Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Visit To "Both New Yorks"

Thanks to a late Labor Day, summer vacation came late this year.

But we didn't mind because apparently that's when the good weather decided to come to New York City. We flew in on a Tuesday evening, and after the longest wait ever for a rental car and car seats, had an exciting moonlight entrance to the town so nice they named it twice. (Though that's not why this post refers to "both New Yorks;" more on that later.)

The kids were wide-eyed with wonder at the vista of Manhattan lit like a fairytale city, and agog at the midtown tunnel's bright lights. But within just a few minutes of their arrival on the island of my birth, Thing 2 gave up her fight to stay awake, and Thing 1 tried valiantly to stay up in hopes of seeing the exterior of the Plaza Hotel, which he knows is home to Eloise, but didn't quite make it to fifty-ninth and fifth before nodding off too. By the time we parked at the hotel on the Upper West Side, our weary kids were well into dreamland, and all we had to do to get them down for the night was transfer them from car seat to stroller to bed, without bothering to put on their PJs.

But the next morning they were rarin' to go. 
A late morning breakfast at the Fairway Cafe was just the ticket for all of us: awesome lox and bagels and pancakes and eggs, and a view of Broadway's hustle and bustle, complete with many yellow taxis and big buses that kept the kids enthralled. Next it was off for a playdate with friends who just welcomed their fourth child, and had ample toys and kid-friendly snack food -- sorry, M., for the mess we no doubt left in your playroom!

By late afternoon, we were riding the local IRT down to South Ferry, and wandering around Battery Park in search of the Statue of Liberty ferry ticket booth, which we eventually located in Castle Clinton. Because it was late in the day, there was no time to visit Ellis Island, but that place, while significant to our families (grandparents and great-grandparents first set foot on American soil there), would have been lost on the kids at this age. All along, it was the Statue that had drawn them; they'd seen it in books and on TV, and their excitement at approaching it was infectious. Never mind that airport-style security put into place since 9/11. Once on the boat, it was a delightful ride with amazing views and temperate breezes through the open windows (the kids were a bit too spooked to ride out on the upper deck). Liberty Island was a place to run around, look through telescopes and stare up at the Statue (we didn't have tickets to go inside, but it didn't seem to matter to the kids).

As Late Blooming Dad and I watched our kids frolic under the statue, within sight of Ellis Island and a Manhattan skyline forever altered eight years ago, we couldn't help but find ourselves moved. When a helpful national park ranger stopped to chat, I told him, "We're lucky to be here." Lucky, indeed, to be free and to be fulfilling the hopes and dreams of a better life our relatives -- some distant, some not so distant -- came here to live.

But enough seriousness. Soon we were buying souvenirs -- a Liberty torch flashlight for Thing 1, a foam crown with alphabet stickers so Thing 2 could spell her name on it -- and hopping back aboard the boat, where we contemplated our dinner options.

Since we were so far downtown when we landed, we decided to visit a lower east side landmark that, curiously, neither of us had visited in all our years living in NYC: Katz's Deli. A friend of Late Blooming Dad's from college days came and met us with her son, and soon we were devouring a spectacular shared pastrami sandwich. Thing 1 started feeling the jet lag and lack of a nap, and turned cranky when nothing at the deli suited his tastes (peanut butter and jelly is not on the menu); thank goodness Thing 2 was content with matzoh ball soup. We grabbed a slice at the pizza place next door for Thing 1, then headed to one more stop, with the kids falling asleep in their strollers: Ferrara's, at Mulberry and Grand, my long favored place for Italian rainbow cookies, cannoli, and the butter cookies with the jam inside.

We cabbed it uptown, and the kids awoke, which made socializing with the friends who stopped by the hotel a lot harder than we'd hoped. But the kids DID finally fall asleep, and so did we, after a very satisfying first day.

The second day involved a wonderful brunch/playdate at a friend's in the neighborhood; many of my NY college pals are in the theater business and were free during the morning, as were their kids, who hadn't started up in school yet. After that it was more playing -- at a huge, renovated playground in Central Park -- capped by a brief visit to the portrait of Eloise at the Plaza. Upon seeing this portrait, the kids gleefully pointed out Eloise's pets in the background -- Skipperdee and Weenie (a turtle and doggie) ... and we managed to drop the subject when they inquired as to whether we, like Eloise, were going to take the elevator to the Tippy Top floor. I had a great memory of having tea in the Palm Court there with my college roommates, sometime after I sold a pitch and got my membership card in the WGA.

Next it was on to Patsy's Pizza, a branch of the place Sinatra made famous, this one back on the Upper West Side, where Thing 2 slept through the entire meal, but Thing 1 rallied for the meatballs. The pizza, btw, rocks. And the night's capper was a visit with my late parents' best friends, who welcomed us with art kits and cookies and ice cream for the kids, and apple tart for the grown-ups, but especially with warmth and joy at seeing the grandkids my own parents never got to know.

The night ended with what perhaps for the kids was the best moment of the trip yet: the arrival at Grandma and Grandpa's, on Long Island, the latter place being the second New York to which Thing 1 referred to sometime later (when we got back to California a week later, he told everyone he'd been to "both New Yorks"). Given that the kids only have one set of living grandparents, it was especially moving to watch them race up the walk to the doorway to embrace grandma and run inside in search of grandpa.

The rest of the trip was a blur of playdates with the kids' cousins (my nephews) and aunt and uncle (brother and sister in law), with whom there is just never enough quality time, given that we all live so far away, and the kids barely know each other. And there were a couple of playdates with family and college friends who've wound up on the island, and Late Blooming Dad's high school buds. Grandma and Grandpa graciously took the kids off our hands every morning for a long session of Noggin' (apologies, Grandpa, for having to endure so many hours of preschool television) and breakfast while Late Blooming Mom and Dad stayed in bed, something we never get to do together at home. The kids' favorite part was probably the post-sugar high from the orange sherbet at Carvel's; positively giddy, they danced and giggled and charmed everyone in the place.

On the last day, we ate outside in Grandma and Grandpa's back yard, and though the mosquitoes were biting, it was worth it to be under New York skies.

Though I grew up a snob when it came to the Bridge and Tunnel boroughs, it sure was nice to share both New Yorks with the kids. They've actually made 5 visits to NY already in their young lives, but this year was the first time they remembered last year's trip ... and they're starting to really appreciate it. It was no accident when, a few nights after our return home, when Daddy put on the Yankee game (a rare game broadcast all the way here in in L.A.), Thing 1 asked, "Can we go see the Yankees some day?"

I can't wait till next year's trip.


Diana Birchall said...

I can't wait for your next year's trip either, just to read the description! Wonderful. I lost my virginity upstairs from Katz's, by the way. But Ferraras was better.

A Thought: They sound old enough now to deserve more personable names than Thing 1 and 2, don't you think? Granted you don't want to put their real names online, but...

Anonymous said...

So glad to hear you had such a successful trip! Very enjoyable to read. SK

Late Blooming Mom said...

Diana --
Wow, now I'll have a whole new perspective next time I'm at Katz's!
I wish I could airlift some cookies right now from Ferrara's.
You're right I need new online names for my sweeties but thanks to work I am too tired to think of any tonight!

Anonymous said...

Wow -- makes me kinda homesick. And I'm truly impressed by how successfully you came up with age-appropriate sights and activities. I squired a couple of my godkids (13 and 16) around town in July and could barely think of anything to do with them. (Time will take care of that, of course.)

Uncle Bill