Monday, July 27, 2015

Blame it on the train

Even though it was the most efficient way to travel around the city, the kids grew weary of the subway after the first day of our trip. There were several reasons for this--our apartment was practically in Connecticut, so every morning we got on the train for approximately fourteen hours to get downtown. Also, Ryan and I turned into total assholes every time we went down those sticky stairs, barking orders like "Keep walking please!" "Get behind the red line!" and "DON'T EAT THOSE OH MY GOD!!" And there's the little matter of no one liking having to spend time in a urine-scented oven just to go home. Ryan and I were happy enough with the situation, but the kids were having fantasies of being swept away in our roomy, private, air-conditioned minivan where strangers don't yell at you for looking at them.

I didn't realize how weary they were until we were walking to the train on our last day after a last-minute jaunt through the northwestern corner of Central Park and we told Wes with great enthusiasm that we were going to be taking a train from the city to Maine! His little shoulders slumped and he groaned "Oh MANNNN!"

Aside: Central Park was gorgeous. Wish we could have spent more time.


We pressed on, down into the subway, across town to Penn Station, then through the labyrinth to the Amtrack waiting area where we learned our train would be about an hour behind schedule. We spent this time eating bagels and black and white cookies (the two last items on my New York food bucket list). Charley and Wes enjoyed a safety video that was playing on a big screen TV because it was a screeeeeen. Ryan got yelled at by an old lady who wanted Mary to be wearing shoes, even though she took them off and threw them every time we put them on, and James and Mary had a screaming fight that Mary started by using her bagel to stamp cream cheese circles all over James's sweatshirt.

I was so relieved when we finally got on the train (still in the station underground, at this point I hadn't seen daylight in three hours and wasn't sure we even had a sun anymore) and settled into our seats. I handed out postcards and pencils so everyone could write to a friend back home, settled Mary into a seat, and sat down to read my magazine.


This cozy scene lasted for about nine minutes.

Then people started getting restless. We did a lot of things. We went for walks up and down the train. We played with the bathroom doors. Mary FINALLY took a nap. Charley read Harry Potter. Wes wrote three postcards to his friend Victoria. We stopped at every single tiny town in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Right before we arrived in Back Bay Station, where we would have to change TRAIN STATIONS via either subway or cab IN BOSTON, Mary FLIPPED THE EFF OUT. Ryan had just run to the back of the train car to get something James had left behind and Mary was SCREECHING HER HEAD OFF AT FULL VOLUME and I was trying to figure out with Ryan whether we were supposed to get off at Back Bay Station or at South Station. This meant that I was YELLING over the heads of a train car full of people and over Mary's hysterical screaming "IS IT HERE OR SOUTH STATION WHERE WE GET OFF?!!" Meanwhile, I was trying to gather all of our crap into the two strollers and keeping the kids from flying headlong into a commuter's lap because of the motion of the train. I have never been so happy to get off a train in my life.

It was hellish, but we were back in the land of stroller-friendly transit and there was a beautiful air-conditioned elevator waiting just on the other side of the platform.

When we got out of the elevator we had fifty minutes to get to North Station to catch our next train. We (literally) ran to a cab, threw all our crap in the trunk, then got in (I got in the FRONT this time, so Ryan could deal with Mary. I was NOT going to relive the cab ride to the World Trade Center Memorial. There was a lot of screaming. That soundproof plexiglass is remarkable). It was an absolutely gorgeous, though stressful drive through Back Bay with an infuriating number of stoplights and buses and traffic jams. Once we arrived at North Station we jumped out, reassembled all the crap, buckled two screamers back into their strollers, hastily paid the driver and then the four of us plus two strollers RAN, Amazing Race-style, through the station, out onto the platform (where a sign indicated that our train was BOARDING) stopping only to hike up the waistband of my jeans which were falling down around my hips, we all ran into the first train car we saw then worked our way back through another four cars until we found an empty bank of seats.


There was some jockeying to determine who got to ride in the seats that moved backwards, but eventually we settled down and the train started moving. Now we only had FOUR MORE HOURS until our stop.

