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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What to do in minus 2 when you’re 2

Gawd it’s cold today. Clear sky and well below zero with a cutting wind when you least expect it. Here is my guide for what to do when it’s blooming cold and you have a fractious 2 year old:

  1. Take him to an indoor gym class but make sure you’ve been before and he doesn’t have a massive melt down because he can’t rampage where he wants; this lasts ten minutes and you have to leave.
  2. Trek down to the Central Park Zoo with your trusty annual pass; a dead cert for an hour’s entertainment in the children’s petting zoo.  Today it’s your own private zoo because no bugger else is mad enough to be there. Spend 50 cents on some animal pellets to feed the goats and bribe them out of their warm sheds. Leave after 15 minutes including bathroom break where you have to tear him away from playing with the taps in the toddler sized sinks.
  3. Move on to the main zoo and check out the ducks and attempt to see the penguins inside their dark room, but freak out your 2 year old with the too dark room and leave with him in tears. Console him with seeing the seals being fed but fail because all he wants to do is get back in the buggy and be grumpy.
  4. Wrest straps onto your 2 year old and bundle up short of suffocating him to ensure he doesn’t freeze on the trek home. Walk through Central Park in the glorious December sunshine, waiting for the warmth to appear in your frozen fingers. Think happy thoughts about hot tea and sitting reading the paper when he’s asleep.
  5. He’s fallen asleep. It’s just gone midday and you are near the Met so take a gamble and put thoughts of reading the paper to the back of your mind for an hour’s browsing without stressing out whether your 2 year old will knock over some priceless antiquity.
  6. Check out the Carlo Scarpa Venetian glass exhibition and marvel at the fact you actually found it in the Met because it is so buried in the bowels of the place. Gaze admiringly at the incredible work of this artist and curb your urge to touch everything because it’s so wonderfully tactile (it’s stuck behind glass, which helps with the restraint). Take photos and get told off. Try not to forget to wheel the buggy as you go so as to prevent having a 2 year old as a bomb risk (especially thinking of this as you are far into Donna Tartt’s new book ‘The Goldfinch’ which is partly based in the Met and is a great read).
  7. And finally, with your 2 year old still asleep and still breathing, wander home via Dean and Deluca to get that well deserved luxury lunch to munch at home.

 

I should write guide books.


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Stoop stories

Stoop isn’t a word I’d used before I lived in NYC. I knew of it because I’d watched Sex and the City and seen Carrie Bradshaw sitting the steps outside her building, smoking a cigarette and watching the world go by. The stoop is those steps. It’s the steps up to a ‘walk up’, which is mostly a four storey building with an apartment on each floor. Originally many of these would have been single family homes, but in more recent years they’ve been divided up into apartments. They line the streets of Manhattan and make you feel like you’re really in New York when you walk down one.

I write about this simply because I took a walk around the block with J, who is now nearly 21 months, and he likes to walk without his buggy. It took us an hour to walk not very far because when you’re that age, everything is interesting. Everything is a place to run your 1970’s-style matchbox car. And just after the rain storm of this morning, lots of people are sat on their stoop, escaping from the non air conditioned oppression of their own apartments and enjoying a dry moment in the open air. J enjoys this. He walks up the steps and sits with random men, mostly men, to say ‘hi’ and show them his car. We chat, they share. We remark on his hair colour and mine, his size, my accent and then move on and repeat it on the next stoop stop. I think this is the friendliest I’ve seen Manhattan so far. And this is reassuring, as according to a survey I read the other day, New Yorkers are the rudest people in the US. I’d agree mostly, but today, I just enjoy the friendliness and the joy of having a toddler.


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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.