Sunday, February 27, 2011

Travel journal: New York with kids (Day 6)

On the last day, we had Brian with us. He wanted to rent a bike to ride around Central Park with Adriana, so after finding a place where he could reserve one with a child’s seat on the back, we headed out to show him the Alice statue. It seemed mellower, easier, leaving the apartment with all of us, not just me and the girls. Adriana pointed out various rocks she’d climbed on Thursday, and delighted when Brian helped her climb around. At the statue she was so glad to have his help in climbing up onto Alice’s lap.

We walked down to the zoo again, just to get lunch at the cafeteria, and then we split up. Brian and Adriana went to pick up their bike (and I tried not to think too much about the traffic they’d be riding in on their way from the shop back into the park), and I headed back up through the park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, because in spite of a half dozen previous trips to New York without children in tow I’d never made it to the museum. I felt free and light with just Lyra with me. She rode in the stroller until we got to the museum, where I nursed her to sleep, and I was free to see the exhibits. Overwhelmed by the size of the museum, I picked photography, Van Gogh, and Degas, and wished to see more, but after a quick trip through the modern art, it was time for me to head back down to meet Brian and Adriana.

We met up at the big playground at the bottom of the park, where Adriana played for awhile, and then we ventured out to find dinner, braving an actual restaurant, in spite of our tired, hungry children. Adriana did melt down a bit at first, but did surprisingly well in the end. And after she’d eaten plenty of spaghetti, she was energized and even walked part of the way back up to the apartment (stopping to see the Lincoln Center fountain lit up at night), before we entered the subway for one last ride.

In the morning, Brian went out to got coffee (and vanilla milk) while I finished packing up our things, and then we walked out to Broadway to get a cab.

“But I don’t want to go home,” Adriana protested. “I am still having fun.”

And I felt the exact same way.

Travel journal: New York with kids (Day 5)

On Friday, I woke up with tired feet, and decided that maybe we ought to take it easy on our last day of sightseeing without Brian. I promised Adriana a trip to what I told her was the biggest toy store in the world, a statue that spelled “love,” and a park that her friend Elena likes to visit when she goes to New York. And I figured on taking the subway or a bus, but somehow, once I had Adriana in the stroller and Lyra on my back, walking seemed like a better idea. So we trekked back down Broadway to midtown.

At FAO Schwarz, I told Adriana she could pick out one toy. She selected two sets of NYFD trucks, one for her and one for her friend who was helping his mother take care of our cat while we were away, but then we walked through the costume section, and she saw a tutu--a big pink tutu with flowers on the waist. I watched look from the firetrucks to the tutu, and then she turned to me and said, “But I want both.” And what kind of feminist would I be if I made her choose? Her sucker of a mother bought her both. I blame my parents and Free to Be You and Me for making me such an indulgent mother. I took her to see the big piano, wishing I’d shown her the clip from Big. She was fascinated but decided she would rather not try walking on it, even though there were only two other children playing there.

After some circling around and waiting we made it to the Love statue, having been thwarted on our way to the toy store by police barricades and a motorcade route, because the Obamas were also in town. We finally made it, though, and Adriana had none of the shyness that she’d shown when it came to the piano. She waited for another group of tourists to take their photos with the statue, and then climbed right up onto it and hammed for my camera.

We walked back up to the apartment, stopping at Lincoln Center to check out the fountain finally. We ate lunch in the apartment, and then headed back out to check out Riverside Park. This time I had the good sense to take the subway, at least to get there. We headed uptown on the subway, and entered at the top end of the park. Our friends had told us to check out “the hippo playground” and so that’s where we headed first, not knowing what to expect.

We were both delighted with the hippo fountains. It had been a hot week, and Adriana relished the chance to play in the cool water and climb around on the hippos. I got to sit in the shade with the baby and relax while I watched her. Needless to say, we stayed for quite awhile.

But eventually I knew Adriana would need dinner, so I herded her out. She chose to walk for a while, which surprised me. It was fun to chase her along the pathway with the view of the river. She admired the boats and I felt glad not to be stuck in the horrible rush hour traffic on the road below us. She did finally end up in the stroller, as we needed to make it through the entire length of the park to get “home.”

