Monday, January 4, 2010

New York for Kids

Our quick trip to New York was one of the best vacations we've ever had!  (I think I've said that after each of our last 3 trips, but it's all true).  It was such a great family event that we cancelled the babysitter we had lined up for the last night, when Adam and I were going to go out and have a romantic meal.  We both agreed that it was more fun to spend the time with our daughter, because she loved every minute of it and was clearly thriving in the New York environment.  3 years old is definitely not too young for New York City!

I wonder why people choose not to raise kids in the city.  Sure, there are problems and challenges, but there are also huge benefits.  And the argument that kids need "green space" is absurd.  They do need stimulation, but New York, with its buildings and lights and vehicles and restaurants and street performers is much more stimulating than a few trees and some grass!  And when you do want nature, there's Central Park!  As for space to run around, Sammy was outdoors more and got more exercise in New York than she has gotten anywhere else, ever.  And frankly, it was the most exercise I've gotten in quite some time.

We took the train, which was fun and terrible, both.  I did not like the mad rush to find a seat and the stations were crowded with pushing and shoving masses of people - one of the most terrifying situations for me.  But it was nice to arrive 20 minutes before departure and to walk around all we wanted in the train instead of being stuck in our seats the whole time.  Unfortunately, the views along the eastern seaboard were as depressing as I remember them. 

We stopped in Philly on the way up to visit Adam's aunt and uncle, parents of Nora The Piano Cat.  It was a really nice, but short visit.  They gave Sam a "thumb piano," something I had never seen before.

thumb piano

We stayed in Midtown, around 8th Ave. and 51st St.  I love Midtown the most, and this was a perfect location for all of our activities.  I've heard that dining is better elsewhere, but we had 3 excellent meals within 2 blocks of the hotel, at Pigalle, Gallagher's, and Sweet Emily's.  This was the trip of bread and butter for Sammy.  She had bread and butter at practically every meal.  We don't often eat bread at home, and she loves butter, so she just couldn't get enough.  But we also discovered her new favorite food: prime rib.  She loves the fat.  She always eats the fat off our meat at home, so I should have known that this would be the perfect food for her.  (The prime rib at Gallagher's was the best I've ever had - I wish I could go back right now!)

Our first night did not go well.  It was raining like hell when we arrived and we had to stand in a really long line for a taxi with street hawkers constantly trying to sell us umbrellas.  When we got to the hotel we ordered food delivered and when the delivery peopleguy came, he claimed he didn't have any change and you could tell that he expected me to leave him with a $7 tip just to avoid the hassle.  What a scam.  The food was already in the room so we kept it and told him that we'd pay him when he could make change.  He left and came back a few minutes later with change.   And he got no tip.  Two typical New York experiences.  Thank goodness Adam used to live in New York and knows the ropes.

The weather was incredible the next day so we decided to do our outdoor activities.  It was the Sunday after Christmas so everything was packed, but it didn't matter; it was just part of the atmosphere.  We didn't think we'd have much chance to walk around so we didn't bring the stroller.  That was a mistake.  Bringing the car seat was also a mistake.  We didn't use it.  And we did take cabs.  Let the flames pour in. 

Here are some highlights:

The first thing we did was Top of the RockTop of the Rock (Rockefeller Center).  Incredible!  Short wait and amazing views.  Sammy really loved it and she understood that we were going UP UP UP WAY HIGH.  The view of downtown with its gaping hole in the skyline still pains me, but it also brought tears of joy to my eyes to see so much concrete, steel, and other and man-made stuff in such a concentrated area.




Rockefeller Plaza was also wonderful.  The tree was ok, but the ice skaters really grabbed Sam's attention.  We watched for quite a while.Rockefeller Plaza

We walked up Fifth Avenue and looked in the store windows from afar. 

We got a hot dog from a street vendor and then Sam fed part of the bun to the pigeons.  This was a thrill for her.  She loved those flying rats, I mean, birds.

