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If you can make it there…10 things to see and do with kids in NYC (and Brooklyn) at Scary Mommy!

Hot chocolate at BAM: better than Cats

Hot chocolate at BAM: better than Cats

Why not head over to Scary Mommy and check out The Scary Mommy Travel Guide for my recommendations for 1o Things to See and Do with Kids in NYC? I’ve included some classic sights, some sights more off the beaten path, and omitted the time when C had a screaming tantrum all the way to Rockefeller Center from my sister’s apartment and then fell asleep when we got to the tree. Also omitted how one of my favorite ways to see New York is sans-kids, with wine, and the boys tucked up at my parents’ house in Long Island.

UPDATE: I’ve also written 10 (More!) Things to Do with Kids in Brooklyn - because, you know, Manhattan is so limited.

English: Looking north across 8th Avenue and 1...

The old neighborhood: Park Slope’s 14th Regiment Armory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have had so many fun visits to New York with our Manhattan-raised cousins, and though we live deep in Red Sox Nation, I’m raising C and T to think of the city not as a tourist destination, but as another hometown. Because NYC gets all the better on repeat visits. We’ve been the the Met several times, and tested the patience of security guards in many a wing:

This is very old! In the Greek and Roman Galleries at the Met.

This is very old! A couple of busters in the Greek and Roman Galleries at the Met.

Also featured: the Intrepid, the food of the Lower East Side, and Central Park, which could be an entry unto itself. And in fair Brooklyn: the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Prospect Park, and what’s Brooklyn without decent pizza? I couldn’t resist mentioning my old joint near my apartment in Park Slope: Pizza Plus. Whether that nice lady with the bouffant still works there I leave to you to discover.

Thank you to Scary Mommy for including me. I really like this site, and founder Jill Smokler’s refreshing nonjudgmental, honest, and very funny take on parenting. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the Scary Mommy Manifesto!

So, go to NYC with your kids! If they can behave there, they can behave anywhere!

(By the way, when I was researching this online, it reminded me of how many of our favorite NYC sites (like the Intrepid, and many areas of Brooklyn) are still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. So because I love New York, can I ask you to please join in and help the neighborhoods come back: at The Red Hook Initiative, Robin HoodAmeriCares, or the American Red Cross. Thank you!)

Top five reasons why a new blog post is so very long overdue

It’s been well over a week since I have posted on my blog, and I tell you, it eats at me. I just haven’t found [see blog title]. But really, I have some legitimate excuses, uh, reasons, for not posting in a while. Here are the few of things that have eaten up all of my [see blog title].

Hurricane Sandy (2012): 60 km Wind Area Forecast

Hurricane Sandy (2012): 60 km Wind Area Forecast (Photo credit: Canadian Pacific)

1) Worrying about Hurricane Sandy. I type this faster and more anxiously as the wind whips up outside, and even though here in Boston we are well away from the center of the storm, school has been cancelled and the T has been shut down, so we are all four at home today. Read: no me time. Just lots and lots of we time. Which is great, great, great, of course. So instead of finishing my next post, which has been sitting in my draft folder for some time now half-finished, I have been drawing Bubble Guppies for T:

And I didn’t win the Art Award in sixth grade because why? No, I’m not bitter.

Daddy is taking charge of C’s homework (brought to you by the letters S and U, cut from magazines), so I have a few minutes on the computer. I’m typing fast. And when the time for the heaviest winds arrives, I’ll close the laptop and start pacing back and forth in front of the TV as Pete Bouchard tries to conceal his excitement about storm surges and gust MPHs and astronomical high tides. These meteorologist guys live for this, don’t they? They rub their hands in glee while we worriers wear pasta pots on our head waiting for the trees to come crashing down upon us.

English: The 2003 Tour de France on Alpe d'Hue...

The 2003 Tour de France on Alpe d’Huez, with Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, Haimar Zubeldia, Roberto Laiseka and Joseba Beloki. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2) Everyone else is blaming Lance Armstrong, so why can’t I? As a cycling fan, I have been completely consumed by the stunning revelations about Armstrong’s alleged doping. Of course, when T was asleep and C was at school, I dropped all important chores and tasks to read the 200-page “reasoned decision” published by USADA, as well as the Tyler Hamilton book. I have had Cyclingnews constantly open in my browser. And like many others, I have been dismayed at charges too hard to ignore, and at watching elder statemen of the sport fall one by one. Another day brings another admission of guilt, another tarnished record, another achievement that was too good to be true. I’m not an expert, so I don’t feel qualified to say much about it. So I will leave it to known Mod and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins to say it best:

“It’s a sport I love and have always loved. It’s a shame that cycling is being dragged through this again. It’s not a shame he’s been caught. As you get older, you start to realise that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. And that was always the case with Lance.”

Bradley Wiggins racing to Gold in London 2012 ...