Travel journal: New York with kids (Day 4)

On Wednesday night, Adriana and I decided that Thursday would be our Central Park day. We walked from our apartment to the southwest corner of the park and entered there. I had promised Adriana a zoo and a fountain and a statue she could climb on, but I’d kept other things to myself, and other things it hadn’t occurred to me were fascinating, but from her point of view of course it was incredible. She marveled over the horses with their feathers and jewels, as well as the rows and rows of pedicabs. I hadn’t mentioned the carousel at all, and we approached it just as it was opening for the day. “A merry-go-round! Can we go for a ride?” she asked. One of the most fun things about motherhood is getting to say yes to things like that. There’s no reason to say no, but the surprise of the carousel somehow makes my yes so unexpected to her, that it’s just thrilling.

After a ride, we continued on to the zoo. The Central Park Zoo is a little bigger and a little more crowded than the Prospect Park one, but it was still great for a three year old. We made a loop through the zoo, and itprobably wouldn’t have been a very long zoo trip for us if it weren’t for the snow leopard. I could not tear Adriana away from that snow leopard (not that I had any real desire to). The leopard was asleep, lying against the glass in its exhibit. Adriana waited patienting for there to be space up by the glass, and then went to sit and stare. As more people cycled through, she moved away, following me around as I read about the animal and its habitat, or sat with me while I nursed the baby, but every time there was a lull in activity, she was back by the glass, examining the tiger. It was very cool to be so close up to the animal, getting to study her paws and ears, the patterns on her fur.

When we finished our loop, we got lunch in the cafeteria, although we probably could have made do with what I’d packed for snacks. Looking back, I may have bought lunch just because there was actually somewhat decent food, which surprised me, since I am used to what’s available at the National Zoo.

Outside the zoo, I glanced up at the clock. I hadn’t mentioned it to Adriana, but it was less than 15 minutes until the next time it would chime the hour. I suggested to Adriana that we sit and wait to hear it, deciding not to mention that the animals would move. I nursed the baby, while she hopped around, and then the clock started to chime and told her to look at it. She stood completely still, totally surprised, as the animals circled around, and she got to see that it was more than just the couple of animals we could see when it was still.

From the zoo and the clock, we headed to Bethesda Fountain, stopping to climb on various rocks and on the sled dog statue. As we stood above the fountain plaza, Adriana observed, “That is the biggest fairy I have ever seen.” As with the wallaby milk yogurt, how could I correct her? Who needs the angel when you have a fairy that huge? I do kind of wish I’d asked what other fairies she’d seen.

I could tell Adriana was getting tired, and, fearing a meltdown, I suggested we head home. But I had promised her a statue she could climb on, so we headed to Alice in Wonderland sculpture. Adriana had never seen the movie or read the story (we started it when we returned home, but it’s still a little bit much for her), but she enjoyed checking out the White Rabbit and Dinah the cat. She declared that this was where she wanted to bring Brian on Saturday when he was finally free to join us sightseeing.

We walked out of the park by way of Strawberry Fields (which I didn’t even try to explain to Adriana), and as we headed back toward our apartment for dinner and I wondered at how quiet the Upper West Side residential streets can seem, Adriana asked suddenly, “Are these houses? Do people live here?” I told her that some were houses and some were apartments, and yes, people do actually live in New York, and then she was quiet down in the stroller, thinking about that, and whatever else three-year-olds think about.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Travel journal: New York with kids (Day 3)

Before we left for New York I picked up a book on things to do with kids there. It listed lots of parks and zoos and museums, and offered the very useful tip that the Children’s Museum of the Arts had drop-in art classes for kids one to three-and-a-half several days a week. Adriana has loved the art classes she’s done at home, so on the third morning of our trip, I braved taking the girls on the subway during the morning commute, and headed downtown for the class. I think it was even better than the art classes we have done here. At $22 per family per class it seemed a bit pricey, but it was nice to have a morning with less time on my feet and Adriana really enjoyed it.

The class started out very small: there was a table with play-doh and a table where the kids could draw with markers. A few museum employees were around to chat with the parents (and grandmothers and nannies) and kids while they worked on their art. They were nice and the kids were happy, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with the class. But then a folding screen was taken down and we were able to move further back into the museum. Here there was a sand table filled with soft white sand, some water colors set before mirrors for self portraits, and some sort of goopy stuff. Adriana went straight for the sand, while Lyra crawled around on some beanbag chairs. Shortly after that, the next screen was removed, revealing a table for doing collages, and one for painting with little toy cars, but Adriana was working intently with the sand. A couple of times I pointed out the other projects to her, giving her time warnings, so that she wouldn’t be disappointed if she didn’t get to them, but she was happy pouring sand around in the table.