Thirty minutes in Ryan took the kids to buy candy in the dining car because that seemed like a fun and distracting thing to do. When he came back he brought me a mini bottle of wine and a klassy plastic cup to drink it in. I thanked him loudly and profusely and noticed the mother of the family sitting next to us staring daggers at her husband. THAT'S RIGHT, LADIES, HE'S MINE! I think the wine really turned the trip around for me because soon we were playing the alphabet game and loudly cracking jokes together. Ryan took Mary for a walk. Everything was fun again. Woo hoo trains!

And then I looked out the window and noticed that the train must have been in a school zone because it was going about twenty miles per hour. After maybe thirty minutes (Not sure? Time had ceased to have meaning by this point?) the conductor came on the intercom and told us some nonsense about signals and track speed and delays. Also they had to come to a complete stop before all railroad crossings. Somebody. Kill. Me.

Eventually, all the commuters were gone and all that was left in our car were us and another family with similarly-aged kids. The girls in the family organized a cute game of telephone in the baggage area of the car.


They played quietly and nicely like this for nearly an hour before the grouchy conductor came through, seemingly unaware of the TWO EXTRA HOURS these kids had spent on the train than expected and the MAGICAL MIRACLE that they were all sitting down and playing quietly, and barked "WE NEED TO KEEP THIS AISLE CLEAR" and moved on to the next car.

What happened next was TOTAL PANDEMONIUM. Telephone turned into climbing the luggage racks, running up and down the aisle, and crawling under the seats playing hide and seek. Ryan and me and the other parents stood and tried to maintain some semblance of order, but the kids were FRIED. Mary kept falling and hurting herself, which had nothing to do with the train since we were going TWENTY MILES PER HOUR, and then SCREAMING FOR DEAR LIFE. James asked every question in the universe of the unsuspecting grandma from the other family. Wes and Charley and the two girls from the other family hid in various parts of the car.

Shortly before we arrived at the station someone poked his head out of the bathroom and yelled across the whole car "I HAD A POOP ACCIDENT". Ryan went off to deal with that then came out and said "I'm going to need wipes and I don't know if this (new package) is enough." Then he came out and asked if we had any extra shoes. He patched the kid up as best he could in the gross train bathroom then collapsed into one of the seats.

At last we arrived at our station in Maine. At TEN O'CLOCK AT NIGHT. The dirty clothes bag exploded as we got off the train. I numbly scooped my underpants back into the basket of the stroller and pressed on through the heavy RAIN (BECAUSE OF COURSE). We were very happy to see the car. VERY VERY HAPPY TO SEE A CAR and buckle Mary into a carseat for the first time in four days. OMG HOW I LOVE CARSEATS.

We took a happy car selfie and began driving to our house.


Fifteen minutes later, the same kid who had pooped all over the train bathroom complained of feeling carsick.

Two minutes after that the complaining became more urgent and then the kid PUKED ALL OVER THE BACKSEAT.

I pulled into the first gas station I saw and ran inside for paper towels only to discover that both bathrooms WERE LOCKED. I helped myself to a large roll of paper towels behind the counter while Ryan extricated the vomit-soaked child from the car. While Ryan scrubbed down the back seat I helped the poor vomit soaked child change his entire outfit OUT ON THE SIDEWALK OF THE GAS STATION then wrapped him in a blanket. The attendant helpfully offered use of the OUTDOOR faucet if we needed it and also gave us an entire sheaf of plastic bags in addition to the paper towels "just in case" (please don't come back in here). Charley helpfully refused to sit next to the thrower-upper which meant we had to rearrange all the seats before we could go. There was one more "incident" by the time we got to our house, but fortunately we had all those bags and it was contained.

Did I mention that the thrower-upper had eaten a handful of jelly beans OFF A NEW YORK STREET CORNER that morning? OMG SERIOUSLY.

