Our oldest is eight and a half. It’s a precious yet fleeting moment in time. She’s big enough to keep up with almost anything we do. I have a kid who can read Harry Potter, walk three miles, sing along with half the songs on the radio, and help with the dishes. It’s unreal. And while she’s so grown up, she’s also mercifully still little. I can hold her hand, scoop her into my lap, and she’d rather play board games with her parents than do most anything else. It’s a confluence of all the best stuff, and I know it’s not for long.
On one hand, she is the one we obsessed over from birth, talking about nothing but her, joking (but not joking) quietly between us that she was really far more spectacular in every way than those other kids at the playground. I mean we liked other kids. But our kid. She was really something.
On the other hand, since she was two, she has had competition. First, in the form of a little brother. And later, a baby sister entered the scene. So, the distinction of “first” is special. She made us parents. But it also comes with a lot of responsibility, and a lot of being set aside for a more needy younger sibling. It is a mixed bag to be sure. When the idea came up for my husband and me to spend a weekend in New York City, I am pretty certain my husband was hoping it would be an “A B” trip. You know, just the two of us, and the kids could “C” themselves out. Well, I had a different idea. And it turned out to be just what we all needed.
“Let’s take the big kid!” I said. Ever the trooper, he agreed and it was game on. We made plans to leave the two little ones with grandma. And for the first time since she was our only, we took a trip with the original trio. It wasn’t like trips I’ve had to NYC in the past, and it was not a romantic getaway. But it was so many other things: healing, reconnecting, horizon-expanding, and the gift of a few days that I’ll never forget as my Big Kid keeps getting bigger.
If you like this idea, here’s what I learned from it. And if you really, really like it, read to the end to steal our itinerary for your own Big (City) Kid Weekend.
Have goals in mind, but recognize you will need to cut losses here and there. Planning our days based on the geography of the city was very useful; you do not want to be doubling back in NYC multiple times in a day. We did have three fixed events, one Friday and two on Saturday. These kept up structured enough not to flounder, but left time in between to dawdle on park benches, get snacks, and skip a few of the lesser to-do’s.
I am grateful for my smart phone, no doubt. It helped me navigate in a pinch and provided valuable information on nearby amenities. But it could be easy to go all the way to the city only to end up in the same place you are when you curl up on your couch most nights. Even worse, the information overload of reviews coupled with the everything overload of NYC could suck you into a black hole. I had a hard copy (yep, real paper) with bullet points for the main things we wanted to see or do, and then a handful of nearby restaurants that I had pre-vetted. That way, we did not get lost in the limbo of too many choices. After all, there is no Shangri La. But there is a hangry eight year old.
My kid is super tough about walking, and walking fast. So I knew she would be good to go when it came to getting around. If I had brought my six year old son, however, I would have had to put a jet back on his butt to keep him moving.
I also realized quickly that this trip would not involve any real shopping. Not only does my daughter love to announce, loudly, that I should buy everything in every store, but if I do not agree she, more loudly, asks why I don’t like it or if it’s too expensive. It’s really fun to check out boutiques with her, obviously. So, I sighed, did one half hour tour of Zara, but other than that said goodbye to shopping. Well, except for the bookstore. That’s her one store-type that does not result in a bored and spastic child.
Which is to say, consider adjustments based on the unique traits of the kiddo. Make a plan that works with his or her best side.
Kids eat a lot. And when you truck them around a city, they are hungry all day long. We took to popping into little cafes and getting her stick-to-your-ribs snacks like whole wheat scones or baked mac and cheese. This significantly reduced whining levels.
Grand Central Station. We walked the many rooms and through the many corridors, gawking at the constellations painted on the ceiling and the 2,500 pound chandeliers. We tried to make use of the “Whispering Arch,” where two people can stand at opposite orders of archways, whisper into the wall and the sound will travel as if by magic to the listener. Or supposedly, anyways. Try as I might to shove her into a corner to listen to me from afar, this activity embarrassed her greatly. So I gave up. (See Tip #3.) Once we were ready to settle in, we sat at a bar in Vanderbilt Hall, enjoying some of the best porridge I’ve ever had at Grain Bar.
Walking to Penn Station. Wanting to take in the city, we hoofed it about two miles, winding from Grand Central to Penn Station. We went through Bryant Park, the New York Public Library, and wound around Madison Ave and 5 th Ave to scope out some of the big shops and excellent skyline views.
