What taking bites out of the Big Apple is teaching me
Updated: Feb 28
The kids and I continue to take bites out of the Big Apple and I don’t believe anything could have really prepared me for what an experience it has been. In the space of just under a week I feel like we have learnt and experienced so much. New York is an incredible city and the bites we have taken are few. In fact after four really full on days, we had a designated day of rest today. Being a Monday we still had work and school to do and being a normal day we were still up at 6am walking .
We also had to walk to the Post Office to send the kids first month of school work home so it was not like we lay like vegetables on the floor. But I did decide due to the fact that I was bone weary that we would not venture into New York City today but rather have the afternoon off. From the moment I woke up I was excited about the thought of an afternoon snooze, just me, my book, Huck and some serious napping. The kids were delighted with the opportunity to lounge around on the floor for a few hours watching netflix or whatever it is they watch. In fact when we returned home from the walk to the Post Office and supermarket at about 2.30, as soon as we walked in the door Rissie cried with glee, “Don’t worry about lunch Mummy, you go have a sleep, we can have ice-cream and corn chips for lunch. That is so easy to do. Go to sleep Momma.”
She sounded so delighted I did not have the heart or energy to contemplate cutting up some carrots and giving them some hummus to dip into. Instead Huck and I headed for bed and I don’t believe I even pretended to read. I was out like a light for a very serious, much needed afternoon snooze. Being a day of rest, in terms of not venturing into the big city, I have had the chance to contemplate a few lessons that I have learnt on the road in the last week.
Wherever you visit a new place expect things to be different.
I know that sounds like stating the fucking obvious but I don’t think you prepare for how different things can be. The water goes in a different direction down the sink. You walk on the other side of the footpath. You have to get used to looking the other way for traffic when crossing the road and feminine hygiene products are different. Yes, you got it right. I said feminine hygiene. I hate that terms so much I almost love saying it. Bit like vagina and vulva. I actually can’t bring myself to use the word vulva in a sentence. There is no need and as soon as I think it I also imagine a really big old-fashioned white volvo sedan and I am incapable of using the word without sniggering. No wonder the kids like fart jokes so much. The only reason I use the word vagina now is that for the first five years of Archie and Rissie’s life I referred to their bits as “Tinkerbell” and “Winky”. Such happy lovely little names. I thought it was absolutely fine until Rissie’s kindergarten teacher suggested that it was probably time that I used the correct wording for some parts of the anatomy as discussions about Tinkerbells could get out of hand. So now we proudly use the names Vagina and Penis. I can even do it now without cringing. Almost.
I realised on the way to the subway the other day that I needed to go take advantage of the Feminine Hygiene Products. I am obviously not going to state the reason why, I am not stating the bleeding obvious. (Ha!) Anyway, I found my favourite aisle, that of ‘Feminine Hygiene’ and I was stopped in my tracks. I mean, I know that everything is bigger and better in the USA but seriously how much bigger do you need to get. I could not for the life of me find a little pack of tampons. There were boxes that had in big highlighted writing, “FOUR MONTHS SUPPLY”. Why the fuck would anyone want to take a four month supply in their handbag?
At this rate I was going to need a separate backpack for my tampons. I was looking for the little two pack packets that I was used to at home. The ones that broke in half and slipped discretely into your handbag even though the stupid packaging was so distinct that as soon as you pulled the box out of your bag, it was immediately apparent what you were going to do. Awkward as Rissie would say. Anyway I eventually found the smallest box I could find that only set me back the equivalent of $15 Australian dollars. But it was a very good reminder to remember the rule to expect things to be different when you travel.
My cousin Liza who has recently traveled from Mexico to Cuba to Costa Rica actually warned me if you are a bullet type of girl, when it is your time of the month, that in some countries that option is not readily available. I can not think of the other option in Costa Rica. For some reason it make me think of crocodiles and I am not interested in attracting or talking about crocodiles.
Travelling with young kids makes everything different.
I have no idea what teenagers are like as I do not have them. Nor do I think I like them very much, so at present I am only really talking about myself and Archie and Rissie. Two little eight year olds. Their legs aren’t as long as mine. They are short. If a world is overwhelming for me, then chances are it is doubly so for them. They get tired. Unlike adults they can’t compartmentalise it as well as we can. I had a long list of things planned for our time in New York and to be honest doing anything more than 1 or 2 things a day is completely out of the fucking question. I actually don’t know what I was thinking. Their attention spans are shorter than mine and considering they only get to see above waist height I can only imagining how challenging walking through a place as chaotic as Times Square would have been.
I have always had a problem with the idea of cling on kids. When I see children draped over their parents at dinner parties or sitting next to them, almost on their laps (even thought they are 17), it makes me get itchy and want to slap things. I like my space. I love my kids, I hug them, kiss them and do lots of things that make them realise they are the centre of my universe but physically I like my space and distance. I don’t think it is necessary to sit on the couch together when we watch tv and under no circumstances do I want any of their body parts touching mine if I am eating dinner or at a table with other adults. In fact at moments like that I prefer them in the other room.
