Our room was on the second floor next to the fire escape. I told Scott I wasn’t sure about being so close to street level after our experience on the way over, but we called down and requested a crib to be delivered while I took a shower and washed my shoes. Scott said the hotel was historic since it was over one hundred years old. I said it must be haunted too. It looked exactly like the one from the new season of American Horror Story with carpet that had also probably had a 100th birthday.
After my shower, I took a nap while Scott and Avalon watched a girl in striped pink tights lean on a car and poop outside our window. A recent email from Phil titled ‘SF Poop Map’ revealed, via a virtual and interactive map, that we were right in the thick of where the most public poops are taken in the city. When I woke up, I remarked how the crib delivered for Avalon seemed more like a cage for a ferret. Scott suggested we leave the hotel and explore the area. There was a Roxy store at Union Square that I wanted to stop by so we decided that would be our destination. On the way there we passed countless homeless people, an ambulance carting someone off on a stretcher, a bike gang getting arrested and a man with a pirate patch offering Avalon cookies. In an effort to see this experience through rose colored glasses, Scott kept saying things like “This is life happening all around us!” When a lady who seemed like she was tripping on acid briefly followed us hollering “I can blow bubbles!” I quietly started crying.
Avalon and I waited in a coffee shop while Scott cancelled our hotel reservation. When your daily goal is currently: keep it together you need the help of your surroundings. I called my mom and told her exactly this. She encouraged us to find somewhere new and then paused because she had something to tell me too. “The pathology report from Maddie’s surgery came back…”
I remember when she called me to tell me Maddie had cancer in the first place. I just knew before she spoke. Her voice was sad, but matter of fact kind of like when a newscaster reports there’s been a school shooting. When she said it I just started screaming “No!” over and over again like I’d forgotten all the other words I knew, my voice becoming hoarse and hopeless. She couldn’t even finish telling me the details because she was reminding me to breathe appropriately. But on this phone call, I felt like I knew she was going to give me good news, at least as good of news as it was allowed to be right now. We knew before that Maddie’s colon cancer wasn’t stage four and we were pretty sure after the surgery that it wasn’t stage one either so “good news” would have been stage two cancer instead of three. And it was. I took big breaths and felt like God really had been looking out for us, despite my skepticism. “Honestly, I’m so relieved!” I said. My mom said she was too. Maddie would still have to do chemo and a number of other unpleasant things to preserve her fertility, but we knew what we were facing now and it wasn’t the worst case scenario.
With a better head space, Scott, Avalon and I got into a cab with our luggage. Scott found a new place for us to stay near the water down in the Embarcadero called The Harbor Court. It made everything better. Before we booked it, he told me to look around the lobby to make sure it was the right place. I just had this feeling that it was, like I had been there before. My shoulders seemed looser once we arrived and I felt safe again. There was a fireplace, a free happy hour in the lobby, gigantic chess and tic tac toe sets, fresh, cool water with fruit in it and pretty flowers. The bonus was it was even more affordable than the other hotel in the heart of one of San Francisco’s biggest crime (and poop) zones. They delivered a Pack ‘N Play to our room and we relaxed immediately. We had dinner that night with Basia and Phil in the sushi restaurant connected to the hotel. It was the kind of night you remember because it bookended something stupid hard and began something hopeful and new.
On Saturday we met Basia, Phil, Nicole and Mike at The Ferry Building and had lunch at The Plant before heading over to The Exploratorium . It was pretty expensive to do half day at The Exploratorium, so we ended up wandering the lobby and gift shop instead. I bought a white blood cell stuffed animal for Maddie, and Avalon enjoyed watching us create tornadoes inside a water tank at a momentum exhibit. I nursed her while walking around the city, which was something I had only hoped of doing when I was going through the worst of my feeding struggles. I even had a drink that night at the complimentary hotel happy hour while Scott gave Avalon a bottle. She was the best little travel partner, looking wide-eyed at every dog, dinging trolley and flickering candle we passed. She enjoyed the elevator, hotel fireplace and mirrors and fell asleep sucking her thumb from pure exhaustion both nights.
I remember when I was just beginning my journey in motherhood. I was walking on the beach for the first time since Avalon was born. She was probably three weeks old, curled against my body like a baby sea otter. It felt like emerging from hibernation or, more accurately, surfacing from a bomb shelter. My mom and I observed a lady and her young daughter playing in the waves. The mother approached me and pointed to Avalon saying to her daughter “Baby! Look at the baby!” Then she said to me, “Aren’t you just l-o-v-i-n-g it?” I wanted to say yes enthusiastically because I loved Avalon with every cell in my bloodstream, I’d lost hours of sleep just looking at her, but the truth was I felt like a shell of myself, caught off guard by what was expected of me as a mother at times. “I love her. This is hard, but it’s getting better.”
+First and last city scape shots by Philip Nowak Photography
+Saves-the-day, awesome hotel The Harbor Court! <3