nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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When 9 x 3 = loud

In our last few days in New York, I have a moment of weakness where I agree to have a goodbye sleepover for E. She will turn 9 the week we return to London, so this is a birthday sleepover too. Most of the people I mention this too say I am quite mad or very brave. I am neither.

I organise this with military precision, to include dinner at a local burger place and hours of evening skating in Central Park to wear them out and burn off all the sugar from the calorie laden milk shakes. There is something quite special about skating at night in the sub zero temperature with the buildings of 59th and 5th Avenue looming over head. There are lots of British tourists on the ice, so it’s good to hear some familiar accents. The girls are loud, they are boisterous but they have fun, so much fun.

We pile into a yellow cab to go home and they spend far too long chattering in bed before eventually falling asleep. What a great New York way for E to spend an early birthday and remember the lovely friends she will have to sadly leave behind in a matter of days.

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Crack is wack

R has been nagging me to write about this place we visited before Christmas. If you look at a map of Manhattan and look towards the top of the island on the right hand side you will see a small square of green and the title ‘Crack is Wack playground’. Now that doesn’t necessarily make you want to visit, but being nosey Brits, we went and had a look.

Basically it’s a couple of basket ball courts with a huge concrete wall stuck in the middle, separating the two areas. On each side is a mural done by Keith Haring, he of the funky men and bright colourful paintings. He painted the mural in 1986 to “call attention to the damage drugs can inflict on community welfare” (says the NY Parks Dept website). Haring died four years later at the very young age of 32.

The mural has somehow survived, it’s been painted over and brightened up over the years, but even now it stands the test of time. I love the shadow of the tree on this photograph of one side of the mural.  I don’t have a good photo of the other side, so have a look at NYC Parks website instead.

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I shall miss all this exploring and discovering the less well known parts of New York.


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And there’s another one

I’m referring to odd men. Back in the summer there was ‘creepy guy’ who got offended when I told him it wasn’t quite right for him to be hanging around a kid’s park with no kid. Today’s oddity was a bearded man wearing a sign around his neck proclaiming something about Jesus and sins who was hanging around our street. He decided that it would be absolutely fine to approach J and offer him what looked like a coloured stone. When I said ‘you shouldn’t give things to small children’, he just pushed it further at J’s hands, and J was of course fascinated by this and would have willingly taken it had I not pulled him away. The odd man then decides to follow us down the street, while I walk faster and hope the light’s in my favour so that I can cross the road and not stop. I look back and he’s gone.

After picking E up from school, he’s there again. This time dancing around on the street, sign flapping wildly. I hurry us all on and cross the road, trying to explain to a perplexed E why a man is dancing in the street with a sign around his neck. That’s a hard one.

But on the other hand, my good British friend G was telling me just the other day about a man outside Whole Foods on 14th Street, I think, who was dressed just in his underpants, dancing, with a sign saying something about making people smile. Which it did. What an odd world.


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2 years old today

I wrote my first blog post about moving to New York exactly two years ago today. 275 posts later I am still here and still blogging. I love recording my experience and reading it back, I’ve already forgotten so much. Life has changed a lot since we got here, mostly because J is growing up and is three next month. He goes to pre-school five mornings a week now, so our exploring has been curtailed. Even if he hadn’t gone to school, he was reluctant to behave in art galleries and even more reluctant to sleep when I wanted him to. Getting him into and out of the subway now requires a feat of strength with his buggy that is pretty much beyond me these days. This does mean that my blog posts will be different now and may be less frequent. I’ll still try to look for the odd, the amusing and cast a wry eye over it all, recording for me, for my family and for anyone who cares to read my blog. Please continue to enjoy.

Love nyc-newbie.


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Creepy guy

I took J to a different playground in Central Park today. It’s quite normal for an early morning playground to be pretty empty with just a few nannies and even less mummies. So when a middle aged man decides to come into the playground without a child and sit on a bench with his mobile phone it’s no surprise that I was a bit suspicious.

I kept my eye on him for ten minutes and as we naturally went near him, I asked him what he was doing there and pointed out the regulations nearby that say adults must be accompanied by children under 12. He was not happy at being asked and said ‘ooo, creepy’.

Then he starts getting all offended, saying he was waiting for friend who has a child. I said OK, but it is unusual for a man to be on his own in the playground. At which point, I expected him to be entirely understanding and for the conversation to end. But no, he gets up in a huff and says that he will wait outside. He is affronted that I confronted him. He then continues to mutter loudly, but I am too far away and cannot hear, but it’s clearly directed at me.

