nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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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.

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The politics of Thomas

Sodor is here in New York, well in the massive bookshop near us. They have thoughtfully put two raised train tracks into a corner of the children’s department and it is a mecca for the under twos. Picture a scene of convivial play with Thomas and friends? Err, no. It’s a battle scene of territory, politics and general infant angst. Some fierce negotiation was taking place when I was there between a mother, her crying child and another who was upset at the loss of his train. The shop does supply trains but, as one weary assistant told me, they always disappear – in fact I found one in an entirely different section of the shop later on. I saw children nibbling on books for sale, I’m not sure this is quite what this shop wants, but no one seemed to mind. Why do people bring their kids to this anxiety ridden place? Simple. It is free. There are so many activities for the under twos in New York but they are incredibly expensive – you’re looking at around $40 per 45 minute session and you have to sign up to a semester – around 17 weeks. It’s a massive commitment in terms of money and given how much children change at this age, are they really going to want to do the same thing week after week for this long? The New York Public Library branches put on toddler sessions which I am yet to brave, but at least there the books are meant to be used and you don’t mind so much if it is a little nibbled when it’s free.