Thursday, April 28, 2011

New York Adventures Part 2 (Babble)

Where was I?  Oh yeah, New York.  Which now seems like a lifetime ago since we are currently back in the swing of school and violin and work and normal life in general.  Good thing I like my normal life or that would be depressing.  (Quinn is pining for New York, though.  He’s finding the return to normal life a step down from subway rides, pigeons, and a playroom instead of school.)

There was a lot to love about New York, most of which included spending time with people I love, but if I had to choose one thing specific to this trip that was special to me, I think it would be seeing how interested my girls were in the museums.  Aden in particular was wide eyed at everything.  She seemed to be trying to read every label at the Met.
(Aden, cousin Ellora, Mona and Quinn at the Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

It’s amazing to me that Aden has reached an age where she’s not only interested in things, but has just enough life experience and skills and stamina to really explore them.  She was deeply disappointed that we couldn’t spend all day at the Met, but her little brother was not up to more than a couple of hours, and her cousin was hungry.  Mona was game, but not able to grasp as much of the information as her sister.  Aden marveled at the Egyptian exhibits, loved the Tiffany glass, was impressed with the armor…. 

My favorite thing was an altarpiece ca 1390-1400 from northern Italy that was carved from bone.  It was exquisite, and Aden noticed details in it that I missed.  There was a time when she would have fallen limp from boredom next to such a thing the way poor tired Quinn did, but not this trip.  She studied it appreciatively and only moved on when I said we had to.

The same was true at the American Museum of Natural History.  Aden and Mona both were thrilled to be there and hated that we couldn’t do more, but between their brother dragging his tiny feet and our need to catch a plane the same day, it wasn’t possible.  The truly fun thing about that museum for us is that my brother, Barrett, used to work there as a model maker, so his tours are the best.  He came down to the city to overlap with us for a couple of days at the end of our trip, and at the museum he pointed out the frog he made on the Wall of Biodiversity (which Aden declared sincerely to be the most realistic of all the frogs on the wall) and his insect models in the rain forest display. 

One of the best parts about having Barrett along is he not only can answer most of my kids’ nature questions (which is way more interesting than listening to me say, “Hey, let’s Google that when we get home!”), but he knows odd behind the scenes information and things we would certainly miss (like the fact that they added a navel to the life sized blue whale model in the ocean life room during the last renovation).

(Quinn pointing out dinosaur footprints.)

I’ve decided that next year I want to get Aden and Mona each a sketch book and a nice set of pencils and pens and plan an entire day at one of the museums.  We will get there when they open, plan for snacks and a hot dog break out front with some time to feed pigeons, and stay until they close.  I want us to be able to take down notes about things that are interesting, make sketches of amazing displays, and take our time really learning about what’s there.  Ian and I agree that as much as we like to stick together as a family, it would be worth it from time to time to split up.  Quinn could have a day in the playroom at home while the girls and I explore something else.  I would have done that this time had I known, but my daughters have grown up more than I realized since last year.

We saw two shows on this trip.  The first was for the kids, which was a musical adaptation of the movie Madagascar.  The show itself bothered me, but being in Radio City Music Hall was magical.  It’s so grand, and I remember going there as a kid to see a Lassie movie, and the real (then current) Lassie was there!  I was excited to take my kids to such a famous place at an age where it would be so impressive.

But the show was not what it should have been.  The kids enjoyed it, but kids don’t have high standards.  The musical did the bare minimum it needed to do to appease children under ten, which was to feature the characters they know, glean the most memorable lines from the movie, and play the “I like to move it move it” song as often as they could get away with.  The music was taped, the choreography was boring, and they even dragged out six animatronic figures to fill out the ranks of the lemurs during a dance number like it was a Chuck E Cheese show. 

Now, again, the kids really liked it, so I’m not knocking the fact that we went, and considering my sister-in-law treated us to six tickets I don’t want to sound ungrateful to her because I’m not.  But!  I have to say, I was distressed at the lack of quality.  Would it have been more expensive to do it well?  As in hiring live musicians, and real dancers to fill out the background?  Of course.  But this was Radio City Music Hall in New York Freaking City.  They should not do the bare minimum, they should do the best.  The bar should be high.  If this was the touring show they brought to Milwaukee, I would have shrugged and said, “Oh, well.  They have to cut corners to make a profit on the road.”  But in New York?  It should be awesome.  They should make it so we leave the theater saying, “Wow!  That’s why you see things in New York!”

For that experience, we went to The Book of Mormon.

We almost couldn’t find tickets that we could afford, but after some internet searching and a willingness to splurge more than we had originally anticipated, Ian and I were able to go.  And it was totally and completely worth it.  The only stage production I’ve seen that surpassed it was a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the original theater in Prague where it premiered, because that was transcendent in its greatness.  But this was funnier.  And look how close we were!
(We were way off to the side, but in row H.) 
I don’t think I can say enough good things about this show.  The timing of the jokes was perfect, I liked all the music, the voices and the pit orchestra were excellent, and the staging was so good it seemed unreal.  There is a number in act 2 about a Spooky Mormon Hell Dream that is an unbelievable spectacle, and then they strike the set and return it to a dreary little village in front of your eyes in a matter of seconds that left our jaws on the floor.  I would go again just to see that, to tell you the truth, because I watched them do it in front of me and I don’t know how they managed it.  And then you don’t have time to dwell on it because they cut right to a joke and you are laughing again.  And it’s completely obscene, but because all the swearing and crude references are used in the service of really profound and important themes it’s not gratuitous. 

