Friday, August 31, 2012

Eating and Shopping: A Quirky Guide to NYC with Kids

I'm a neighborhood girl, meaning I've always preferred the NYC neighborhoods with quiet streets and old brownstones. That being said, I had something of an epiphany on this last trip.

Downtown rocks.

One of the trickiest pieces of seeing NYC with kids is getting around. Even if you have an unlimited taxi budget there will be that moment when you are sitting in the back of a cab stuck in crosstown traffic (stop and go, stop and go, 1010 Wins on the radio) and wishing you could be anywhere else in the world.

Unless, of course, you are staying all the way downtown at the very tip of Manhattan.

All of New York's subway system converges in that tight little triangle. What this means, from a practical point of view, is no matter where you are in the city, when you and your kids hit fatigue overload all you need to do is locate the nearest subway stop and you can be back in your hotel room in approximately fifteen minutes.

"If we move back to the city I've decided I don't want a brownstone," I announced to my husband. "Instead I'm thinking a loft in Tribeca." He rolled his eyes and asked me if he should buy a lottery ticket.

Even though the West Village brownstone and Tribeca loft are pipe dreams, lunch at an iconic New York City restaurant was not. Thanks to prix fixe restaurant week, my daughter and husband had a date at Le Cirque. Afterwards she regaled me with details about the food, the flowers, the wonderful service. "It was a scene," said my husband, "and she fit right in."

While husband and daughter were dining with the 'ladies who lunch' crowd, my son and I were further downtown, standing on line at the original Danny Meyer's Shake Shack located in Madison Park. We had hot dogs and a Shack Attack. Chocolate ice cream, topped with chocolate, mixed with chocolate and delicious little chocolate crumbles on top.

We reconvened after our lunches at opposite ends of the price and service spectrum for a NYC tourism classic; The Empire State Building.

Nothing beats a view of New York from on high to get a real perspective of the city. Even though the day was overcast we could still pinpoint all the parks, landmark buildings and even the building where Child #1 spent the first two years of her life.

After soaking in the view, Child #1 and I decided to do a little shopping. But instead of Bloomingdales or Bendels we headed to an eastside branch of Pookie & Sebastian, my favorite hole-in-the-wall boutique.

While I browsed, Child #1 discussed her fashion design ambitions with the store's stylist. By the time I emerged from the dressing room the two of them were inspecting window displays together and by the time we left the store Child #1 had a new friend and a job offer, which only makes sense when you're ten and know your Missoni from your Moschino.

Which brings me to something obvious. The best, most personalized, moments in New York City (or any other travel destination) rarely occur in tourist hotbeds. They're the little moments, when you take time to travel away from the crowds, immerse yourself in a local spot and chat with likeminded people. The time it takes to find these out of the way spots is almost always worth the reward of the experience.

I won't be here on Labor Day, but will be back on Wednesday....happy last weekend of summer to you all!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

From Hipsters to the High Line: Quirky Guide to NYC with Kids

Before I write this post I need to give some props to my husband. For him, this was a working vacation which meant he was up, out of the hotel room and in an office every morning by 7:00. I received text messages around 8:00 saying things like "Hope I didn't wake you guys up."

I would reply around 10:00 saying things like, "Nope, just rolling out of bed and off to [insert fabulous breakfast spot]." Poor guy! He was such a good sport.

My child-centered approach to NYC fell apart a bit on the second day because, as Child #2 pointed out, "How am I supposed to know what there is to do." He wanted to go to Times Square and visit Toys 'R Us and aside from that he didn't have much of a vision for the day.

Luckily, I have plenty of vision and decided to put both kids on the subway and head over to the lower east side to sample the pancakes at the Clinton Street Baking Company. We arrived and were informed there would be an hour wait. "No problem," I declared. "Text me when our table is ready?"

We adjourned across the street to the Cocoa Bar where my children's charms were lost on the hipsters behind the bar. The cocoa's charms, however, were not lost on my children.

"It's like drinking liquified chocolate," Child #1 informed me. And it was. So much so that I witnessed a first. Two kids who only finished half their cocoa.

The Clinton Street Baking Company welcomed us with the world's friendliest waitress. Not only did she chat about manicures, she advised me one order of pancakes would be more than enough for Child #1 and #2 to share.

