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Conquering New York

So we spent last week in New York City, giving our girls the chance to go back to their birthplace for the first time since we moved from there five and a half years ago. Both girls have been clamoring to go, and at one point we even offered them the choice between Disneyworld and New York – and New York won.

There was not, of course, time enough to cram everything we wanted them to experience into one trip. But we surely did try, hitting museums, a couple different zoos, multiple city parks, many trips into Central Park, two Broadway shows, some free events, LOTS of great time with friends, and of course, a ton of excellent food.

In fact, I consider it one of my crowning victories that we did not eat at a chain restaurant one single time all week.

New York is a lot for anyone to take in, and when you’re under four feet tall I imagine it’s even more intimidating. We walked somewhere between six and eight miles EACH day, and Cora gamely kept up with us, though she did ask for frequent rest stops. And once she discovered the ubiquitous ice cream truck that’s parked at every New York street corner, she asked for even more frequent ice cream stops “because I need to cool off and get my energy up!”

The subways that were so intimidating at the beginning of the week were ridden by pint-sized experts by the end of the week. Maddie and Cora could swipe their Metrocards like pros, knew the difference in how you hold a card for the bus versus how you hold it for the subway, and could give puppy eyes and gain a seat in a crowded train car almost every time. Everywhere we went, Maddie would ask, “Now where are we? Are we still on the Upper West Side? We’re in Lincoln Center? Tell me when we get to Columbus Circle. And how far is Times Square from that?”

Times Square was the hardest purely from a parenting point of view: the sheer mass of people you’re trying to wade through makes you clutch your (unwilling) child tightly, shoving and steering as you go. We’d had a rudimentary lesson on sidewalk etiquette (slow people near the shop windows, fast people on the outside) and stairwell rules (where you walk depends on how wide the stairs are, it’s complicated) and both girls clearly felt they didn’t need parental interference and were annoyed when I’d grab a collar and yank them back on the curb. “Mo -THER! I SAW the taxi coming- I could have made it across before he got here!”

Maddie, my little introvert, did incredibly well in a city of over 8 million people. She quickly found the joy in reading on the subway, and would immediately hold out her hand for a book when she’d sit down. “How many stops are we going?” she’d ask, then count in her head while she read silently, blissfully drowning out the humanity around her. It was only in Times Square that the sea of people bothered her: “There are way too many people here – some tourists need to go home,” she said, annoyed, clearly unaware that she was one of the difficult tourists.

Cora loved what she could get out of the city – good food, fun on the playgrounds, great shows – but didn’t love the city itself, I think. Her good times all came from hanging with new friends, or seeing a Broadway show, or exploring a museum, rather than drinking in the crowds and skyscrapers. And every time we entered Central Park she’d stop, take a deep breath, and sigh happily – and I swear, you could see the weight lift off her shoulders a bit as she happily ran off to find a rock to climb. My nature girl will never survive someplace without her bit of earth, I think.

For me, I reveled in seeing the girls discover some of my deep loves for the first time. The Egyptian Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, is one of my favorite places in the world, and I’m afraid I lectured their ears off – then sent them to scamper happily over the Temple of Dendur. We had tea at my beloved Alice’s Teacup, where the girls got dusted with fairy dust and drank chocolate milk out of mason jars; and we bought way too much chocolate at my favorite Jacques Torres – and ate every single gorgeous truffle and caramel in the bag.

We got up early, stayed out late, pushed ourselves to exhaustion, and loved every minute of it, coming home tired but happy, and with no regrets.

In short, the Big Apple’s just a little bit smaller, ‘cause we took a big ole bite out of it.


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