And then suddenly one of the museum people had a tambourine and was singing, and he led the children and their caregivers down a steep flight of stairs for music time. It was funny to see how quickly the children all followed, even the ones who, like us, had never been there before. Downstairs, he sat before them and led them in songs. Some were songs that all kids know, some were new to me, but he never stopped singing, it seemed, just went from one song into the next. Adriana mostly observed but seemed happy, and she eagerly took a drum for each of us when they were passed out. After music, the kids went into a sort of ball pit to play--an area of the room with walls a couple of feet high filled with yoga balls. I think Adriana would have loved it eventually, but she only went in for about two minutes at the end. I could tell she was interested, but in a new place with so many new people, she just needed time to watch, and then the class was over and we had to go.

I hadn’t packed us a real lunch, so as we left the museum, I gave Adriana some snacks and wandered through SoHo, looking for a place to eat. So many places looked good and interesting, but I knew I needed something casual, fast, and with something that Adriana would willingly eat. I kept wishing for a Mexican place to suddenly appear, but wasn’t having any luck. Just as I was kicking myself for not bringing a picnic to eat at a playground, I spotted Ideya. There was a news clipping in the window identifying it was a good place to eat with kids, and I quickly scanned the menu and spotted beans and rice, which meant Adriana would be happy.

She was happy, and so was I, with a bowl of cold soup and a salad, and after that we felt better about walking some more, so we walked and walked. I took a meandering route from SoHo to Greenwich Village, spotting a few familiar places on the way. Finally Adriana spotted a playground and asked to stop. I remembered the first time we took a trip with her as a toddler, just a weekend in San Francisco, and how our rule was to stop whenever we saw a playground. She needed time to play, the baby needed to nurse, and my back needed a break, so it was perfect. Also perfect, of course, was that it was conveniently across the street from Magnolia Bakery, and I had been promising cupcakes, so after some play time, we each picked out a treat.

It was a very kid-centric day. I went to New York to do a kiddie art class, play on a playground, and eat cupcakes, I thought to myself as we headed back to the subway. And just as I thought that, I glanced up, feeling a sense of vague familiarity with where I was, and realized I was right in front of a bar, where on a previous trip to New York, a work trip, I’d stayed out until two in the morning drinking and listening to music with a friend. Then I had no choice but to laugh at how much things had changed in the six years since that trip.

“Do we need an uphill train or a downhill one?” Adriana asked me as we folded up the stroller to go down into the subway, making me laugh even more.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Travel journal: New York with kids (Day 2)

On our second day in New York, the girls and I got on the subway and headed for Brooklyn first thing. Well, first thing is perhaps not exactly accurate. With all of us sleeping a little bit late because of the time change and Adriana’s generally cranky mood, it took us a bit of time to get out of the apartment in the morning, but we eventually made it onto the train. We stopped first at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Although we had the stroller with us, Adriana was eager to walk through the gardens. She liked smelling the herbs in the herb gardens, dancing by the lily pool, and exploring the vegetable garden. There was a children’s garden that was perfect for her: little hedges cut with tunnels for her to walk through, benches shaped like butterflies, and a worm bin to dig in.

After the garden, we headed back up to the Brooklyn Museum--not to go in, but to visit outside with a friend who works there. Some company was doing a photo shoot outside (I’d noticed them setting up when we’d first come out of the subway that morning), so the fountains weren’t on, but we got to watch. I couldn’t figure out why they were bothering to do the shoot outside the museum since they were using a green screen. A couple in business attire strolled back and forth in front of the screen for a while, and then a woman in a pink track suit jogged on a treadmill that was covered in the green screen stuff.