Weirdly, despite the fact that the show doesn’t shy away from violence or topics like female genital mutilation, the overall effect is very sweet.  It’s a clever, hilarious toe-tapper that also makes you consider the origin and function of all religions.  It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen.  It left me thinking and laughing and humming great tunes, and I am so glad we went.  (My brother asked me if someday I would like a cast recording if one becomes available, and I told him I would, except that I don’t know where I could play it.  They didn’t even list the names of the songs in the program because they were so dirty.)

What else did we do in New York?  Well, every year we go to the Nintendo store and let my kids pick out a Pokemon toy.  My kids aren’t even that into Pokemon anymore, but they love getting a new toy to take home, and love knowing they picked them out near Rockefeller Center.  It’s a simple tradition that makes them happy so we always squeeze it in.
(Aden with Pikachu.) 
For myself, there were a few things that turned this into a work trip.  First of all, I was able to view instruments and bows for an upcoming auction at Christie’s.  My sister-in-law works there and was able to arrange for me to see things before the public viewing while I was still in town.  (I have a whole post I plan to write about that.)

I was also able to peek my nose in at the Babble headquarters which is down on Broadway.  That was fascinating, because I’d never met anyone I work with there in person.  Every once in awhile I read something in a comment thread suggesting that all the bloggers and staff actually know each other, (and maybe there are secret parties that only I am not invited to and I’m off base here), but really we’re way off in our different corners of the country doing our own things.  Until this trip I’ve never met anybody.  It was kind of nice to see Babble is a real operation with lots of busy people working hard and not some crazy hoax that I get emails from.  Everyone was so sweet to us, and my kids each got a bag of goldfish crackers which made them happy, but Quinn did pass out on a couch almost immediately.  I regret I didn’t get a photo because that would have been perfect here, but I do have a shot of him passed out on my husband’s shoulder once we got outside again.
Anyway, I work for nice people at Babble and that’s good to know. 
The other work thing I did was meet with a friend who is editing a book my husband and I have been working on.  We collected all our emails from the period of his first deployment because I think they are very interesting gathered all together.  Ian’s accounts of his time in Iraq during the surge are unlike anything else I’ve ever read, and my struggles at home with three tiny children were the most intense time of my life.  Even if nothing comes of it publishing-wise, it’s an account I think is worth preserving for our own family.

My friend, Alice, lives in Red Hook, which is a section of Brooklyn with an excellent view of the Statue of Liberty and some nice little neighborhoods.  She lives within walking distance of Ikea, so we took the ferry service Ikea runs from Manhattan to the store.  We loved seeing New York from the water (both in the afternoon and then at night on the return trip), Ikea is a convenient place to eat with kids, and we had a nice time relaxing at my friend’s home.
(Aden and Quinn on the Ikea Ferry)

The only downside to this excursion was when the editors at Babble asked what wonderful things we would be doing in New York that day, and I said we were going to Ikea.  I immediately realized that could not sound less inspired unless I topped it off by saying we were hoping to find a McDonald’s or something, so I started sputtering that we’d already been to the Met!  And Radio City Music Hall!  Oh yes, I can be so cool it hurts.  (If this blog suddenly disappears you will know why.)

And last but not least were the Easter things.  There was a bunny play!
The bunny play started off well, but grew painful as they got into the unrehearsed portions at the end.  (It would have gone better except that I took Aden out with me to Chelsea all afternoon instead of letting her stay home and organize everything, but it was worth it to have that time with her in the city.)  Aden loved directing everybody and has learned how to make things work better next year.  And Mona has great stage presence, so she was fun to watch even as things dragged on too long and got weird. And we dyed eggs!
Ian and I fled to Book of Mormon, though, rather than watch the chaos of the hunt unfold.  There were too many elements that my kids weren’t prepared for so I had a bad feeling about it.  My kids are used to searching for the specific eggs they each decorated, but because there were extra kids invited along my brothers divvied up the eggs at random.  They also thought filling the plastic eggs with things like chess pieces and an occasional potato would be a hoot–which it is until you watch a kid who was expecting chocolate open those eggs.  We asked how it all went when we got back from the show, and all anyone would say was that in maybe ten years they could all laugh about it.

I did like Aden’s homemade basket constructed from an egg carton.  And Quinn and some of the other kids had fun.  But otherwise it sounds like we have nowhere to go but up for next year’s egg hunt.

And that about roughly covers it.  We had long delays getting home, but overall it was fine.  Can’t wait for next year!

(Aden and her dad by our subway stop.  I’m proud at how good my kids got at using the subway!)

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