The city that never sleeps catches a brief catnap before dawn. Faithful street sweepers work tirelessly amongst the murmurs of taxi-cabs. The quietness is peculiar as we clip toward 30 Rock with anticipation. In a few hours, the streets will fill with women dressed in suits and sneakers, toting heels in leather bags, amongst diligent street vendors selling piping hot cinnamon churros.
We are dressed in screen-printed matching tee-shirts that read “Vintage 1978,” celebrating my dear friend Kim’s 40th birthday. The security guards point us to the line on the south end of the set while producers scurry around, gathering props for this morning’s segments and slide teleprompters into precise locations. I save our coveted spot in the front of the line while Kim and Ally grab warm lattes and breakfast sandwiches.
The thrill and excitement in my body feels overwhelming. I’ve watched NBC’s Today for over 25 years. It has provided a holding place for me in every season of my adult life: the shock and anguish of 911, a spot to meet with awe-inspiring athletes during the Olympics games and the promise of a new day after a weary night of nursing a newborn.
As I stand in line, looking at the former Dean & Deluca coffee café, I imagine my mom in her flannel nightgown that smells like fabric softener, sitting next to me on the plaid couch of my family room with a mug of hot coffee in one hand and The Baltimore Sun in the other. The Today show is on and she remarks about Katie Couric’s recent haircut and chunky necklace. “I didn’t realize costume jewelry was back in style,” she says.
As a young girl, Couric’s sharp mind lit up my desire to be an influencer. My mom, in contrast, spoke of being a simple, uncomplicated woman. The Today show provided a sense of connection between us, offering my mom a sense of regularity and me the thrill of a larger story. I can still remember melancholy high school mornings, the smell of my mom’s Oil of Olay moisturizer, the warmth of the Lender’s bagel with Jiff peanut butter she’d prepare for me, and the opening jingle of the Today show.
As Kim and Ally return, I take a video of the set and send to it to my parents. My mom writes back with exclamation points, reminding me of my dream of being a television news anchor, which resulted in my first college internship at WMAR in Baltimore.
The line starts to move. After the metal detector and bag check, we decide the perfect slogan for our signs. Kim does a test to find the exact spot behind the morning anchors where we could be seen on camera. Hoda Kotb pivots from the anchor desk and offers a warm smile and wink through the window as we wave back like little girls. The pinnacle of the morning comes when a pre-taped segment of us reciting a rhyme was played on air. Savannah Guthrie even mentions that she loves our shirts!
A few hours later, we giggle as we walk down 5th Avenue, surprised that no one recognized us from our appearance that morning on the Today show. As we ride on the subway later that day, just a few hours after our national television debut, I notice these words, like a holy intrusion, written on a plastic placard:
It smells of after-rain tonight.
Duck bones, a wounded egg on rice.
On the corner, there is a shop
That makes keys, keys that open
Human doors, doors that lead
To rooms that hold families’
Of four or seven who sit at a table.
There is a mother who brings
Sizzling flounder on a wide platter
For the family whose ordinary
Mouths have been made to sing.
-Tina Chang, 1969
The thrill of this trip is the diversion it brings from the sub-plot of my ordinary life. Yet, as I read the poem, I realize that I am the mother in the story. How has the time passed since that plaid couch? Now I am the influencer that brings rhythms of regularity and nourishing food to a table of marvelous mouths. I am the one who calls my daughters to sing in a key unique to them. I am the one who invites the little girl in me to hum on some days and belt out the chorus on others.
Ordinary smells, tastes, and hums are layered with the promise of extraordinary anthems and big dreams.
Even here, on the subway in the city of dreams, the paradox of motherhood resides. No matter how far I travel, my dream-seeking heart connects back to the original memories of childhood and the children that now await my return to them.
Everybody here wanted something more,
searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before…
Welcome to New York!
Rachel Blackston loves all things beautiful…rich conversations over a hot cup of lemon ginger tea, watching her three little girls twirl around in tutus, and Florida sunrises on her morning walks. She resides in Orlando with her lanky, marathon running husband and her precious daughters, priceless gifts after several years of infertility. Rachel and her husband Michael cofounded Redeemer Counseling. As a therapist, Rachel considers it an honor to walk with women in their stories of harm, beauty, and redemption.