But now all of a sudden I have cling on kids. We hold hands constantly, the roads are so overwhelming and some of the intersections so frightening that their hot little hands are on me all the time. We somehow maneuver through subway changes connected to each other. On train rides they fall asleep on me, sweating on me and breathing hot air on me. In busy attractions I keep them close ensuring that I have never been touched so regularly by my children’s skin. And it is hot, really hot. And they sweat. And I am sweating. It is all so fucking hot and sweaty. I have little cling ons. I never thought I would say it. But I have cling ons. I only have to see the look on their faces when they get separated and I can being to understand how the world is pretty full on from their vantage point. We got separated crossing a road near Times Square and Rissie literally dissolved into terrified tears. I was back to her within a few seconds but for now, they need that constant reassurance and as much as it makes me itchy and edgy I keep on hanging on.
I don’t like the Big Attractions.
Don’t get me wrong. Being on the Empire States Building was amazing. Seeing the Statue of Liberty was incredible. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge reduced me to tears. Whatever other big ticket items we do will be amazing. I genuinely could not think of visiting a city like New York City without seeing those places. But I don’t think I like them and if I am completely honest, I don’t think I enjoy them. They are crowded. They are filled with pretty ugly tourists. I am sorry to say that tourists in bulk bring out the worst in people. Ugly tourists do not discriminate with race, creed, religion, sex, nationality. Whatever. Huge numbers of tourists are pretty ugly. They are rude, pushy, aggressive, arrogant, and generally think whatever nationality they are is the best.
They also all seem to forget that magic creed of those visiting a strange land, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’. In the last four days I think I have seen more rudeness from so many varied people than I ever want to again. I would have liked to have sat on the top of the Empire States Building and contemplated Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant or Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks but you are pushed, shoved and assaulted with all sorts of strident voices basically telling each other how great they are. I got the kids a great little spot on the front of the boat on the way to Liberty Island, (all the seats were taken) and as we approached the island these rude aggressive fuckers simply came in and pushed the kids away.
The big tourist traps also come complete with gift shops. I really hate gift shops. We are traveling on a budget and if I have the money for something I would rather buy the kids an ice-cream or splurge on lunch somewhere but buying things at overpriced gift stores is not an option. Rissie in particular loves a good gift shop. When we were contemplating what time the ferry left from Liberty island her little brow furrowed and she asked me if she would have time to visit the gift shop. She has a little bit of her own money that she carries around in her wallet with sweaty little anxious hands and I hate seeing her little face wander around the store checking out the prices. I want to shake her by her shoulders and say, ‘don’t do it Rissie, don’t fucking do it,’ but she has to learn. So she goes in and she spends 10 minutes looking at crap and she does the maths and realises that her money is not going to go far. I hate them. But then on the other side of the coin it opens up a whole world of appreciation when we find a postcard stand that sells 10 postcards for a dollar! I loved Rissie and Archie discussing how it was incredible that they had just discovered this unbelievable bargain. Can you imagine, 10 postcards for a whole dollar!
Don’t get me wrong. Our days have been amazing and action packed and the city is truly incredible. Our favourite day thus far has been the day when we walked the High Line, which was something I had never heard of, wandered through Chelsea, got off the beaten track, found a restaurant that I went to many years ago that held dear memories for me and ended the day browsing through books at an incredible book store. It made my little black heart beat with joy when the kids worked out the maths and realised they could afford to buy a book and then they told me that it was their favourite day yet. Me too. Best day ever. It made me realise that you could fall in love with a place when you made it a little bit your own. That was my day. Doing my thing. Yes the High Line was crowded, the book store was packed but there were no tourists being obnoxious in Tortilla Flats and I felt like I was traipsing my own little path that day. I also felt it was the happiest and most relaxed the kids and I had been in New York City.
I also learnt this week that I really hate selfie sticks. I have been clobbered on the head at least five times this week by fucking selfie sticks. They also make people look like self-obsessed egotistical narcissists. I spit on your selfie sticks.
The final thing is that I keep looking forward to what should happen next and it is a bad habit. I am going to stop it. Bit like contemplating what you are having for dinner when eating lunch. I found myself planning tomorrow whilst barely starting today. I was wondering if we would cope in Atlanta whilst dealing with New York. I would wander about our challenges and crocodiles in Costa Rica whilst I was dealing with selfie sticks on Liberty Island and I was forgetting all about right bloody now. When I woke up this morning, wondering if it was feasible if we should have a rest day I saw a post on Facebook about the words “Life is a Dance” by Alan Watts. I have never heard of the bloke before but it resounded with me so much. Basically in summary, we forgot that life is a dance and should be played like music, it should not be work and we are sometimes so busy looking at the finish line and worrying about the next goal that we forget, quite simply to enjoy the dance.
It was exactly what I needed to hear. We took a day of rest. We did our work and school work, then walked Huck to the Post Office. I got the kids a donut and we walked slowly home in some blissful rain. I snoozed, the kids made their own lunch of chips and ice-cream and hung out with Huck when he was not snoozing with me. For dinner we cut up carrots and ate hummus and of course sorbet. I have given up cooking at the moment whilst it is hot and our days are so busy. Then Huck joined the kids and I for a bed-time story. When I said goodnight to Archie and Rissie they told me it was the 2nd best day in New York so far. Day one was the first day we made New York a little bit our own.
For the next week I am contemplating Central Park. It might take us a day, it might take us two. I am just going to continue taking little bites out of the Big Apple. I have a feeling that a little bit of my New York will be in there.