We picked the first restaurant we passed for lunch, and it was great.  Lots of bread and butter.

We saw SpongeBob (yuck!), Winnie the Pooh, and Elmo.  It's like Disneyworld, I swear.  Sam was scared of all of them, but of course all that means is that she couldn't stop talking about them for the rest of the day.

We went up and down a thousand escalators and elevators, and Sammy learned that it is ok to walk over the grill in the sidewalk and that she won't fall through.  But she refused to walk over the clear plastic floor in Rockefeller Center that made it look like you were on top of the building when it was under construction.  Even after I walked on it, she would not step out into what looked like thin air.  I say, good for her for using her own judgement, even if she was wrong.

Central Park CarouselWe walked around Central Park and took a ride on the Carousel.  At the ice skating pond, Sammy was again fascinated.  I've promised her I will look into ice skating in our area because she obviously wants to try it.  She also enjoyed the ducks and watching the horse-drawn carriages.  But more importantly, I have decided that Central Park is my favorite place on earth.  I don't think I'd ever been there as an adult until this trip, and I was so moved by the beauty of it.  I love art and scenery that contrasts the natural with the man-made, and looking at those buildings through the trees was more incredible than I would have guessed from what I've seen on movies and TV.  It just doesn't get any better than that.

We walked to FAO Schwartz and then went right past it because there was a line to get in. 

There are some really cool new buildings at Columbus Circle.  I like that intersection.

We took the subway, just for fun.

We walked through Times Square at night, which was also really neat, and something I'd never done before. 

Adam had a business dinner on Sunday night so Sammy and I dined alone.  I swear, she is a great dining companion, and we had a lovely time.  Then we caught part of The Sound of Music on TV in the hotel room, and Sammy fell in love with it.  Good taste, that one.  That was the end of Day 1.  We slept well.

Monday was the day Adam worked, so Sam and I met up with Kim and her family at the Children's Museum of Manhattan.  The museum was fun, but it was really just great to get to know another e-friend in real life.  We also had a nice lunch, and Sammy tried sweetbreads for the first time.

We took the subway again that day, and we were treated to some live music, aka, panhandling.  I know the locals hate it, but Sammy and I enjoyed it.

That afternoon we just chilled in the hotel room until Adam got back and we went to dinner.  Sammy was so exhausted that she fell asleep at the restaurant.  As I was ordering, she was saying, MOMMY, MOMMY?  But I couldn't hear her.  After I ordered, Adam told me that she was trying to get my attention and she said, MOMMY, PICK ME UP? in the tiniest voice, and the moment I picked her up, she was asleep.  Luckily she woke up in time to eat a huge amount of that prime rib I mentioned.  Again, we slept well that night.

Tuesday was freezing cold so we went to the American Museum of Natural History.  It's true that you could spend a week there.  We especially enjoyed the dinosaurs.  It was definitely the best dinosaur exhibit I've ever seen, with helpful but not overly-wordy text.  I've never been into dinosaurs and I never understood why kids like them, but after seeing this, I actually felt a little bit of that kid's enthusiasm for the subject.  We also saw a live butterfly exhibit, and the life-sized blue whale hanging from the ceiling in the ocean exhibit is something not to be missed.  The place was a madhouse and it was expensive, but totally worth it.  We must have walked up and down 300 stairs and gone 2-3 miles inside that place that day.

After all of that, another nice dinner was all we could manage on Tuesday evening, but it was just perfect.

Unfortunately, once the momentum stopped on our departure date, Wednesday, it all caught up with Sammy and she was a nightmare the whole day.  Small price to pay, though.

There was so much else that we did in the down moments like drinking hot chocolate, jumping on the hotel bed, and just looking up at the tall buildings.  I wish I could better capture how incredible this trip was for all of us.  Part of it is all the great Little Things that happened.  Instead of going on longer here, I'll save them to post over the next few days.