He’s offended. Really? Is he completely unaware? Did he not see every woman in the playground giving him a concerned look as they kept their kids away?

Interesting that when we left to go to another playground about 20 minutes later, he was still outside the playground having animated conversations (presumably with someone) on his mobile phone. No friend with child  in sight. An ordinary guy with a tardy friend or something more sinister? You decide, but for me, leaving that playground was the best thing to do. Creepy guy indeed.


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NW3 in NYC?

view from Brooklyn

 

Yes, it’s all about the B boroughs at the moment. Today we went to Brooklyn to Pier 6 to use its amazing water park and playgrounds. The photo above is taken from pier in Brooklyn looking over the East River to the tip of Manhattan. You can see One World Trade Center poking out high in the middle.

It’s a beautiful day today, around 31 degrees and perfect for a water park. Whoever is developing Brooklyn’s water line is doing a good job, this is the best kids water area I’ve seen so far and it’s completely free. But of course with free comes crowds. So many kids all having a fabulous time. Overall everyone is very well behaved and even the locusts from the camps are doing OK. J and E both enjoy it enormously in their own ways. I seek out shade and keep a watchful eye on the ever adventurous J. We only linger briefly in the slide playground as it’s just too hot and the slides are roasting. Check out the pictures on the Brooklyn Bridge Park website.

We pack a picnic and eat that watching the waterline: the Staten Island Ferry making its orange way across the water; the helicopters whirring around like wasps as they visit the Statue of Liberty; and the footballers playing in the midday sun on Pier 5.

And the greatest revelation was the walk from the subway. We get out at Borough Hall, the first stop in Brooklyn on the 4 and 5 line and walk down Joralemon Street. I was expecting industrial, faceless boring buildings. But no. It was beautiful. A quiet, sometimes even cobbled street, with tall townhouses in immaculate condition. Colourful flowers in pots everywhere and even a babbling pond with a frog! I was not expecting to find some fake NW3 in this part of NYC. It’s just lovely.


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Where have all the kids gone?

I probably mentioned this last summer, but I’m still surprised at how incredibly long US school summer holidays are, with private schools coming in at around 12 weeks. So from mid June to early September parents are expected to deal with their kids. Frankly I find this a bit terrifying coming from a country where summer holidays are 6 weeks long and in fact most state schools in the UK started their break today.

Here there is camp. I had seen various incarnations of camp in US films throughout the 80s and 90s with the infamous Band Camp from American Pie being the one that mostly comes to mind. Pretty much every kid here goes to camp. There are so many to choose from, with most large institutions like the Met, Guggenheim and Natural History Museum doing them and they are so popular they sell out months in advance. Most private schools have some kind of offering too. There are masses of sports camps run by leisure centres and other organisations. In Central Park you can’t help but trip over a camper or two, there are so many around.

As a mother of a 2.8 year old who likes to hang out in the playground, I don’t like camp. I don’t like the way that large groups of unruly camp kids descend on the playground like a plague of locusts with no regard for the resident toddler population. They scream, they run and they dominate. Time it right and you’ll miss them: they arrive in the mid morning and by midday are gone, some reappear later in the afternoon, but you can get some respite.

As a mother of an 8.5 year old I like camp. I like that she can do some new stuff with new kids in a new environment. E has been to camp out of the city, where they swam and did sport and art and had fun. She’s been to art camp at a major gallery working with staff who loved art and learning so much E came home bursting with enthusiasm and ended up showing me around the gallery. By the end of the summer she’ll have been one of the kids I trip over in Central Park and have spent time with professional cartoonists learning to hone her craft.

The downside about camp is the cost. My god it is expensive and ranges from $350 to $1000 a week. Many campers will spend 8 weeks at camp, which is prohibitively expensive, especially if you have more than one kid. But if you compare it with the cost of a nanny, who don’t usually look after older kids much anyway, it’s cheaper, but not much.

You have to accept that your kid will come home filthy, ruin their clothes and pick up new and mostly unpleasant habits from their new friends. They will be looked after by people not that much older than them – some look as young as 16 and this seems to be OK here. I am still not keen on this side of it.

But, as part of the overall NY experience, I wouldn’t have wanted E to miss any of it. Next summer we will be home and it will be 6 weeks in the UK and it will probably rain. A lot.


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Zombie moms

It is super hot in New York at the moment. Tuesday was the worst at 32 degrees. And it’s humid. And I’m wilting. I hang around in the playground in shorts, which is quite frankly a miracle for me. But it is unbearable to wear trousers, so I have accepted my legs and embraced them in their coolness.