Wiggins wins the gold in the time trial, London 2012. (Photo credit: EEPaul)

You have to love this guy. I choose to believe Wiggins has never doped, because that’s what he says, but who’s to know for sure? Who can we trust? Ever? It’s sad that I wish Cyclingnews would publish a list of definitively clean riders, so we could have something to hold onto while the sport goes through this wrenching, scorched earth period that it must endure to restore its integrity.

3) Oh yeah, there’s that election. And Halloween.

C’s “master plan” for Halloween. Or the election???

4) We took a trip to NYC to visit my family and take C to see the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid. Out on the flight deck of the old aircraft carrier, we passed rows of fighter planes with teeth painted on them and helicopters just wide enough for one person; I imagined them flying like whirring envelopes. And there’s the Captain’s bridge where you climb narrow stairs to talk to WWII veterans who were stationed on the Intrepid, and see an officer’s cabin where there’s a calendar from the year the ship was decommissioned (1974) still on the wall.

Beyond all of that, a temporary bubble houses the shuttle. Inside, the Enterprise floats above our heads in a cloud of blue, like that model of a huge, blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History. Just as hushed, just as commanding of respect. I wonder how the Enterprise will fare during the storm? It’s been through much more, I suppose.

The glowing ship.

5) Sorry, I had to watch Downton Abbey again. It just had to be done.

Obviously.

There are a million things to do, and there always will be, and they are calling me now. But it still makes me glad to know the blog is there, and I will get back to it in the next few days. But as I write this, the house is shaking; there is a big gust. My heart is beating faster. T will wake up soon. I’ve drawn the shades but I know the branches are bending and leaves are streaking by. I’ll need to start pacing soon, and pottering around, putting Legos back in bins, making meatballs, reading stories, vacuuming up crumbs, doing all the things I do to put the fear and worry at the back of my mind.

I hope everyone stays safe!

A child’s history of time

Sometimes when I drive the boys around town I take intentionally circuitous routes, thinking they won’t notice an extra five minutes tacked on to their journey. It’s an extra five minutes of peace for me, keeping them in their car seats, contained, controlled, unable to leap out and run away or start smacking each other about the head.

But lately, C has been on to me. We are taking the long way home from an after-school trip to the supermarket.

“You’re taking the long way! You’re doing it on purpose, to make me tired!” He knows a few extra minutes in the car will push him into nap territory, which is fine with me. “We live the other way! Turn around!”

But sometimes he is in the mood to relent, to relax, to stare out the window for a while, only to be interrupted by T screaming when he sees a bus or a fire truck. Amid the yelling, C waxes philosophical:

“The first people who ever lived,” he starts, “who were their mommies and daddies? If they were the first people, whose tummy were they in?”

That’s a hard one. “It’s a mystery,” I tell him. “We can’t know for sure, because none of us were there. But scientists can look at clues they find in nature and guess.”

The back seat is quiet. There are no buses around. I can almost feel C thinking back there, trying to unravel time. Another thought:

“So, how did all of this get here?” He flaps a hand toward the window. “Who put the trees here, and the houses? Did the first people do that?”

A lot to wrap my head around while I’m wheel-to-wheel with lunatic Boston drivers. “When the world was new, many many years ago,” I begin, “none of this was here. There were no streets, no houses, just nature. Trees, and rivers, and animals. And when humans came around they slowly started adding things to the land, like farms, then streets, and buildings, so over a long time, things began to look how they look now. Does that make sense?”

“I think so,” he said. And he nodded off.

C, Kindergartener, is really ramping up on a lot of crucial topics that are set to become his everyday schoolboy occupations. He’s getting the hang of writing, a bit of math, and stringing letters together to begin to read. But he is still trying to grasp the the concept of time. Even the true length of five minutes is hard for him to comprehend. When he needs to wait for me to do something for him, like get him a snack or put on his favorite show, five minutes, by his reckoning, is just a count to five. But when he’s only got five minutes to play before we leave for school, those brief counts turn into hours. “That wasn’t five minutes!” He’s admant. “That was five seconds!”

So it’s no wonder that history, stretching back into the fog of time, is something he has a lot of questions about. That’s a lot of seconds, minutes, and hours for him to hold in his head. And so many of his fascinations are in the realm of long ago. So in C’s personal timeline, history looks like this:

First: Dinosaurs, of course. Then pyramids, and mummies.

Immediately followed by: Pompeii. His favorite.

Up next: Castles and Playmobil knights.

Which brings us straight to: The Revolutionary War.

Then: Papa is born. Poor Papa.

My own childhood fascination timeline looked something like this: Trilobites. Mummies. Ancient Rome. Barbarians and the Dark Ages. The 1950’s. And then you’re Back to the Future.

I must have also asked my parents constant questions about time, because on a trip to the Smithsonian, they bought me a book called Life Story, by the great Virginia Lee Burton (most famous for The Little House and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel). I still have the book, and when C asks his questions about the Earth, and what came first then next, and how we got here, we read it together. I still love reading it.

