The Planet New York

The alarm on Beth’s iPhone went off at 6:30 on the day after Christmas, or as Noah kept reminding us, “the first day of Kwanzaa and the second day of Christmas.” I’d just finished nursing June and she and I were just drifting back to sleep. Beth and Noah were asleep in the dark of an overcast late December dawn. Moments later, we were all stirring, getting ready for a quick trip to New York. We’d spent Christmas at my mother and stepfather’s house outside Philadelphia and we’d decided to make the short hop up to New York to see my father and take in twenty-eight and a half hours’ worth of kid-friendly sights.

Two hours later we left my mother’s house on foot, toting only what Beth, Noah and I could carry in our backpacks. We walked to the Lansdowne SEPTA station ( Noah, used to buying Metro cards from machines, wanted to know why we were going inside the station. Beth explained we needed to buy tickets from an agent, “like in Frosty.” (We’d just watched Frosty the Snowman a few days earlier.) Noah was eager to watch the transaction and went up to the window with Beth while I sat on the bench and June climbed up and down a short flight of stairs, announcing “I climb stairs,” in case anyone in the station had failed to notice. We told Noah that Pop, who now works full-time renovating his and my mom’s house, had renovated the station twelve years ago.

At 30th Street Station, Noah was not terribly impressed by the giant Christmas tree or the famous statue of the angel with the fallen soldier (, but he was entranced by the spinning rows of text on the Amtrak arrivals and departures board.

The train was crowded and we had to split up so I could find a forward-facing seat. (Riding backwards makes me violently ill.) Beth and Noah sat together and I took June further up the car. Once we were seated, June was simultaneously lulled by the movement of the train and excited by the novelty of the situation. She would lean against me and start to nod off, then stand up and look out the window. I pointed out the boathouses on the Schuylkill River ( and other notable sights. “I on train,” she commented repeatedly. About twenty-five minutes into the journey, she collapsed in my lap and slept the rest of the way to New York.

Reunited with Beth and Noah at Penn Station, I inquired about his train ride. He said they had done some Mad Libs and pretended the train was a space ship traveling to “the Planet New York.” On the subway trip to our hotel, Noah noted which parts of the galaxy we were visiting as the stations flashed by on the lighted route map.

Walking into the lobby with its Christmas tree, poinsettias and bowls of ornaments and gold-painted pine cones reminded me that in similarly decorated hotels in Chicago, approximately nine thousand academics would soon be descending on the Modern Language Association annual convention ( I’ve spent the days right after Christmas interviewing for jobs or moping because I wasn’t interviewing for jobs at this convention more years than I’d like to say. I pushed the thought aside. June’s enthusiastic bouncing on the hotel bed, her mad dashing around the room, her laughing and squealing “I too fast!” cheered me right up. I called my father and made plans to meet for dinner, and before Noah had a chance to whine “Why do I always have to sleep on the pull-out couch” more than a dozen or so times, we were off to grab lunch at a burrito place and go see the Statue of Liberty.

My father warned us this trip would take a long time and he wasn’t kidding. We took two subways down to the Statue. As we switched trains, we just missed hearing a violinist and a guitarist who were packing up to move to another car. We arrived at the Battery ( around two p.m.. There we admired a poster advertising plans for an aquatic carousel, skirted a rally, and got in a very long line that wound around Castle Clinton ( to wait for our tickets. About fifteen minutes into our wait, Noah decided to make a game out of it by having everyone guess how long it would be until we made it to the ticket counter. Noah, ever the optimist, guessed seven minutes. I guessed a half hour and Beth guessed forty-five minutes. Beth set the timer on her iPhone and Noah decided whoever made the closest guess could have the head of his chocolate reindeer. I pointed out that since it was already his, there was no provision for a prize for him if he won. He said he didn’t mind. I like things to be fair, but since I thought there was very little chance he’d need a prize, I let it go. While we waited in line, June napped in the stroller and we watched the entrepreneurs who had painted their skin green and donned robes to pose for pictures with tourists. Beth won the bet. It took forty minutes and twenty seconds from the time we set the timer to get to the ticket counter and complete our transaction. Once there, we learned you need special tickets to enter the statue so we’d only be able to ride the ferry to the island and see the statue close up. Noah was a little disappointed, but still excited to go. He’s been studying symbols of our country at school, which was the reason for the excursion.

It was a cold, damp day and we were chilled from standing in line, so it was actually a relief to go through security in the heated tent by the water. We caught the last ferry of the day, the 3:40, and sat on the top level, for the view and so I wouldn’t get seasick. After a scenic (and very windy) ride we arrived at the statue. She’s impressively large in person and really quite beautiful. We admired her and walked around the island. We paid a quarter for Noah to look through the telescope at the harbor, and then we got back in line for the 4:45 ferry. On the way back we opted for the heated lower level. We shared a warm soft pretzel, and Noah got a pair of Statue of Liberty sunglasses, much coveted by a little boy sitting near us.