As crazy as our trip was (would have been just as crazy by car, I am certain) WE MADE IT and I am so glad we are here. We are having the best time. And we are flying home on Saturday. In an airplane. And I will never complain about buckling the kids into the van AGAIN.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Day Three: The kids HIT THE WALL

On our first day in New York, while we were walking to our brewpub late lunch, I spotted the restaurant from Seinfeld across the street. After some Googling confirmed that it was THE ACTUAL PLACE, we decided to have breakfast there on the third day of our trip. It was only three blocks from the apartment but the kids were extra silly that day and also they hadn't eaten so it took us a while to get there, but it was all of our favorite meal of the trip.



Two nights of limited sleep meant the restaurant manners were kind of a problem. Charley couldn't stop loud-talking about how much he was enjoying his French toast and James started his meal by picking up his whole short stack and eating it like a hamburger with syrup dripping off all the sides. Meanwhile Wes was using a knife to eat butter directly from the packet and Mary was lying on her back with her bare feet up against a window. Everyone complained loudly that there were no free refills on orange juice. Ryan and I kept our blinders on and drank as much coffee as possible then left a very generous tip.

Ryan was hoping we'd empty the whole thing of syrup, which is hilarious because at home he is the Syrup Police. When Wes, who had already put a healthy amount on his pancakes, complained that he couldn't "see his syrup anymore" Ryan piped up, "Well let's get you some more, Buddy!" It started out full, so we put a pretty good dent in it.


Beyond being the Seinfeld restaurant, Tom's was a GREAT place. It's been open for SEVENTY YEARS. The food was great and reasonably priced and our waitress, though intimidating at first with her authoritative bearing, was INCREDIBLY NICE AND PATIENT with the kids (although after I ordered the third kid an orange juice she stopped me and said sternly in a Greek accent "Is OK. Everybody get juice.").

Afterward we were crossing the street when I looked up the street and noticed this massive Gothic cathedral a few blocks away and decided to go see it.


On the way from the awesome, cozy diner breakfast to the gorgeous Gothic cathedral we stopped into a bookstore to browse and I realized that NEW YORK IS MY DISNEYWORLD. Also, this is my book-browsing face.


Ryan likes to take pictures of us walking down the street.


We all spent a lot of time just looking UP in the cathedral. It was incredible.


Mary provided for scale.


We looked at a great photography exhibit of the Dali Lama and a moving video art installation related to Occupy Wall Street and other global populist movements. Charley and I spent a long time reading and thinking about a quotation inscribed on the tomb of an old bishop of the church before Charley shifted back into eight-year-old mode and said "Wait. Is there a DEAD BODY in there?! Coooooooool" and the moment passed. This visit was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I could have stayed longer, but Mary had other plans. And you know what? When your kid has a freak out in the chancel area it is a long, LONG way to the back door. A long ECHOEY way.


We got out the back door just in time for James to announce that he needed to potty. Ryan took him back in and the rest of us got to read on the steps for a while.

The plan for the rest of the day was to go see the Highline, the elevated park built on an old train platform that snakes its way down the west side of the city. We couldn't find a close subway stop, which meant lots of walking, but we did find a grocery store halfway there and spent about thirty minutes looking for picnic items and enjoying the air conditioning. After that we found the Highline, but Ryan wanted to find an entrance with an elevator and after walking five blocks to the closest elevator entrance we found it was out of order and we had to carry the strollers up the stairs anyway. I was not a happy camper. But the park itself is really neat. It snakes its way between buildings on either side and has beautiful wildflowers planted everywhere.

We were thirsty thirsty friends.


Lots of neat views.


Interesting architecture.


We had our picnic on a bench in the shade and were just about to go back down the elevator (we found one) when we happened upon a public Lego project. The kids added to the Lego city for nearly an hour.


The Lego project really saved the day for me. The park is amazing and the scenery is really beautiful, but it was just SO FREAKING HOT. Luckily on the walk back to the subway we found these crazy air vents that were shooting freezing air-conditioned air out onto the sidewalk. They stayed like this for a very long time. Honestly it was really hard to tear ourselves away.