We walked from the museum through Prospect Park to the zoo. I didn’t realize at that point that we weren’t going through the main entrance to the zoo, but I’m glad we entered where we did, because we entered at the Discovery Trail, where there was a rope “spider web” to climb around in, big turtle shells for pretending to be a turtle, and giant eggs to hatch from. Adriana had fallen asleep on the walk there, and waking where there was a place to play was perfect. It was mid-afternoon by the time we got there, so the animals weren’t particularly active and the zoo was nearly empty of visitors. We saw wallabies (and I discovered that Adriana thinks the Wallaby brand yogurt I buy for her comes from wallaby milk; that was so cute that I certainly did not disillusion her) and emus, red pandas and peacocks. The baby baboon had gone to bed for the day, but we got to watch the adults grooming one another, and Adriana was thrilled to see the tamarin monkeys chasing one another through their habitat. I was eager to get on the subway before rush hour, but as we headed toward the exit, I realize that the sea lion feeding was about to happen. It was already four o’clock, but I stopped anyhow, because we got to be right there for it, with only two or three other families. Adriana was thrilled to see the sea lions leaping and diving. It was worth not making it onto the train until after five. And the trains weren’t that crowded in that direction at first anyhow, so we found seats without any trouble.

I’d learned my lesson the night before and prepared her a real dinner at the apartment and gave her a bath, even though the nap in the park meant she wasn’t going to bed for some time. She went out with Brian to bring back take out for our dinner, while I put Lyra to bed, as we began to realize that putting either one to bed while the other one was present and awake was just not going to be possible when we were all in one room.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Travel journal: New York with kids (Day 1)

This was written months ago, but it needed to be edited, and I never posted it. After taking a quick pass through, I'm going to upload it, however out of date it is.

There are these moments when we travel, where Brian and I look at each other in horror and wonder what on earth it is we’re trying to prove. It happens early in the trip, as we deal with a tantrum or some discomfort or confusion, and the entire trip seems like a mistake before it’s barely even started.

We went to New York in September and the what-were-we-thinking moment came not too long after we’d made it into the studio apartment we were renting for a week. Brian was there for work for a week, and rather than face seven bedtimes on my own with both girls, we were all there, but I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of our decision as we moved furniture so that the bathroom door could open even when the sofa bed was unfolded, and we dealt with the reality of trying to get the girls to bed when they were in the same room.

But in the morning, once everyone was fed and dressed and Brian was leaving for work, suddenly it seemed fun again. It wasn’t that we were trying to prove anything. It was simply fun to travel and fun to do it with the kids--a new kind of adventure. And with a little apartment and a Starbucks on every corner in a city where I could always find someone who spoke English, it wasn’t a very complicated adventure.

I started out every day the same way--with our typical morning struggles (Adriana is so not a morning person), then Brian leaving for the subway, and a while later, heading out the door with Lyra on my back, Adriana buckling herself into the little umbrella stroller we’d brought, the diaper bag and a bag of snacks hanging from the handles. We’d stop at Starbucks to get a latte for me, vanilla milk for Adriana, and one of those fruit puree packets they’re selling now to make feeding Lyra easy.

Our first full day, Monday, didn’t go exactly as planned. The previous night we’d grabbed some snacks and breakfast stuff at the Fairway a block away from the apartment, but I’d planned on doing the real shopping for the week in the morning. However, when I realized that Brian had left with our only key to the apartment, plans changed: I wasn’t going to buy groceries if I couldn’t put them away. I called Brian and we made plans to have lunch together and hand off the key. I realized that we were only a few blocks up from Lincoln Center, and I figured Adriana would like to see the fountain there on the way to Brian’s office, so we started walking...only to discover when we got there that Gilmore Girls was filming there, and we couldn’t get close to the fountain at all. I used my phone for directions, forgetting I had it set for walking directions rather than transit. And the walking directions it gave me looked so easy--just head straight down 9th Avenue for a couple of miles and I would be there. So I started walking.

The walk was longer than I expected (I should have checked cross streets and gotten it into my head that it was fifty blocks away), but it was fun. Adriana occasionally hopped out of the stroller to walk, and Lyra napped on my back. We stopped to eat carrots and grapes from our snackbag on occasion--usually when we spotted some construction, so we had the entertainment of seeing diggers and cranes at work while we ate. I love just walking around cities, and I got my chance to do that, even with little kids in tow, seeing the different neighborhoods 9th Avenue took us through on our way to the office in Chelsea. Before this life with Adriana and Lyra, I might have planned my walk to take me by certain points of interest. This time we saw whatever was there on our way, which was kind of fun. A huge garage of giant mail trucks wouldn’t necessarily have been on my list, but Adriana was fascinated.