Two subway rides later (trains #6 and 7 of the day), we met my father and stepmother Ann for dinner. Ann admired Noah’s new glasses and Dad asked me questions about Sensory Processing Disorder ( and how Noah was doing. (The answer is just fine now that he has more compatible teachers.) Service was a bit slow, which was fine, since we were exhausted from running around. It was nice to relax, eat our pizza and pasta, and chat. Once we’d finished our meal, though, we needed to hurry back to our hotel and get our worn out kids to bed.

The next morning we met Dad for breakfast at Alice’s Teacup ( I highly recommend this teahouse to anyone who, like Noah, adores Alice in Wonderland. Quotes from the book and photographs of people dressed as characters from the book adorn the walls. The bathroom walls are painted with scenes from the book. There’s also a library of kids’ books, so Noah spent much of the meal with his nose in a book about magical creatures. Every now and then he would regale us with facts about them. The Naga (,
for instance, is half-human, half-snake and causes floods when angered. “I think I worked for him once,” Dad commented. We feasted on crepes, waffles, scones, tea and coffee. Once everyone was sated, Dad took us to a toy store and let the kids pick out their Christmas presents. Noah got a pirate castle and June got some small stuffed animals (a bear in a chef’s apron and a snowman) and a bead maze. Dad, who’s an editor who comes in and out of retirement, had an appointment to discuss a job at an investigative journalism web site soon after, so we parted company.

Our next stop was Central Park. Both kids had been cooped up in trains or the stroller or standing in line and they needed to move. We entered the park at Strawberry Fields (, and looked at the Imagine Memorial, which was covered in evergreen boughs and roses arranged in a peace sign. Shortly after entering the park, we noticed June had lost her little chef bear. (We looked for it on the way back, but we never did find it.) We walked along the paths and clambered on the big rocks. “I climb dis!” I climb rock! I climbing!” June announced as Beth and I scrambled to make sure neither child fell off the wet boulders. We made it to the Bethesda Fountain (, which was turned off and Noah and June played inside its basin. We went under the arches of the terrace and admired the mosaics on the walls and ceilings. It was beautiful and smelled of urine.

It was time to head back to the hotel and check out. It had been misting all morning and on the way back it started to rain in earnest. Both kids are generally sturdy about being out in the cold and wet but June had soaked her feet in a puddle in the park and her face was getting wet and after a while she started to whimper. Then her whimpering turned to crying and as we wheeled her into the hotel lobby she was screaming. We had just enough time to change her diaper and her socks before grabbing our things and leaving the room. A desk clerk had called to inquire politely, “When will you be leaving?” so we needed to hustle. June had stopped crying, but we decided to warm up a bit in the lobby before going back into the rain. After we’d exhausted the kid-entertaining possibilities there, we shouldered our packs and left. Ducking into a near-by Starbucks, I noticed June had conked out during the short stroller ride there, so we decided to stay inside where it was warm and let her sleep a bit while we drank coffee and raspberry soymilk, did Mad Libs and watched New York walk by.

When the rain let up, we walked thirty-three blocks down Broadway to Times Square. At home in Washington, we can recognize the tourists because they block the walking side of Metro escalators. I think New Yorkers must recognize their tourists because we’re the ones blocking sidewalk traffic gawking up at the tall buildings. “Those are sky-scrapers!” Noah said in wonder. We stopped to read the news on the CNN building banner (all about Benazir Bhutto’s assassination), watched the ads on giant video screens and checked out the various theater marquees. Without having read any reviews, I was most intrigued by Mary Poppins and knowing how long some shows stay on Broadway, I made a mental note to keep it in mind if it’s still there when both kids are old enough to take in a show. I learned that there’s a whole store dedicated to M&Ms and M&M-themed products and a Hershey’s store across the street. I didn’t see it, but based on the number of eight to ten-year-old girls clutching dolls I think we must have been near the American Girl store. We frequently got separated in the crush of the crowd and June and I would have to wait for Noah and Beth to catch up. Beth reports that during one of their absences, Noah fell flat on his back on the sidewalk. This is not an unusual occurrence for him and he was apparently having a tactile under-sensitive day because he jumped back up without comment, spurring a teenage boy nearby to say, “Tough kid!” with some admiration. Near the end of our walk, I bought some warm nuts in a paper bag to much on while we soaked up the last few sights of our trip.

We got on the subway at 42nd Street, only eight blocks from Penn Station, but we were too tired to walk any further. In the café car of the Amtrak train, we did Mad Libs, snacked on leftover pizza and potato chips and took turns trying on Noah’s Statue of Liberty glasses as we sped away from the Planet New York.