On a normal, everyday basis, I am pretty used to living in America now. There are times, however, when I almost pinch myself and think to myself how weird it is that I live here. Sunday was just such a day. The littlest Pict – as part of his birthday festivities – requested a trip to New York City. So we did. And that felt a bit weird and also pretty cool.
Young kids travel free on the New Jersey transit on weekends so – with three of our kids qualifying – we determined that we could make a trip to NYC an affordable day trip. We crossed state lines by car and hopped on the train. It was the first time my kids had ever been on a double-decker train, a concept which they thought was excitingly awesome. We travelled there on the top tier and came back on the bottom one so that they could experience both decks. They thought it was cool to be eye level with people’s feet when on the bottom deck. In really no time at all we were at Penn Station and right in the midst of midtown Manhattan.
The train tickets were our expense for the day so we were all about free fun. We strolled up through the smack-bang-wallop sights and sounds of Times Square and continued on a few blocks until we reached Central Park, the focus of our trip. Yes indeed: we essentially travelled all of the way to New York in order to play in a park. Also kind of weird and kind of cool.
We were no sooner in Central Park – which was absolutely thronging with people out enjoying the Sunday sunshine – than my four kids all scarpered off to climb on rocks. They scrambled up and down the rocks like a herd of little mountain goats. I have acrophobia so watching their antics gives me the heebie-jeebies but I don’t want to turn my kids into little quaking jellies like me so I try to let them just get on with it. Of course, all four of my kids have broken teeth through face planting before so perhaps my hands-off policy is not the best.
Our 9 year old has the most powerful imagination of the bunch and he is also the most persuasive so he engineered a game they could all play on the rocks. The game was very complex, too complex for me to comprehend, but it definitely involved battling mountain orcs. Occasionally I would spot another child or two wander towards my kids, observing them, perhaps tempted to join the fray, but my kids are kind of a pack and completely wrapped up in their game there was not a chance anyone else was going to get absorbed into their play. That’s the thing about a gang of four brothers who are also best buddies: they have each other so they can tend towards exclusivity. So they ran around on the rocks for a couple of hours, being orcs, killing orcs, and ever so often Mr Pict and I would herd them a few yards further into the park so that we could make some sort of progress. They would then career around and caper on some other rocks for a good while.
Eventually they decided they were up for a stroll. They were quite taken with the pond near the Hallett Nature Sanctuary so we idled there for a while before doubling back towards the Dairy so we could gulp cold water from the drinking fountain there and refill our water bottles. The boys then decided they wanted to see some statues so we wandered along Literary Walk where we saw Shakespeare, Walter Scott and Robert Burns. We the continued along the Mall to Bethesda Terrace because I wanted to see the Bethesda Fountain actually operating. I had seen it on my trip to New York a couple of months ago but that was in very different weather conditions. The bronze angel dates from the early 1870s and symbolises purity, hence the lily in her hand. Below her feet are four cherubs who apparently represent purity, health, temperance and peace.
We then cut across to the east and wended our way past the model boat pond, which was full of model yachts competing with a few ducks, and then to the Alice in Wonderland Statue. I had had a notion to take the boys on a highlights tour of Central Park statues but they had spent so long enjoying simply running around on the rocks and across the grass that my plan was abandoned as soon as it was hatched. They did, however, want to see the Alice statue. It was, as always, covered in children. I managed to get an almost child-free photo of it last time I was in Central Park but there was no chance of that this time. The photographer in me might find that a little dismaying but the parent in me is much stronger and enjoyed seeing all of the kids – not just my own – enjoying the sculpture and becoming part of the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Half a century of kids clambering all over the statue has given it a glowing patina. My kids particularly enjoyed exploring beneath the mushrooms, finding all the smaller sculpted details of bugs and beasties, and also enjoying the shade it provided.
We then popped out onto 5th Avenue with its many museums behind us and its miles of very expensive shops in front of us. We had not even reached the southside of Central Park before the kids started to flag so they had an ice cream to fortify themselves for the many more steps to come. We did, however, decide to add another free item to our day’s itinerary not least because it offered us some shade and air conditioning, and that was a trip into FAO Schwarz.
FAO Schwarz is the oldest toy store in America, having been founded in 1862, but sadly it is going to be closing its doors this summer. I was eager to get the kids into this iconic shop before it ceased to be in that location and perhaps even ceased to be permanently. The store front – part of the General Motors Building – is actually quite unassuming but is Tardis-like once inside. I was instantly wowed by the chill blast of the air conditioning but my children were wowed, their eyes like saucers and their jaws agape, by a massive display of cuddly toys. It was like a zoological park of plush animals. Some of these were massive and carried massive price tags to match. Our 8 year old was smitten with unicorns and pegasuses the size of Shetland ponies but a lifetime of pocket money was not going to get him one. Knowing there was no way we were going to cover the whole store, the boys were asked to determine which areas and displays they wanted to see. Inevitably, therefore, the sections we visited were for superhero action figures, Minions, video games and Lego. The kids had a great time looking at all the toys, mentally creating lists for Santa.
Then it was time to leave the soothing cool of the toy store and go back out onto the busy, baking streets. Somehow the walk back to Penn Station felt so much longer and further than the walk to Central Park had been that morning. The train was surprisingly busy for a Sunday, alarmingly so since we had to walk the length of several carriages to find one that had space. The kids’ feet and legs were pegging out at the mere thought of there being standing room only all the way back to our destination station. Thankfully, at the penultimate carriage, we found some spaces on the bottom deck. We sank into the chairs, exhausted, sticky from humidity and park dust, but very glad that our very first day trip to New York City had been a grand success and one I think we shall repeat.