After pancakes, we headed off to Soho to visit the Museum of Comic Books and Cartoons. We located the address, no problem, only to be told by the security guard this particular museum no longer exists. I told the kids the museum's disappearance was a perfect metaphor for NYC.

The city is in a constant state of flux.

Our morning was salvaged by various works of street art in sculpture form. Again and again my children found our impromptu and unexpected street sculpture discoveries more viscereal and interesting than anything they saw in museums.

Times Square. What can I say. We did it. I hated it, because it's crowded and ugly. They loved it, because it's crowded and exciting, although Child #1 allowed, "I think I'd prefer it after dark." From there we headed cross town to Rockefeller Center, poking our noses into shops until Child #2 begged for a reprieve.

That night we visited the High Line.

For the uniniated, the High Line is an urban park on an abandoned elevated subway line that runs through the Meatpacking District. We wandered above New York City at twilight, stopping to eat gelato and stripping off our shoes to indulge in the wading path.

Both children availed themselves of the wooden chaise lounges with a perfect view of the Hudson River and Child #1 declared the High Line to be, "the best park in New York."

Stop by on Friday to read more of my quirky guide to NYC with kids.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Quirky Guide to NYC with Kids

Before we left on vacation I turned to the internet to search for good activities for kids in the big city.

Even ex-New Yorkers need suggestions every now and then and I was certain someone had taken it upon themselves to write an innovative guide book of interesting things to do with children that didn't include all the usual suspects. It's entirely possible that book, blog or website exists but if it does, I didn't find it.

In lieu of guidebook suggestions I decided we would wing it. Instead of planning our days I decided to wake up every morning and ask the kids what they felt like doing. The result is we created our own quirky guide to NYC.

Before I write about it I feel like I need to add a precaution (it's the lawyer in me). This isn't a guide for someone on their first trip to NYC. It might not even be a guide for someone on their second trip. To be sure, we hit lots of famous landmarks, but we skipped a lot of them too. We also didn't pack as much as we could have into our days. However, if you're looking for the offbeat relaxed guide to seeing NYC with might have come to the perfect spot.

Day One: My husband had to be at his office bright and early but the kids and I slept in. When we woke up downtown was already in high gear. We made our way through the business clad bustle of Wall Street to Leo's Bagels and stood on line with the locals.

"This is New York. You can't take too long to make up your mind," I whispered to decision-challenged Child #1 as our turn approached. We took our bagels, that rivaled the defunct H&H in deliciousness, and sat on the steps of Federal Hall next to the George Washington statue while I tried to explain what happens in the Stock Exchange.

Fully sated, we hopped on the subway and headed all the way uptown to Central Park West. Child #1 had set our day's itinerary by asking to visit Strawberry Fields. Child #2 was a little disappointed to discover there were no strawberries to be picked at the John Lennon memorial, but he was mollified with promises of ice cream.

From Strawberry Fields we wandered through the Shakespeare Garden, reading quotes from his plays and then climbed the stairs of Belvedere Castle where we enjoyed a view of the entire park.

By this time Child #2 was beginning to wilt but a chance encounter with a singing group near Bethesda Fountain perked him up enough to make it across the park and catch the downtown bus that deposited us not far from Dylan's Candy Bar.

We fought through the crowded first floor to a quiet cafe upstairs. "Mom," said Child #2. "Let's have dessert for lunch." And because we were on vacation I agreed. Sugar-fortified, we scoured the store for Bertie Bott's Every Flavored Beans and filled up little plastic houses with candy.

Not wanting to push my luck, or my kids, any further I hustled them out of the store on the wings of their candy high and we caught the subway all the way back downtown.

Later that night, after a SpongeBob Square Pants marathon, we headed up to Lombardi's Pizza on Spring Street. After dinner we wandered through Soho.

Child #1 took my hand and said, "Mom, I think New York has the best pizza in the world." I have to say, as she approaches the tween years, it's nice to know we still agree on certain things.

Stop by on Wednesday for more of my quirky guide to NYC with kids.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Empire State of Mind

The thing about a bicoastal relationship is, no matter which coast you live on, half of your family is always unhappy with your choice of location.

