Longtime readers will recall that my eldest really wanted a cat for Christmas. He did not get a cat. In lieu, he received a promise of two overnight trips with me. We're signed up to spend the night at the zoo later this spring, and he redeemed the 2-night trip to NYC over President's Day weekend. It worked out well; he had a half day Thursday and Friday off, so we got on a 2 p.m. train Thursday and were home around 11 a.m. Saturday.
I had minimal expectations for this trip. For starters, I was traveling with a kid — a semi-grown-up kid, but a kid nonetheless, and a picky eater at that — and so there weren't going to be Michelin stars involved. There wasn't even going to be an option to eat at a hole-in-the-wall sushi spot. Second, since it was his present, it would be his choice of activities, and he looked through tour books and chose the touristy activities you naturally do as a tourist in NYC. The sort of activities we didn't do while living there. But obviously someone does them, and likes them, and I figured it would be OK.
And it was! Better than OK. I had a good time.
On Thursday we walked north from Penn Station and to our hotel. My son wanted to see the city, and wanted to walk, and so we did. He soon learned that walking a mere mile takes a while in NYC with the stoplights! We dropped our bags, then took a cab to the Empire State Building. I had cringed while figuring out the tickets (NYC has a lot of tall buildings…paying to go up one just feels wrong somehow), but in the end, I bought the tickets. For both the 86th floor and the 102nd floor. It was really fun! Especially since I know the geography of NYC so well. I could point out things to my son, who was really taken with looking at Central Park in the distance, and then seeing our old building over by the East River, and the hospital he was born in. We took a lot of photos. We watched the sun set from the 102nd floor enclosed observatory. The light really was something special.
Then we descended and found a pizza place. It happened to be kosher, which we didn't know at first, but figured out as I found myself wondering why every other table featured an Orthodox family. My key consideration was not the kosher part but that the cheese pizza looked like my son's low-brow taste in cheese pizza. Many other places served cheese pizza that had mere splotches of mozzarella with big green basil leaves and much oregano, which sounds incredible to me but I am dealing with a frozen pizza fan here, so there we go. We walked through Times Square back to the hotel, then wound up back out at a grocery store so I could buy some non-pizza snacks for me. Grapes, pita chips, raw milk sheep's cheese, dark chocolate with almonds, and a Brooklyn Lager.
(I then proceeded to sleep 9 hours. Nice not being around the toddler!)
Friday was quite the day. We took the subway down to South Ferry (the subway itself is an experience for someone who hasn't taken it!) We walked through Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty ferry and waited in the cold for the security screening. We spent quite a bit of Friday cold, actually, which was the one real downside to the trip. We were outside and walking and while it wasn't really sub-freezing much of the time, it was blustery (before hitting 60 on Saturday after we left). Anyway, the boat to Liberty Island was not warm, but we enjoyed walking around and seeing the Statue of Liberty. My kid is a history buff, so Ellis Island went decently, though it was still a museum, and he is still 9, so we lasted about an hour.
Lunch, back in the financial district, presented its own problem, in that my kid won't even eat normal sandwich fare. But when we stopped in an Au Bon Pain, with my thinking I'd let him have a croissant with a fruit cup or some such, lo and behold one of their "soups" was mac and cheese! Victory! We went back to our hotel for about an hour of downtime (me, reading The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan, him some books on Marie Antoinette and Queen Elizabeth I, and watching videos about Theme Park Tycoon on my phone).
Then it was off to Central Park. We went to the Central Park Zoo, which was a nostalgic experience for me. Back in our NYC days, we used to have a pretty standard Sunday practice of going there after church. We got lucky on timing. The sea lions were being fed, and then we saw the snow leopard out and moving about. So was the red panda, which is unusual because they sleep about 20 hours per day. The tropic area was as warm a welcome as it always was back when we'd push the double stroller to the stroller parking area and unbuckle our babies. And though my worldly 9-year-old scoffed at the idea of feeding the sheep in the petting zoo, when we got there he decided he really did need to feed them. So we did.
We stayed until the zoo closed at 4:30, and then as we were walking back toward the hotel, we spotted the horse-drawn carriages. This is something I'd kind of wanted to do for a while, so when he asked if we could, I said yes. The "tour" part was silly — I don’t really care what movies were filmed where in Central Park — but we had been told ahead of time that the horse was new and they were giving her some chances to go faster in the park, so we really zipped around. Like a full on gallop. That was fun!
We ate at a pub that advertised a kid's menu. Best of all worlds: chicken fingers for him, craft beer for me. Then back to the hotel to Facetime home before taking off for the Lion King on Broadway.
I have seen the movie at least a dozen times (I am not kidding — it got stuck in the VCR at the gym daycare where I worked for a summer). So the plot itself was what it was (or the plot is Hamlet and known in any case) BUT the staging is so inventive. It really is well-adapted to live theater. My personal favorite parts were the giraffes that were people on stilts, and the giant elephant that came down the aisle. The 9-year-old was a bit wiggly but the lady next to us was very nice about it. He completely loved it. He popped up to give them a standing ovation.
We lay there for a bit on Friday night talking through our trip before falling asleep. Then Saturday morning it was up and to the train station, with a short stop at Dunkin' Donuts to stretch out the fun (my kid was so cute about noting the location of a Dunkin' Donuts as we walked to our hotel on Thursday — I love his assumption that that would have been the only one in NYC!)
When you fill the days with experiences, the days seem long. As we ate dinner on Friday evening we discussed that it barely seemed possible that the day before we had been atop the Empire State Building. Impossible as that seemed, it seemed even less possible that my son had been sitting in his fourth grade class the prior morning! That must have been many days before. Weeks, perhaps. As I have been reading about time perception, I have come across the theory that we remember roughly 6-9 things per fortnight. So our time perception when life is reasonably repetitive is that 6 memorable things equals 2 weeks. Our New York excursion was racking them up at the rate of 6 per day. All time still passes, of course, and a long two days is over just as a short two days are over, 48 hours ticking along at the same rate they always do. But our adventure certainly felt like it stretched time.
Photos: South-facing during the sunset; a boy and his sea lion; the carriage.