Next we headed to Brooklyn to a pizza restaurant a friend recommended and a public art exhibit/fountain/splashpad a different friend recommended. The kids were SQUIRRELY by this point, but somehow we managed to get everyone from the subway to the restaurant where a caricature of an old world Italian New York restaurant owner came outside, saw us, and exclaimed (in front of a line full of people waiting for a table) "I want to get zee kids out of zee heat. Yous come in and sit down." We bucked the entire line. The menu was really just a list of toppings and lots of declarations of "We only take cash!!!" and, sadly, "Liquor License Pending". We ordered a cheese for the kids and a basil and tomato for us and they brought us a pitcher of water and things were starting to get better but still, honestly, the kids were kind of TERRIBLE at this place. BUT AT LEAST THE FOOD WAS GOOD!


Ryan asked for the check and the waiter showed us a secret back door so we could GTF out of there and stop 1)trying to play with the ATM, 2)spill things, and 3)pick on Mary until she screams anymore, at least not in the restaurant. Two hot trudgy blocks later we were finally at Brooklyn Bridge Park where three of the kids enjoyed playing in the fountain and one kid had a huge freakout over something insignificant that he probably doesn't remember. The view from the park was awesome.


Fortunately, the park was right next to the landing for the water taxi, so we didn't have to walk back up Hot Death Hill to the subway stop. Wes called the water taxi the "Daredevil Boat" because it was FLYING. It literally had us across the Hudson in three minutes, barely long enough for us to scramble up to the top deck to see the view. It was taking the corners so fast James was almost thrown across the deck. Then it took us so long to get back down to the bottom that we had to fight through a throng of commuters to get back up the dock. (Wes's shirt was so wet and muddy after the splash pad he wouldn't put it back on.)


I thought we were going to go back to the apartment, but we decided at the last minute to go to the World Trade Center memorial because we figured we'd regret not going later, so that is how I found myself explaining September 11th to Charley and Wes in the back of a cab while Mary SCREAMED FOR HER LIFE. Me: Some bad men took an airplane and flew it into a building and the building fell down and many people died. Mary: AAAAAAAGHHH DOWN DOWN DOWN DOWN NO NO NO NO NO NO FDAFDFEWFS!!!!!!! Me (dodging toddler headbutt): It was very, very sad and they built this memorial to honor the people who died. James: Is anyone going to fly an airplane into our house and kill me? Me: No, Buddy, this kind of thing hardly ever happens, it's not something you have to worry about. Mary: NONO NO NO NO NO DOWN AAAAGGHHHHH NO NO NO NO NO DOWN!!!!!!. Ryan, who was in the front seat, on the other side of a soundproof partition, was quite surprised to see my frazzled expression when he turned around to look at us at a red light.

I was glad we went, though. It is quite a moving memorial.


We subwayed back uptown (the closest subway stop had no emergency exit/stroller door so Ryan picked up the entire stroller, with Mary inside, and carried it over his head through the turnstyle, we were DONE WITH THE CITY for that day), put the kids to bed immediately, and watched Breaking Bad while eating canollis and drinking beer, which was a really delightful way to spend the evening.

Coming up next is Central Park and the Very, VERY LONG train ride.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

We lost ZERO PEOPLE on the subway

Well HELLO THERE, friends! Although now that I am an experienced city dweller, I greet you in the tongue of my people, "EFF YOU". In addition to an array of cultural experiences, the children were also exposed to the use of the F word as just about every part of speech you can think of. We also had some really wonderful pizza, braved the subway, made local friends, and nearly perished from heat exhaustion in the Dante's subway car. But let's start from the beginning. A lifetime ago on Saturday, we woke the kids up at three o'clock in the morning and headed to the airport. They were SUPER EXCITED about the trip so this was not really an issue. Also, we dressed them in regular clothes the night before so all we had to do was plunk them in the car and go.

Knowing we would be traveling via public transit for our NYC visit, we packed everything we needed in backpacks. We also sent carseats ahead to the northeast with my parents who drove up earlier. This made for an amazingly easy airport check in--NO CHECKED BAGS. We looked like vagrants, especially when we were leaving the city yesterday and all of our dirty clothes were tied up in grocery bags hanging from the strollers, but it sure was convenient for getting on and off of subways.