My final comment on this trip is that Samantha really surprised me with how well she kept up with us, both physically and mentally.  Since we didn't have the stroller, she had to walk or be carried, and we're not big on carrying her.  She probably walked 75% of the time.  Her mind was also active the whole time.  Any time I glanced at her she was observing, and I could see the wheels spinning inside.  She understood so much of what she was seeing, and she was never bored.  She's really a kid now, and this trip showed me how exciting the future with her is going to be.


  1. Isn't it just so fun to travel with children? Livy's never been to NYC, but after Aaron and I went and brought back tons of pictures, she is dying to go. She also wants to visit some exotic places with us (Egypt, Prince Edward Island, Mexico, and Greece), and I can't wait. I'm glad you guys had such a fantastic trip. Soon, Livy and I are going to have to do a DC trip (another place she hasn't been and wants to go), and we'll have to meet you guys in person.

  2. Kelly, please do! DC is another great place to visit, and after this great NY trip, I'm thinking of planning more activities with Sam in the city. We hardly ever go even though we're only about 13 miles out. Isn't that the way it always is with the city where you live?

  3. I'll tell you why more people don't raise kids in the husband and I pay more than $2,000 per month for a 550-square-foot 1-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side, that's why! You'll see more strollers out in Brooklyn and Queens, where the rents are still high but not *quite* as astronomical...but the thought of what it would cost to raise a child in Manhattan makes me reach for the smelling salts.

    Glad you enjoyed Top of the Rock and some of the other ideas you got from OGrownups. I hope you guys were the "good" tourists who stuck to the sidewalks and lawns in Central Park...because if you were the "bad" tourists who walk on the runners' and bikers' path, I might just have to kill you ;)

  4. It sounds like you had a great time and I love the picture of Sam at the Top of the Rock. How does she like her thumb harp? I'm struck by how much it looks like an egg slicer!

  5. Stella, now that's a reason I can understand! But I've never really heard that given as the reason. Usually it's just some fuzzy idea of cities being full of dirt and concrete, and you know, of course, that concrete is evil. :) Oh crap, I guess we were bad tourists because I have no idea what you mean by the runners' and bikers' paths. We just walked on paths. You New Yorkers are such snobs! (I know because I'm married to one.)

    Lynne, I'll have a music update soon! The whole trip was so great, thanks for all your advice (and everyone else who gave advice on RPL and OGrownups.)

  6. Back in September, I spent about the same amount of time as you did there. It was just me and my wife and it was very pleasant. I think it would have been a lot more difficult to live there with a child and a royal pain to live there with our four children (all 6 and under).

    To me, it has nothing to do with concrete or dirt. The logistics of the place are just dizzying. We'd likely do without a car, which would relegate us to the subway, the bus, or walking (taxis can't hold six people). I think we would end up spending far too much time in a day in transit of some sort.

    Not to mention that it would be fantastically expensive to have four kids with their own fares, food, and housing. I'll take my comfortable suburban home any day of the week. (If they were 12 or older, I'd probably think differently.)

  7. Yeah, I've heard that argument too and I disagree with it. There are plenty of outdoor spaces for a kid to have fun, and all sorts of wonderful things that a kid wouldn't find in a less urban environment. I think New York would be an awesome place to raise a child if I had a million zillion dollars!

    As for my long as you were walking on a side path, and not the road that actually looks like a road in the park, you were fine. I do wish there were better signage telling people what activity goes in what lane. (The two inner lanes are marked for runners and bikers; on the weekends, runners get both inner lanes and bikers get the two outer lanes, which are blocked to cars.) It's not really snobbery -- it's that breaking stride when you're running because you have to go around a group of tourists (who invariably like to walk side by side, never single or even double file) is a real pain in the patootie. Never mind that it's downright dangerous to walk in the bikers' lane, and people do that all the time too!

  8. [...] a heavenly break from sightseeing to me. Actually, it sounds like New York without the cars. And Sam absolutely loved New York, including the walking, the subway, the buildings, and just being in a new, totally foreign [...]