MY CHILDREN AND I STAND IN FRONT OF A PLYWOOD BOX in Boston’s Public Garden. The sculpture of Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings has been boarded over, so the walking path can be repaved without damaging it. Since so many days of my 2-year-old’s life have been spent feeding Mrs. Mallard sticks and straddling Pack, Quack, and their siblings, he keeps asking, “Where are the ducks?” His 4-year-old sister assures him the ducks are still there. But like my son, I am unnerved by the ducks’ disappearance. It has been four days since Superstorm Sandy rattled my childhood landscape; I want to be sure this touchstone for my own children is unscathed.
Born in Coney Island, I have wisps of memories of walking the boardwalk with my grandfather. We’d go past the aquarium and the Wonder Wheel and pause at the end of Steeplechase Pier, now shredded by Sandy.
I spent my later childhood in New York’s forgotten borough, Staten Island, where I never attended or needed a summer camp. Instead, my brothers and I and our neighborhood friends played kick the can and freeze tag and yelled “car” any time one was coming down the street. Sandy came down streets there, too, sweeping away homes and drowning two brothers the same ages as my own children.
My family moved to New Jersey in my adolescence. We had a pool in our backyard, but I spent the summers tanning and boogie boarding in Sea Bright, where Mayor Dina Long cried when she first witnessed what was left of her, of my, beach town after Sandy.
My husband of eight years and I were just dating when we lived in tiny Hoboken, New Jersey, where apartment buildings were turned into brick and concrete islands by Sandy’s flood waters.
My loved ones who still live in these places are safe. For that I am grateful. But, the places that served as a backdrop to my life, the places that remained the same as I changed into who I am today — a sunspotted mother with a knack for applying eyeliner and the ability to understand why a covered-up duck sculpture could be so upsetting — have been altered. I’ve been altered, as well.
My sense of this place — all these communities fanned around the Atlantic’s shores — provided a secure base from which I could jump into my life. Mother Nature reminded us in a grand and tragic way that the base of things is never as secure as we think. Constancy is an illusion. The places, the people, the things to which we are attached are ever shifting, no matter how tightly you clutch them.
In the Public Garden, my children and I watch in the rain as workers begin dismantling the makeshift shelter covering the sculpture. When three of the eight ducklings emerge, the kids cheer.
In my head I am on Coney Island’s boardwalk. I haven’t been there since my grandfather died. I’ve never even ridden the Cyclone — my grandmother said riding it as a teenager had given her a lifetime of neck trouble. I make a promise to take a ride on the wooden tracks this summer, when Coney Island has dried itself off and shaken out the sand. I’ll walk my children along the same boards I walked at their age.
“We’re waiting for the other five,” my daughter tells her younger brother, and her voice restores me to the present, which is really the only place to which we should cling.
My son begins to jump in a puddle. Even though he’s not wearing rain boots, I let him. He falls and soaks his pants. His sister and I laugh in the Public Garden, next to the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture, which is near the lagoon where two swans swim under the weeping willows. Above them is the sky, which is still raining.
Tara Lynn Jordan is a freelance writer in Boston. Send comments to email@example.com.