American Museum of Natural History (with Bonus Central Park Walk). At Penn Station, we hopped on the subway heading north to go to the Museum of Natural History. We ended up exiting one stop earlier than we needed to so that we could stroll up Central Park West, peering into the magical city oasis. We saw horse-drawn carriages, boats in the lake, and more dog walkers than you could shake a stick at. Grabbing lunch in the nearby and picturesque neighborhood, we fortified for our educational tour to come. After eating, we headed into the Museum of Natural History where we took the advice of friends and picked our destinations ahead of time. The place is as fantastical as it is enormous: a rudderless guest may end up everywhere and nowhere. Another tip: though the line for tickets was a mile long, we decided to try the empty “Member Kiosks” which were, very happily, for non-members too! And so we sailed right in.
Chinatown. I bowed out for dinner, opting to take the rare chance to meet up with a dear friend for a meal. But my husband and daughter went to Chinatown. They ate sushi – I know, sushi in Chinatown. But it was her one request for the trip, and so her sweet dad did not let her down. Afterwards, they perused the shops and streets, and then headed into the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for giant cones with one-of-a-kind flavors, like green tea with Oreos.
Brunch in West Village. Opting for a cab because of aching feet and a later-than-anticipated wake time, we three headed to Extra Virgin, an excellent brunch joint in a great neighborhood. We all ate too much and then walked it off, touring Bleecker Street and the surrounding areas, taking in yet another flavor of the city. We had planned to couple this with a walk on the High Line, but see Tip #1, above. High Line was cut for the sake of morale.
Strand Bookstore. Knowing we wanted to end up in the Lower East Side, we made a mid-point goal of walking to a huge independent bookstore. We wandered its three floors, all reverting temporarily to our natural states as introverts. I bought a few future Christmas presents, and the big kid got to select one new book to have then. She chose a graphic novel that she read no less than three times, cover to cover, before we even got home on Sunday.
Economy Candy. Thanks to another tip from a friend, we made our way into a wild candy shop called Economy Candy. Blaring television theme songs from the 1990s, and boasting a selection of every candy ever and then some, we filled our sack with Rolo, chocolate rocks, a giant gummy cheese burger, German dark chocolate, Kinder Bueno, and – for me – delicious Good and Plenty.
Pit Stop at City Green Space. We made it to the LES, and the kid needed a break. Breaking out the phone, I searched for “parks nearby” and found a huge green space that included a playground, public garden, and more. We ended up sitting in the M'Finda Kalunga Garden for about forty-five minutes. The kid, and the husband, ate candy and read. I ducked out to peek in a nearby independent toy store, PiccoliNY.
Tenement Museum. A number of friends suggested that we make time for the Tenement Museum, and I am so glad we did. It is run solely on guided tours that take you through the lives of one or more immigrant families that actually lived in the tenement housing. The apartments are amazing time capsules, and the stories provide a slice of history driven by names and faces. It was an experience that my husband and I enjoyed, and also captivated our daughter.
Russ and Daughters. Right around the corner from the Tenement Museum is a modern yet cozy, and off-the-charts fantastic Jewish deli. We all piled into a booth and shared matzo ball soup, pastrami-smoked salmon, blintzes, and more.
Times Square and Broadway: Once On This Island. After our bellies were full and we took in a thirty minute hotel respite, we were off to the big city lights. We decided to walk the mile and a half to the show because the transit options were not good. For our taste, this ended up being just enough of Times Square. We aren’t folks who do well in the kinds of malls with fluorescent lights, and where there are people who try to call you over to buy their wares. So, Times Square with its crushing density and blinding signage was a lot. But it was a sight to behold!
So after pushing our way through crowds, we ended up at our destination, Circle in the Square Theater. It was a smaller theater showing the 2018 Tony Award-winning show “Once On This Island.” A show of that magnitude, at a scale where we could see the actors’ faces and even hear their differentiated voices when they moved toward the aisles was a rare and powerful experience. I have never seen my daughter clap louder.
A Slice. On the way back to the hotel, we grabbed a couple slices of New York style pizza. We passed them around while lounging in our room, munching and reading, intermittently talking about the play. It was a great way to end the night.
Le Pain Quotidien. Our flight home was before noon, so we had enough time to grab breakfast and that was about it. We chose a known quantity: a place where we knew the food was good, the tables plentiful, and the service quick.
Home. We said goodbye to the city, hopped into a cab, and flew home. It was a short but epic trip. For the first time in a while, the three of us were alone, at ease, and connected. There was no talk of homework or chores, or of “why can’t you be nice to your brother?” At least for the moment. And we all needed that.
In need of some QT? Interested in a trip designed just for you and your special people? Reach out to Denver Date Nite for all your getaway plans.
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