After lunch with Brian, I braved the subway for the first time with the girls, and found it surprisingly easy. We entered at a station with an elevator, which certainly helped, although I think that was the only time we used a subway elevator during the course of the week, and it was nice that our next destination, the American Museum of Natural History, was a straight shot on the uptown train. Since Adriana didn’t need a ticket on the subway, after she helped me unclip my bag so I could carry it and fold the stroller, she slipped under the turnstile and helped me maneuver the folded stroller through it after I swiped my card. She held my hand on the stairs to the platform and bravely sat between two strangers (both women--I think if they’d been men, she wouldn’t have done it) when she was offered a seat. I was also offered a seat but opted to stand, since I had the baby on my back. When we got off the train, Adriana was thrilled with the animal mosaics in the Natural History Museum’s station, and helped me get the stroller unfolded and my bag into it, informing me, “I don’t need to ride. I need to see dinosaurs.” When Lyra woke up from her nap, we did let her ride in it. It was nice to give my back a break and as much as she loves the closeness of the carrier, I think she was relieved to have a bit more space for a while.

I wish I could really know what Adriana thought about seeing the dinosaurs. I don’t know how much she understands when I tell her that these are the bones of animals who lived thousands of years ago, that these kinds of animals no longer exist. But she ran from dinosaur to dinosaur, making dinosaur faces and asking me the name of each one. She liked touching the screens on the computers for more information, and I would read the information to her, but I think most of it went over her head. Still, she kept asking me to read her more and I obliged.

After a long walk and being on a different time zone, one floor was really all we could manage, although I would have liked to see the space stuff. So we picked out some postcards for Adriana to send to her grandparents and a dinosaur magnet and headed back to the apartment.

Adriana napped in the stroller on the way back, which I knew she would do. The problem was that I thought that would lead to a good mood for the evening, and I let her have a bowl of cereal for a snack and planned on going out to dinner when Brian returned. That turned out to be a horrible mistake. Even though she was awake until ten that night, she was not fit for public consumption, and we ended up getting our food to go after experience a horrible public meltdown. It was another time when I wondered whether traveling with a preschooler was a good idea, but it was the last time for the trip.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

13 months

When I called the pediatrician on Wednesday to ask about the rash on Lyra’s face and her fever and he observed that she was 13 months old, I was surprised, because I’ve noticed that they usually they don’t round up like that. Then I realized that she actually was 13 months old that day.

You would think at 13 months, I would be able to know when she was sick, but I had no clue. One weekend Lyra would only sleep in my arms, so I settled down in my bed with her and we slept for two hours. When we woke up, Brian pointed out that Lyra seemed warm, but I pointed out that we’d been snuggled up under a warm blanket together. It took some time before I registered that she really was too warm and just not herself. I had been enjoying how snuggly she was, when in fact she was snuggly because she didn’t feel well.

Lyra is a good eater most days, but it’s sporadic. When she wasn’t feeling well, she was eating a ton, but then she has days when she hardly eats anything. She’s losing interest in most purees and mashed foods, and wants to feed herself instead, which is slower and messier, but also frees me up. She would love to be able to use a spoon or a fork, but she just doesn’t have the coordination yet. After taking a few stabs at it (HA!), she’ll sit with the utensil in one hand, held high, while feeding herself with the other.

She is saying more words now, but mostly she just says “woof.” She says it when she sees a dog or hears a dog, when she’s pointing at a picture of a dog in a book. She says “boo” and “boom,” as well, or at least approximations of them. She does imitate other sounds when she’s in the right mood, which thrills Adriana, who is delighted when the baby complies with things like “Say ‘poop’ now, Lyra!”

Suddenly Lyra is afraid of loud noises. I took the girls to Berkeley to ride the steam train and the carousel, and the train was a terrifying experience for the baby. Our first ride on it, she was clinging to my neck and screaming every time the whistle blew, and only did better the second time because we sat in the very last car, and she could hardly hear it. She cried one day when I was using the food processor, and now when she sees me bring it out, she begins to wail in protest.

My favorite thing these days is her kisses. If she sees Brian and me kiss, she makes a kissy face. She points to stuffed animals and says “mwah!” and then will lean to kiss it when I bring it near her. She chases after our poor cat, saying “mwah tat.” She raises her arms to Brian to be picked up so she can kiss him when he gets home from work, and when Adriana will allow it, she wraps her arms around her sister’s waist and raises her face for a kiss. And best of all she runs toward me from across a room, smiling and making kisses, and then leans her face against mine.