At around 4pm on this hot, humid, clammy day the moms (that’s only because I’m talking about the US, not because I have gone native; far from it) started to appear out of nowhere. Now when I got to the park it was pretty empty, all the camp kids were elsewhere, the toddlers napping and everyone else more sensible in air conditioning somewhere. So this sudden slow emergence of women pushing buggies and forming a strange semi circle seemed a bit to Stepford Wives for me. They even started putting down picnic blankets on the hard concrete floor, which seemed odd to me.

Luckily my good British friend G was on hand to advise. Apparently the parks had advertised a bit of a sing song at 4pm and it was for all the moms and their babes. After a shaky start the singer started doing her thing and it was not good. I couldn’t hear her well, the amp wasn’t very powerful and quite frankly her stage presence, along with her dress sense, was distinctly lacking. Sorry parks, nice try, but I swiftly left the zombie moms and scarpered back to the air conditioning, stroppy sweaty toddler in tow – he seemed to quite like it. Must work on that one.


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The popularity of Peppa

My favourite episode of Peppa Pig is when Daddy Pig takes his book about concrete back to the library and sheepishly says “I may have had this for rather a long time.” To which Miss Rabbit, the librarian (and jack of all trades) responds after scanning the book and getting a loud alert sound, “Daddy Pig, you’ve had this book out for ten years!” Daddy Pig reddens in embarrassment and Miss Rabbit says “That’s alright, just don’t do it again”.  No fierce librarians in Peppa land.

This makes me and E laugh every time that we play the English DVD of Peppa Pig episodes. I had thought we had left this behind literally and metaphorically but with J reaching nearly two and a half, he has discovered the wonderful world of Peppa and I have gone back in time six years.

I share this because I take E’s Peppa Pig ball to the playground now. J loves it. And this has become a passport to conversations that start “where did you get that ball, X loves Peppa Pig!”  This is where I open my mouth, clearly demonstrating I am British and I am in. I am very popular. The ball is positively antique but here it is worth as much as one.

I have discovered that Peppa Pig is shown here but is dubbed with American voices! Why? Are the English voices that hard to understand? I don’t think the lovely Morwenna Banks would agree – she of the Mummy Pig and Miss Rabbit voices and partner of British comic, David Baddiel. Looks like I’ll be playing that ancient DVD for a while longer, I don’t think J would understand why Peppa is suddenly accentuating her Rs and replacing her Ts for Ds. And I don’t fancy it either.


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When is a museum not a museum?

Now there’s a question. I’ve been to a lot of museums in my life and I can safely say I would know I was in one, lots of old stuff sometimes behind glass, sometimes on the wall, sometimes on the floor, it’s not that hard. But here in New York they have purloined the word museum to mean something quite different. There are two examples of this that I’ve come across so far.

The Children’s Museum of Manhattan. Sounds like it’s full of old dolls, right? Wrong, it’s a giant play centre, guaranteed to induce a headache after about half an hour depending on how hyper the kids are that day. Over three levels, with the toddlers safely ensconced on the top floor, happily building blocks, climbing in and out of the fake bus and fire engine and playing shops with the plastic food. The second floor is an awful Dora the Explorer themed floor of horror that is frequently filled with local school classes, with kids around  6 years old, I’m guessing. Not for the faint hearted. And then the ground floor, supposedly for the older kid, but I doubt E who is about to be 8 years old, would want to spend any time there. It’s $11 a head and filled with bored looking child minders. Somewhere to go maybe once a month when it’s cold outside.

The second example is the Children’s Museum of Arts New York way down town in Greenwich Village. This probably has a greater claim on the word museum, but only just. It has an exhibition space with some stuff that’s mostly ignored by the visiting hoards. This place is much more hands on, with a great under fives artsy area filled with tables covered in play doh, painting, sticking, drawing and funky magnetic shapes. For the short attention span of your average 2 year old, it’s a great haven away from big kids. Beware the ball pond, which where I come from means vastly unhygienic pit filled with small plastic balls that your kids love and you hate. Here it meant a space filled with gym balls where I feared for J’s neck, ability to breathe and survive the whole experience. Not doing that again.

When I was there they had the Beatles playing on the speakers and I was humming away whilst building my magnetic house, which was promptly destroyed by J who had better ideas. I felt rather under dressed as the mums who were there from the neighbourhood are clearly a lot more fashionable than me – but then it is the home of Sarah Jessica Parker, I suppose.

I liked it, but it’s just too far to go for a bit of painting. But a bonus great large Pret a Manger just across the street for that well deserved sarnie and cuppa afterwards.