An Introduction to The Big Apple: Our Kids' First Experience in NYC

A few weeks back, we listed out five spots we wanted to return now that we’re living in the Northeast.  I guess we can check one off the list.

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The fascination started about a month ago for our girls.  

They were up in their room practicing Caroline’s Kindergarten Graduation rendition of “First Grade, First Grade” set to the tune of “New York, New York”.  After I astonished them by singing along, I told them that this song was originally written about New York City, and I played the following youtube video for them:

Caroline’s response:  “Wow.  New York looks so big…it looks like Tokyo”.

While Jessica and I have been to New York numerous times over the years, it’s never worked out in the past to bring the kids.  For their part, they’ve known for a while that a move to Connecticut meant that New York City (until now a relatively vague concept in their minds) would be close by, but the video made it that much more real for them.

When we announced last Friday night that New York was our next day’s destination, their eyes lit up in anticipation as they went off to bed.

Early the next morning, we strapped the kids into the minivan in their pajamas and set out from our home in Connecticut.  Their overwhelming desire to see the “Statue of Livverty” made that our rallying point for the day, but our afternoon plans in Prospect Park and the far more reasonable price of parking across the East River made Brooklyn our initial destination.

What better introduction to New York City for the kids than a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.  Crossing THAT bridge and approaching the immense Manhattan skyline was a special moment for them.  For the girls, the highlight was catching their first glimpse of that far-off, green statue in the harbor (with Juliet sincerely asking, “Mom, Is the Statue of Liberty made of Liberty?”) while Miles just enjoyed the chance to get out of the stroller and run for a while.  The kids stopped at both towers to enjoy the view, made many a bike rider wary with their unpredictable movements, and looked down in fascination at the cars passing below their feet.  After hearing about 1,000 shouts of, “kids, stay to the left”, they all found themselves standing on Manhattan Island after a walk of a little over a mile.

Moving from one of the city’s venerable monuments to its most recent, our kids ran around, hung on railings and took in the sights at The Oculus, Santiago Calatrava’s striking new mall/transit station at the rejuvenated World Trade Center complex, before a stop at Shake Shack, our favorite burger joint. 

Even though Shake Shack has opened locations in two of our last three hometowns (London and Phoenix) while we were living there, we still remember when their only locations were in Manhattan, and we feel the call when we return. 

With the kids now filled up on hot dogs and fries, we were ready for the main event.

When talking about Statue of Liberty views, we strongly recommend the free views from the Staten Island Ferry over a trip to the island itself or one of the expensive Statue cruises that are hawked all over Lower Manhattan.  Even though the elevator on the Staten Island side of the harbor was broken and we literally couldn’t figure out how to leave the terminal with our double stroller, we turned right around and had a great experience back on the ship.  While further explorations of the Staten Island will have to wait until a later date, the girls made their way up to the railing and got their up close and personal time with Lady Liberty on the out-and-back trip.

After the ferry, we made arrangements to meet Jessica’s cousin and her 7-year old son in Prospect Park in the afternoon, and Miles woke up just in time to yell, “chugga chugga, chugga chugga, choo choo” all the way to our stop in Park Slope.  This boy loves trains, and the 15 minutes we spent underground were much more than a means to an end for him.

The kids had begun to slow down a bit, but seeing their cousin for the first time in a year was exactly what they needed to find their second wind.  Prospect Park was buzzing on a warm late Spring afternoon, and the kids fit right in.  An initial session of running and playing in The Long Meadow led to an “adventure hike” that wound through the park.

I’d heard great things about Prospect Park, but this expanse of green in the middle of Brooklyn did not disappoint.  It not only proved the perfect setting for a picnic, but by the time we walked from one end to the other, we’d seen several waterfalls, a large meandering lake, a neoclassical boathouse, and numerous climbing trees that proved too tempting for our crew to resist.  Even with all the time that we spent there, we really just scratched the surface, and I'm sure we'll be back for further adventures.

A promised layover for ice cream on the way back to the car was our last stop before loading up the minivan and making our way back home.  It had been a full day, and all three children were asleep by the time we hit The Bronx. 

To be honest, sometimes our days on the road don't quite live up to our initial high hopes.  Sometimes it’s the weather.  Sometimes it’s the kids.  Sometimes it’s just circumstance or luck that causes the best laid plans to derail.  Sometimes you can build things up so much that the result seems destined to disappoint in hindsight.

This, however, was not one of those days.  The kids achieved their goal of seeing the Statue of Liberty, they got to ride on both a boat and a train (always a win in this group), they got to see a favorite cousin again, and even in this crowded city, they found some space to stretch their legs and run.  It was a great day.  Their acquaintance made, The Big Apple made a big impression on the kids, and they’re already looking forward to their next visit.

It was only on the way back to the car that Juliet found some time for disappointment in something that felt she'd missed:

J:  “But daddy, you haven’t even shown us New York, New York yet”.

Me:  “What do you mean?  This is all New York, New York”

J:  “No it isn’t.  I mean New York, New York, the building…like the one in Nevada”

I guess there is going to be a bit of a learning curve for this move after all.