Anticipation was high.


The flight was OK, big kids watched TV and Mary squirmed and tried to escape. When I took her for a walk to distract her, she begged to go in the airplane bathroom, then begged to sit on it, then got up on the potty and PEED. When she had washed her hands she went out in the aisle, told a flight attendant "POTTY!" and clapped for herself. Later, James spilled two water bottles all over my seat and I had to steal two inches of paper towels from the bathroom. Also, James wouldn't stop mauling the seat in front of him no matter what I did.

Once we landed, our first gauntlet was to get from the airport to the subway via the connector, which was fairly straightforward. And after that we jumped on the subway from Queens to Manhattan, where we would have to change trains in what turned out to be the hugest, hottest subway station ever constructed. Seriously, you guys, it was like walking from A to C in Houston Intercontinental except underground and ninety degrees. The elevators were impossible to use and Ryan and James got separated from me and the others. Finally, I carried the stroller down a flight of stairs and we were on the right platform but Ryan was nowhere to be found. Until a trained pulled away from the station and I could see Ryan on the OTHER SIDE. He carried James and the other stroller up the stairs, down the hot hallway, and back down the stairs to the uptown platform and finally we were together and headed in the right direction.


The ride was really, REALLY long. So long that our airbnb host expressed surprise that we had attempted the subway from the airport. "I don't know many locals who would have done that" were her exact words. BUT HEY IT WAS SUPER DUPER CHEAPER THAN THE SUPER SHUTTLE!

And Wes got a nap in.


Just when we thought we were all going to die without ever seeing the sun again, the train blew right past our stop on 110th Street and didn't stop until we got to Harlem, several MILES away from where we needed to be. We followed some locals across the street and into the station on the other side and rode several stops back south back to our place. It was a happy happy moment when we finally reached the stoop of our place two blocks later.


The host gave us a tour of our sweet little apartment (two bedroom and two bath, it was GLORIOUS) and when she asked if I had any questions I said "Where is a good place to get lunch and a beer?"

We took her suggestion for a nearby brewpub that turned out to be PERFECT.

And by perfect I mean this. Yes. Best beer of my LIFE.


For reference, here is the before picture.


I loved this place. So fun.


Good eggs benedict.


We took a leisurely walk back to our apartment after that. Our place was in Morningside Heights, which was lovely.


This reminded all of us of Curious George and Charley was so excited to pick out some apples to buy.


And then my insane husband decided that after getting up at 3:30 in the morning and traveling all day, WALKING ACROSS THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE would be JUST THE THING. So we got BACK on the subway, this time learning that the stroller etiquette for subway entrance was to swipe Ryan in twice, then for him to go through the turnstyle and open the door marked "EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY" from the other side to let me in with both strollers. We learned this by watching the locals and also by getting yelled at.

The bridge was worth the extremely long subway ride.


Blocked some serious traffic to get a good picture.


We had to put Mary in the Ergo and rotate the other kids through the two strollers, including Charley. This was also the first place someone screamed the F word at someone else two inches away from us, but not the last!!


Walk walk walk walk walkwalkwalkwalk. Also, WOW does James look tired in this picture. Not me, though! Feeling fresh as a daisy! Did I mention that this was the hottest weekend NYC has had in a while? DUDE, it was HOT.


Then we got to the other side and this happened:


And also we couldn't find any good subway stops and everyone was completely DONE. Ryan and I slumped on a bench in defeat, staring at the subway app on his phone and wishing an air conditioned minivan would just drop out of the sky because we were fifteen miles from our apartment with no car and no clue how to get around. And so the decision was made to hail a cab, which James thought was the most hilarious thing he'd ever seen, for the world's longest cab ride tour of the entire length of Manhattan, with all six of us packed into the back seat.


One exciting moment was when our driver bought something out the window from a street vendor and we were then chased on foot by an elderly woman yelling in Chinese. Then he completely missed a green light because he was configuring his new selfie stick to his phone.

