I'm not going to lie. Whenever the school notifies me of holidays, my mood deflates. Those squares on the calendar might as well read, Get Nothing Done Day. Or No Time to Yourself Day.

Yesterday was a school holiday.

I would have taken a camera with me if I had known what a picturesque day it would become. As it was, Amelia and I threw only our Creative Work Supplies (journal, pen, crayons and paper) into a bag in a frenzy to get wailing Lucy out the door and into her stroller for the morning nap. We walked until she fell asleep, which wasn't long, and then camped out in the donut shop. When Amelia was Lucy's age--the Squirmy Wormy era--I dreamed of the day she'd be old enough to chill with me over coffee and chocolate milk (okay, the chocolate is the manifestation of her dream, not mine). Yesterday, there we were. She was making eight prints of the same drawing, a copy for each of her school friends, whom she was evidently missing. I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. --I think I'm about ready to go, I said. --Not yet, Mom. I have one more paper left to color.

A writing mother's fantasy.

red pandaThe day had its share of dead-ends, Plans B and C. But at the zoo, the farm animals nuzzled up to the fence between us, curious if we were carrying treats. Then we saw the kangaroos at play, and the Red Pandas climbed their trees, mere feet from us.

We found a playground. The Audubon Center treated Amelia to Nature Crafts and both girls explored their children's learning area. We sat inside the center behind a wall of glass doors that overlook the lake. Along the veranda, Asian girls in wedding dresses posed in turns for still and video cameras. The autumn trees cast a warm watercolor glow over the water.

Audubon Center

We could have caught the bus or subway home, but I realized that all I had really wanted from the day was to see the late-changing colors, to be enfolded by foliage. With hot cider in hand, I did my version of the suburban mom's Strapping the Kids in For a Peaceful Drive: Lucy went in the backpack, where she took her late-day nap, and Amelia relaxed in the stroller as we set out to see our park in the gloaming.

I picked a path that led us through the shady Ravine, and when I looked up the tree branches had disappeared in the fading light and taxi yellow leaves appeared to be magically suspended in sky. Then came the Long Meadow and countless dogs running the day's restlessness out of their muscles. We admired the way green, yellow and red leaves can inhabit single trees like big rainbow popsicles standing in the grass.

--I wish there were more people in the park, Amelia said. --It feels lonely here without the kids.

Dark settled in for the night just as we exited the park at Grand Army Plaza, which was lit by purple lights on every side. --So many sights to see, Amelia said. She started recapping the day's events in spontaneous song. I longed to hear her summary, but the sounds of traffic muffled all but the highest notes. Instead, my mind exhaled into the found pocket of time, just big enough to hold an original thought.

It seems I needed a holiday, too.