When my oldest nephew, now 25 years old, was six, he and his father came to visit me in NYC. My brother was on a business trip and took my nephew along as a treat. We were eating peanuts in the hotel room after riding the glass encased elevator for the 10th time when my brother said, "Ask Auntie Lisa when she's taking you to the Statue of Liberty?" I looked at my brother like he was insane, but before I could say anything, my nephew, with his big brown eyes and pre-Harry Potter round tortoise shell glasses said, "Auntie Lisa, when are you taking me to the Statue of Liberty?"
I guess sometime in the past I told him if he ever came to New York, that I would take him to see the Statue of Liberty.
The thing about being a Savvy Auntie is that you don't go back on your word.
The next day I picked up my nephew and we took the subway to Battery Park. He loved the jangling of the train and stared at all the people who looked so different from his world in West Los Angeles. We walked from the station to Lady Liberty and he took a long look all the way up. I probably did too. "We're going to walk all the way up there," he said. "That's the plan," I answered.
I paid for our tickets and we got into line. A security lady shouted instructions to those of us standing in the long, winding line that wrapped around the entire building and out the door. Two and a half hours on the way up. Faster coming down. No food allowed. No bathrooms. "Let's go visit the bathroom," I said to my nephew as I pulled him gently in the direction of the ladies room. "I'd don't have to go," he informed me. "There's no bathrooms for the next two and a half hours," I urged him. "Anyway, I have to go and I can't leave you alone out here." He shrugged his shoulders and we went.
Another thing about being a Savvy Auntie - you twist the truth when you need a certain result.
After our bathroom visit, we got back in line and waited. And waited. And waited. Somewhere along the waiting we inched along slowly. The reality of just how long it would take had not really set in, but my nephew was getting bored, so I tried to entertain him. I came up with a series of knock-knock jokes until we got to the entrance to the inside of Lady Liberty.
We both looked up at the stairway. The sound of shuffling sneakers, sandals and flip flops filled the stairwell. There was no end to the line of people in front of us and neither of us cared about the ones behind us.
Somewhere at Lady Liberty's knees, I began singing "I'm being swallowed by a boa constrictor," one of my nephew's favorite songs. He sang along with me and a few of our fellow climbers joined in. That lasted until we got to her hips. The song trailed off and I began joking that I hoped Lady Liberty didn't have a cold, because if she did she might sneeze us into the Atlantic Ocean.
Lady LIberty's torso is a blur, but by the time we got to her chest cavity, we were pretty excited. "We're getting close," I told my nephew and both our steps lightened up.
Then we got to her neck and immediately we were thrust into some Alfred Hitchock movie. Vertigo, North by Northwest. Psycho. I looked up into a tiny spiral staircase. A high, small, winding spiral staircase.
My nephew, a child of many fears and great imagination, looked up at that terrifying stairwell.
"I want to go down."
"You can't," I told him.
"But I want to go down."
"We're almost to her head - and then we can go down."
I was feeling the growing impatience of the three hundred thousand people behind us.
"I can't do it," he said, his jaw beginning to quiver.
I waved the person below me away.
"You can do this."
"No, I can't," his glasses were fogging up from his tears.
I crouched down low in front of him and wiped off his glasses. I tried to hug him, but his little body was taut and tense.
"I want you to take a deep belly breath with me." He did.
"I know you can do this, even if you have to get on your hands and knees and crawl all the way up. We can do this. I'm right here with you."
He turned around and one hand, then knee at a time, crawled up the stairwell. And the entire time he did, he was talking to himself.
"I can do it. I can do it. I hope Lady Liberty doesn't have a cold and doesn't sneeze me out into the Atlantic Ocean."
I had broken Savvy Aunty rule #1: your nephews and nieces believe everything you tell them.
I kept my hand on his back the entire way up to Lady Liberty's head and will never forget the look on his face as he looked out at the blue, blue water. And how I felt being in that tightly drawn space with him.
We scampered down the descending stairwell in less than 20 minutes and bounded out onto the park. We treated ourselves to a cab all the way back to the hotel in mid -town and feasted on chicken mcnuggets and Dr. Pepper.
We rode the glass elevator at least ten times. On the last ride up, my nephew asked me to not tell his dad how scared he was. I promised him I wouldn't, if he promised he wouldn't tell his dad how scared I was too. He raised his eyebrows, as if to say, you? Auntie Lisa who lives in a big place like NYC, takes the subway and bosses cab drivers around? Who so far away from her family? Scared? I nodded my head and pushed his glasses up his nose.
The doors to the elevator opened. We looked at each other, smiled and took one more ride.