A claque of women follows me into the elevator. Two are
pregnant; one holds a baby strapped to her chest in a black
leather Baby Björn infant carrier. The last pushes a Bugaboo
stroller identical to the one parked outside my apartment.
Because of course the irony is that for all my expertise as the
preeminent cartographer of a childfree Central Park, my very
destination is into the belly of the beast. My goal, my
journey's end, is the 92nd Street Y Nursery School.
All this fecundity would have stopped me dead in my tracks had I
stumbled upon it in the park. Central Park is my refuge, and its
invasion by the baby brigade enrages and devastates me. At the
preschool, however, I am used to a certain quality and quantity
of misery. I have never been anything but uncomfortable and
unhappy here. To be reduced to tears in the elevator by the
milk-drunk flush of an infant's cheek is pretty much par for the
The women in the elevator acknowledge my presence with the
barest nod, precisely the nod I give those of my neighbors who
permit me this coldness. I respond in kind and affix my eyes to
the lighted buttons over the elevator door, clocking our
progress up through the building to the sixth floor.
The hallway of the preschool is decorated, as always, in
brilliantly colored children's artwork that changes with every
Jewish holiday. Now it is Tu B'Shevat that we are celebrating,
and the children have painted various kinds of trees. The
hallway trumpets the school's celebrated student-teacher ratio.
It evidences sure and patient guidance, a wellspring of
inventive and carefully educated creativity, and an art supply
budget rivaling that of the School of Visual Arts. I scan the
paintings, looking to see if William has done one. He is an
adept artist for his age, is William. He has inherited his
mother's agile and delicate fingers. He draws mostly seascapes:
fish and octopi, multi-fanged sharks and moray eels. His latest
is displayed outside his classroom. William, it turns out, is
the only child who has failed to honor the birthday of the
trees. At first I think his picture is nothing more than a huge
scribble of red crayon, but when I lean in to take a closer look
I see that on the bottom of the page William has drawn a
rainbow-colored parrot fish. The parrot fish is lying on its
side because a swordfish has torn a hole in its belly. The red
overlying the scene is blood spurting from the fish's wounds.
Perhaps the picture is meant to be an allegory, and the parrot
fish to symbolize the Jewish people should they fail to
recognize their connection to the land. But I doubt it.
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