Thursday, April 15, 2010

Big Apple, Little Legs (Babble)

We just got back from a week’s vacation in New York City!  Ian’s visit happened to overlap with our annual trip to see my brother and his family over spring break.  I started flying out to New York with the kids during Ian’s last deployment as a way to break up the depressing rut I was in.  Navigating airports alone with three kids (ages 5, 3 and 5 months at that time) was insane, but I survived it.  Every travel experience since has seemed easy, despite the trouble of getting so many little pairs of shoes on and off at security.

We have a nice little tradition going for Easter.  My kids get to do an egg hunt with their cousin in New York every year, and most of the time we are able to overlap with her birthday as well (depending on when Easter and spring break fall).   How cute are they with their baskets?  I helped Aden make her own out of cardboard and paper right before the hunt.

(Ellora, Aden, Mona and Quinn in New York after their egg hunt.)

It was a great trip.  We got to see friends and family and the weather was beautiful.   We got out a little, but as far as my kids are concerned, New York City is their cousin’s apartment.  At one point late in the week when we were trudging through Times Square, Quinn laid his exhausted little head on my shoulder and pleaded, “Can we please go back to New York now?”  Our first full day in Manhattan we took the kids to Central Park, enjoyed a carriage ride, ate ice cream, watched the sea lions eating fish at the zoo, climbed rocks, and rode many trains.

After getting out and about the first day to satisfy my need to feel like I’d seen something of the city, we were good to let the kids do what they really wanted which was play in the apartment.  Their cousin has a new bunk bed, a big cuddly dog, and a play room across the hall so they couldn’t have been happier.  They squealed and giggled and made up a million games that all seemed to involve making piles of stuffed animals on the floor.

One of the things about New York that’s hard to impress upon people who have never been there is how it is really a collection of little neighborhoods.  Yes it’s dense and busy, but in some ways it feels more friendly than a typical midwestern experience.  There is nothing charming about the giant chain stores I depend on in Milwaukee.  Many of the shops in New York are tiny and personal.  Three times on one lazy day we had to run out for groceries, and each time Ian or I went out with whichever one of the kids wanted to come along.  We walked to a different little market just blocks from home each time.  When Aden and I picked up milk on one of those trips she was thrilled with a tabby cat sleeping in a little bed on one of the lower shelves.  (No cats pouncing on flies at Pick ‘N Save or Home Depot.)  So when sticking to the immediate neighborhood, a visit to my brother’s home in New York with three small children is simple.  Things are convenient and the kids are content.  Getting to anything beyond that is a more complicated story.

Most of the parents I know in New York city only have one child.  This makes sense because it’s an environment where the expense and difficulty of additional children is tangible.  I don’t know anyone in the midwest who chose not to have another child based on available space.  You may have to make compromises or get creative, but in the midwest you can find more room somewhere.  In New York it’s a real factor to consider because one more bedroom could bankrupt you.  In any case, getting more kids than you have hands on and off the subway takes a little practice.  Teaching Mona not to lean out over the tracks looking for the A train keeps you alert.

For the most part my kids do really well in New York, but the biggest challenge was all the walking.  My kids are very active, so I don’t mean they aren’t physically up to it, it’s that the kind of walking you do in the city they aren’t accustomed to.  Once we hit the park or the zoo or a pile of wood chips they were ready to run for hours, but the sort of fast paced, single file, keep your head down walking for many blocks just to find the subway entrance or a restaurant was not easy for them.  My friend, Alice, met us one morning near Washington Square Park, and she commented on how different the city looked when you walked it at my children’s level.  It’s slow, and you look in every window and check out every street vendor, and a block is suddenly not a short stretch anymore.  Quinn did the best he could, but often I’d end up scooping him up and carrying him for a block or two before having to set him back down again.  (His dad was willing to carry him, but when my son is tired he just wants me.)  Overall I was really proud of how well Quinn kept moving along on those little legs, especially when you remember his only view much of the time is of other people at about waist height.

The only really hard moment with the kids was after Ellora’s birthday party.  She had a party at a restaurant called Mars, which was like Chuck E Cheese’s but red and with martians walking around instead of a mouse waving at you.  It was a great time, especially since my brother put on some crazy face paint and stole all the hired martians’ thunder.  (My brother is incredibly fun and spent most of the party under a pile of happy six year olds.) 

But afterward we went to Central Park so the kids could run around, and it was another one of those moments when you realize how differently you navigate certain situations when you have multiple kids.  You don’t think too hard about keeping track of one kid at the park, but when you have more than one you need a plan.  The weather was gorgeous and the playground was packed, and Mona was tired and pouty because she had managed to lose her balloon and her goody bag from the party (and didn’t want to look at me because I had predicted all of that if she didn’t take my advice and now she was embarrassed).  I’m still not sure how it happened, but we all got spread out a bit, and the next thing I knew all the kids had scattered and I couldn’t see any of them but Quinn.
Normally when we enter a crowded place I make sure my kids know where we should meet if we’re separated.  I didn’t get a chance to do that, and I ended up handing Quinn off to Ian so I could cover more ground and figure out where the girls were.  I spotted Aden pretty quickly, and made sure she and her cousin knew where the meeting place was, but it took a long time to find Mona.  When I say a long time, I mean about ten minutes, but ten minutes of your mind racing through all the possibilities of losing your kid in Central Park are agonizing. 

Luckily Arno can move with an effortless speed that is astonishing, and he was able to cover every part of the playground quickly and track Mona down.  She was fine, of course, pouting in the sand pit area where she buired and lost her last toy.  I stuck to her like glue for the rest of the afternoon much to her chagrin.  I don’t know how anyone survives really losing a child like that.  I was physically ill for those ten minutes.  Any real length of time would probably kill me.  So as far as bad experiences go, this one was more of a reminder of how fortunate I am, and not anything actually bad.  I’m not letting those ten minutes that turned out to be nothing hijack the memory of a perfectly nice day, because the rest of it was pretty great.

The highlights of the trip for me were meeting my friend Miriam’s adorable baby and Satra’s lovely wife and daughter, and spending a little time with my friend Alice and my cousin Mary.  We ate some great pizza and rice pudding.  We got to see all the flowering trees in bloom (and then come home in time to watch everything start to bloom here, too).  I got to visit my niece’s school and read to some of her classmates.  My brother and I stood in the little rose garden near his home by the Hudson River one warm evening and listened to a man singing powerfully from a high up window we couldn’t pinpoint.  I got a night out with just my husband and we saw Hair at the Al Hirschfeld Theater (it was amazing but that’s a whole other post).  I bought Aden a small locket from a street vendor in Soho and she wears it every day now.  Did I mention the rice pudding?  And Ian told Mona if she caught a healthy pigeon she could keep it, so watching her chase birds with that weird mincing run of hers was beyond entertaining.

But most of all I got to spend time with people I love while taking a break from thinking about moving or that Ian’s leaving again soon or when a million appointments are happening.  That’s spring break at it’s best, even with tired little legs.
(Aden, Quinn and Ian on the A train)

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