We were very happy to get home. Very very happy.

Day two we went to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We got back on the train, slightly more experienced this time, which was helpful. We had one transfer which involved running from one train, directly across the platform into another train's open doors, DIDN'T LOSE ANYONE, SCORE. And then we had to take a bus the rest of the way to Battery Park to catch the ferry. James, Charley, and Wes clamored aboard and ran up the stairs to the third deck before I could catch up with them so then I had to run after them too, with Mary. We stood near a metal gate and near the end of the ride James tried to climb it but fell down screaming and when I asked him what hurt he screamed loudly "MY PENIS!" much to the delight of everyone around us.


It was incredible to be so close.


We got off the boat and sat under a tree eating apples while we waited out a Wes tantrum over nothing in particular. He laid on the ground and sulked for nearly twenty minutes before he finally got up and begrudgingly walked with us into the pedestal tour.


I was so glad Ryan had added the pedestal tour to our trip because not only do you get to go up in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, you get access to the museum, air conditioning, and convenient bathrooms as well. I mean, without having visited the museum very VERY briefly at the end of our visit, we would never have memories like these!


Mary learned a thing or two about posing for pictures from the brothers.




The view was spectacular, the walkway narrow and terrifying.


Can you find tantrum Wes in this picture?


We ate a picnic lunch on the island and then the ferry took us to Ellis Island, where we tried to impart a sense of history on the kids and they tried to kill us with whining. The Great Hall, where much of the immigration inspection and evaluation took place, was absolutely incredible.






We could have spent hours there, but the clock was ticking and we were relying on everyone's good attitudes to avoid another forty-five dollar cab ride uptown, so after exploring much of the second floor (including the Great Hall and lots of information about immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) we got back on the ferry to Manhattan.


Because we are insane, we followed up this wonderful but exhausting day with a trip to Central Park for some ice cream, rock climbing, and playgrounding. Ryan's camera was out of space by this point, so you'll have to trust me when I say the coolest playground in the world is in Central Park. Huge slides, water everywhere, tunnels, rocks. It was awesome. And just the thing for a pack of kids who had just been forced into appreciating America's immigration peak at the turn of the century. IT was a hit. Once we tore ourselves away from the playground (by this time learning that you have to reserve some energy for getting home, rather than just running until you/they drop then shoving everyone in the minivan you actually have to all walk together back home, which means no one can be actively freaking out or sleeping, SIMPLE BUT IMPORTANT FACT) and trudged the (HOT, did I mention how HOT it was?) half mile to the subway, we were all BEAT. And then because we took a new way home, we actually had to walk four of the LONG HOT east-west blocks uphill back to our place. We were half a block away and DRAGGING (it was nearly seven by that point and all we had eaten since our picnic lunch was an ice cream cone), when we stumbled upon the New York City version of our family-- sitting on the stoop with the neighbors while the kids played on the sidewalk. More importantly, they were playing on the sidewalk with THIS.

Charley made friends with a local boy a little older with him. The two of them worked together to fill a huge bucket with water then they would throw it at each other. They asked a guy walking by "Do you want to get drenched?" and when he said "How can I say no to that?!" they threw a bucket of water at him and soaked him from the head down. The girl who he was with laughed and said "I thought we were going to dinner! Oh, nevermind, come give me a hug, it is SO HOT out here!" Commuters skipped through the water too. James and Wes took turns running at full speed down the street through the water. Mary splashed in the puddles. SUCH FUN. We were sad to leave around eight o'clock, but it was time to feed the kids and get them in BED. Charley's new friend shook his hand and said "Peace, man" as we left. Amazing.

We went home and ordered Bento boxes for everyone then fired up the Netflix while Ryan ran out for a six pack because DANG.

And now it is my bedtime, so I will leave the rest of the story (including the restaurant from Seinfeld, St. John the Divine cathedral, the High Line, Brooklyn tantrums, the water taxi, the World Trade Center, and the EPIC ACCOUNTING of our EPICALLY LONG train ride to Maine).