city a few times a year, and no trip was complete without those cupcakes. Since we discovered the bakery, there was only one time we went to NYC without getting those cupcakes, and that was the time we saw Hamilton with the original cast on Broadway. We had other priorities that day.

So the last time my mom and I ever went to Magnolia was October 17, 2015. We had no idea that it would be our last time, of course. It was a good day. We were visiting the city because I had tickets to see Mindy Kaling speak at a panel about The Mindy Project, but also I’d get to see Room in the movie theater. The Emma Donoghue book remains my favorite novel of all time, and the film wasn’t playing in any theaters near us. The previous time we were in NYC, we actually saw a panel about the film at BookCon with Emma Donoghue, Brie Larson, and Jacob Tremblay. Watching the movie, I found myself so moved by Brie Larson’s portrayal of a mother that I cried. At this point in my life, I never cried at movies, so I felt awkward wiping away tears in the theater. In the bathroom afterwards, I saw that my mom had cried, too. The themes of motherhood in the film hit us hard, but we didn’t acknowledge that we’d both cried over it. 

We went about our day, got our cupcakes, and saw Mindy Kaling. Then we returned home, our feet sore in the same way they always were after a trip to the city.

She was diagnosed with leukemia a little over a month after we saw Hamilton together. The hospital near us was good, but our insurance covered Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, one of the best cancer centers in the country. So she moved from one hospital to another, staying in New York City to receive the best treatment.

We’d relied on her for everything. Driving, cooking, homework, and the occasional movie marathon. The house felt empty without her in it. The whole state of Connecticut felt incomplete. We went into New York as often as we could. We took the same train I’d taken my whole life, but these times it wasn’t to sight see. These times it was to visit my mom in a hospital. We’d drive to the train station, take the train, take the subway, walk a few blocks, enter the hospital for a few hours, then leave the city with her in it. 

Suddenly I was spending endless days in my favorite city, but I no longer felt the excitement of Manhattan when I smelled that pretzel air. I’d get off the train and navigate my way on autopilot through Grand Central Terminal.. I swiped my MetroCard at the subway turnstile and sat on the subway, wondering what about the sweaty city ever seemed romantic to me.

There was one day over the summer, though, where we stopped by Rockefeller center. She had only been in the hospital for a few weeks, but the trips all blended together in my memory. This time, my dad, brother, and I walked around a little. I took some pictures of my brother goofing around. Then I dragged them into Magnolia Bakery, where I got myself the last cupcake I’ve had from there.

It wasn’t the same having only one cupcake in that box made for two. And I decided to go to school in Boston even before my mom’s cancer became terminal. I’d just seen enough of the city for a while. Boston has a Magnolia Bakery, now, but I refuse to go. Even though I fantasize about the taste of those cupcakes, it was and always will be something I did with my mom.

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