So we're off to make the other half of the family (and friends) a little happier. Next week I'll be traipsing around the mean streets of Manhattan, which are only mean because they're sticky, smelly and hot in August. Both children will be in tow and we're going to hit all the usual suspects.

Dylan's Candy Bar is high on the list. The Alice in Wonderland statute in Central Park suggestion fell flat.

"Haven't we done that already?" asked Child #1. I swear she yawned when she said that but it could be because she'd stayed up late the night before, not because she's too cool for Alice.

The Guiness Book of World Records Museum in the basement of the Empire State Building made the cut. There are plans for a father/daughter luncheon, when my husband can slip out of his office, at an overpriced illustrious New York City restaurant. As for Child #2 and me, our lunch plans will probably be more along the lines of Shake Shack or Gray's Papaya.

But enough about us...what about you?

I have no illusions that my energy, bunnylike though it may be, will be sufficient to shephard two small children around, meet up with family and friends alike and then live to blog about it at the end of the day so I'm going to take a two week break.

Unlike Jay Z, I have a feeling those streets will (not) make me feel brand new. But hopefully the big lights will inspire me. After all, I'm a writer, and I'm not particularly fussy about where I get my inspiration, as long as I get it somewhere.

I'll see you all in two weeks, fully inspired and ready to go.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Hamster Diaries: Part Deux

Child #2 has none of his mother's aversion to rodents. It was love at first sight.

He plucked his furry brown (rat without a tail) out of the cage, held it up and proclaimed it Ninjy. "Because, you know mom, he's brown like a a Ninja."

Child #1 immediately told him Ninjas wear black but Child #2 remained unmoved, the hamster would be Ninjy.

"Let's put him back in the cage so we can talk about the ground rules," I said.

"Here, you can hold him mom," said Child #2 presenting me with a fat squirming rodent.

"No, no, back in the cage," I demurred. Both kids looked at me suspiciously. I could see ideas forming in their brains.

The ground rules were simple.

1. Ninjy needs to be in his plastic hamster ball, cage or in the kid's hands at all times.

2. Child #2 is responsible for cleaning the cage and feeding Ninjy.

3. Don't let Ninjy bounce down the stairs in his plastic hamster ball.

4. Don't lose him.

We are now a week into life with Ninjy.

The highlights include me being chased through the house by two children shrieking, "Baby Ninjy just wants a kiss!"

It has become altogether ordinary to have a hamster running around the kitchen (encased in his plastic ball) while I make breakfast.

Child #1 sings rock-a-bye-Ninjy on a regular basis before depositing him in the Beyblade stadium. It, not surprisingly, didn't take him long to figure out how to scale the 8 inch plastic walls which is a contributing factor to his being lost three times.

The last time was yesterday. He was missing for thirty minutes accompanied by dire warnings about Ninjy's obsession with our air vents from me and lots of tearful remorse from my children. 

Child #2 has classified the sound of Ninjy running on his hamster wheel at night as "noise that lets me know I'm not alone in my bedroom."  It also lets everyone else know they're not alone in the house.

At this point I still haven't held Ninjy. But just this morning I brought him a hamster treat and held it out on the palm of my hand. He rodented over to the door of his cage and I was brave enough to let him eat the treat out of my hand.

Who knows, maybe by next week I'll have worked up the nerve to pet the tailess little rat. Maybe by next week it won't be nearly as fun to chase me around the house with hamster in hand.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Hamster Diaries

A few months ago I wrote a post about pets. Should we or shouldn't we, pros, cons,  that sort of thing.

The responses I got led me to believe we were not cut out for life with fuzzy creatures. Best stick to fish and frogs. But then the frogs and fish died and I was staring down the muzzle of Child #2's eighth birthday trying to come up with a creative gift that didn't involve batteries or screen time.

"Maybe we should get him a hamster," I told my husband.

"I thought you said hamsters were cannabilistic rodents," he said.

"I know, but we'll just get one so we can avoid the whole cannibal thing."

He told me to go to the pet store and make sure that I was really okay with having a hamster, which I did. They were cute little furry blondish creatures. Despite my abject fear of all rodents I thought, maybe, just maybe, a hamster would work.

The night before Child #2's birthday my husband was dispatched to the pet store and returned an hour later with all things necessary to hamster life.

We put together the cage. I inspected the little plastic ball and food dish. The hamster was still in a cardboard carton, scrabbling around as we slid the pieces of metal together and filled the bottom with hamster shavings.

"Wanna see him?" he asked me. I  nodded and he opened up the box to display this:

"What is that!?!" I said. "It looks like a rat."

My husband looked at me, a little offended. "It's a teddy bear hamster, exactly what you told me to get."

"It's just so brown and ratlike."

My husband rolled his eyes and deposited our ratlike hamster into his new cage where he proceeded to rear up on his back legs, wrinkle up his ratlike nose and wave his ratlike little paw/claws in the air.

We set the hamster on the kid's art table and for the next two hours while I worked and my husband watched T.V. the hamster ran on his little wheel.

That night before I went to bed I double checked the hamster's cage to make sure he was locked in tight. It might seem like overkill but the idea of a ratlike hamster running wild in the house was enough to give me nightmares.

In the morning the hamster had proven not to be Harry Houdini and Child #2 was delighted...really delighted, which has led to it's own set of unforeseen complications.

Hope you can stop by on Wednesday to read part deux of The Hamster Diaries.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Loving Teenagers

Child #1 mid-dive.
Many of our summer afternoons are spent at an old-fashioned pool and tennis club.

It's the kind with a snack bar that, until a year ago, tabulated costs on cards by crossing out the amount of dimes you had spent.

My kids go to swim team every morning and in the afternoon they go back and act silly, eat, swim and beg to never go home.

It was on one of these long afternoons that a friend of mine asked me, "Has Child #1 been talking about the Loving Teenagers?"

Despite Child #1 having coined the name she hadn't opted to fill me in. The story, in brief, can almost be told by the moniker. Teenagers making out in the deep end of the pool, hot tub and the kid's rec room.

Except (poor Loving Teenagers), they were discovered by my daughter and her rowdy band of swim teamers who proceeded to stalk them from the deep end of the pool, the hot tub and straight down to the kid's rec room.

I must admit to being amused on several levels. It's bad enough to be a teenager in *ahem* love (I guess we can call it that). But it's even worse to be chased by a giggling group of goggle-wearing girls.

The second piece of this that makes me happy is Child #1's blissful ignorance about that kind of love. Even though she's only three years from being a teenager herself, and hopefully many more years from being a loving one, her language still reflects her essential innocence.

She doesn't think in terms of making out, necking, heavy petting, smooching, hooking up, snogging, groping, fondling and all the other terms usually applied to teenagers desperate for some alone time.

I realize this is a brief window and her march toward adulthood with all of its phases will continue unabated. Maybe that's what makes this story particularly sweet for me.

And for any parents of Loving Teenagers, I'd be more than happy to offer Child #1's services because, according to my sources at the pool, the Loving Teenagers weren't able to accomplish much loving.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

The other day I went for a stroll with Child #2. We were still on the sidewalk when I reached for his hand. At first he pulled away and then, with a sigh, he relinquished and let me grab hold.

"You know mom," he said. "I'm eight now. So, this is more about you than it is about me."

Which struck me as the kind of childish wisdom my kids are so good at dispensing.

He's right.

He knows better than to veer off into the street. He's not going to walk into a lamp post or a flower pot. He doesn't trip over his own feet anymore and need me to steady him. He's a big kid. Really, I just like to hold his hand.

Of course, because writing is what I do and writers think in metaphors, I immediately applied this to the social media realm.

I give a lot of handholding and words of encouragement to my brothers and sisters behind the keyboards. Most writers do. I treasure the writer friends and relationships I've made and I'm always happy to support, give a shout out, read their books and write reviews.

But Child #2's words made me wonder. Am I holding everyone's hand because they need it or because I need to feel the gentle reassuring squeeze back.

Writing is a lonely job. It's better to do it with friends.

Call it co-dependance, mutuality or whatever you want. In the end the categorization doesn't matter.

Child #2 was right. The hand-holding is probably more about me than you. I hope that's okay. Actually, I'm pretty sure it will be. In fact, I'd be willing to bet I'm not alone when I reach out a helping hand with the subconscious motive of steadying both myself, and the person whose hand I've just taken.