My copy.

It has my name in fourth-grade handwriting inside the front cover, and it’s worn. Published in 1962, it presents the history of the earth as a theatre production, set on a stage, in acts and scenes, beginning with a time when the earth was a “red-hot fiery ball of matter,” and ending in the present, as the seasons change on Burton’s family farm in Massachusetts.

The book beautifully unwinds the tight coil of time into a long, gently turning ribbon; it’s a perfect metaphor. At the beginning of the ribbon is a tiny question mark – the very dawn of everything. The ribbon uncoils, introducing our Sun, and Solar System, and then the book zeroes in on Earth, our home, that fiery ball which cooled and shrank, making mountains like wrinkles. A Geologist on the stage hands over narrator duties to a Paleontologist, who announces the Rains, and the tiny creatures that lived in the great seas that washed over the entire surface of the planet.

Image from childrensbookalmanac.com

Page by page, new players are continually added to the theatre of Life on Earth, from trilobites and cephalopods, to the plants of the ancient forests. I remember, as a child, my favorite page was Act I, Scene 4: Life on the Devonian Shores. From about 350,000,000 years ago, to about 315,000,000 years ago.

“Land plants flourished, clothing our once bare Earth in green…The long Age of Invertebrates had come to an end. Seas, lakes, rivers, and streams swarmed with fish — big fish, little fish, and medium-sized. A few even developed lungs and crawled from puddle to puddle on land.”

In the accompanying picture, strange, curling ferns stretched toward a huge sun, while undersea fish with wide eyes and blunt teeth hunted smaller ones. After I got the book, I was fascinated by the sight of ferns. I tried to imagine that plants very much like the ferns I saw around my town lived millions of years ago, and if I looked at them, and tried to block out everything modern surrounding them, I could take myself back to that long-gone time. I felt like I was trying to recoil all of those ribbons, and hold all of time in my head in a little ball, trying to grasp it all at once, and feel its enormity. It was a great feeling; like a mysterious trance.

[C's current favorite page is Prologue, Scene 4: Introducing first rocks, Igneous rocks. Featuring the world as one giant Vesuvius]

I decorated the inside cover of the book with Pterodactyl ink stamps that my parents bought me on another trip, also when I was about nine. We rented a house in Watkins Glen, on Lake Seneca, in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York. When we got to the house, the yard and every tree in it was covered in black caterpillar-like things, about an inch-and-a-half long. A plague of gypsy moths. They were everywhere. And they were inside the house, too. Knowing my mother, I am shocked we did not get back in the blue station wagon and go immediately back to Long Island to spend the week in the sprinker on our smooth, concrete driveway. But we stayed.

We went to Watkins Glen State Park, where we bought the stamper in a gift shop at the end of a gorge trail. I don’t know if it’s still there, but at the beginning of the trail, I remember a railing with a timeline on it that took you further and further back into history with every step: past the fifties, the birth of Papa, Lexington and Concord, the plague, and the pyramids. To 350,000,000 years ago. And at the end of the railing, you emerged onto the trail, in the gorge, and back at the dawn of time.

This wasn’t like looking at a backyard fern and blocking out the garage and the concrete and the chain-link fence. The primordial world was all around us, without interruption, unbound. There were fossils in the huge walls of Devonian shale that formed the sides of the gorge, which was cut into the earth by a gentle creek flowing on and on over eons. There were plants – huge trees, as well as ferns and mosses, that had been growing there always. And the sounds – rushing water, wind in leaves – were the same sounds the first people must have heard as they walked through that same place thousands of years ago. All that was new were the railings that contained us, stopped us from falling down below, to a bottom I couldn’t see. And the gift shop, that was new too.

English: Watkins Glen, New York

Watkins Glen, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was enrapt, there in the gorge. I felt like I was actually winding back the clock, seeing what life was like before there were streets, and towns, or even foot-beaten trails in the woods. It was amazing. And now, as I listen to his questions, his car-ride conversations, I see C trying to to get to that same place, trying to wrap his head around history, or rather, wrap up history in his head, just like I used to do. I can sense him entering that wonderful trancelike state, playing with the ribbon of time between his fingers.

I need to take him to that gorge. And Pompeii. And a million other places.

As an adult, how do you get that back? How do you let your mind become unbound, unconstrained, uncoiled? How do you allow yourself to imagine the hugeness of the earth, of time, of everything? How can you keep that nerve that lets you believe you can hold it all in your head? Can we do this, can we thread it between traffic jams, and to-do lists, our grown-up cares?  Or do we need to achieve this through our children, let them out of their restraints, watch them as they try understand the world into which they were dropped?

Space travel uphill in the snow both ways

Last week, my New York relatives looked out their windows to see the space shuttle Enterprise take a farewell flight past the Manhattan skyline. It was headed for its new home (or final resting place) at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. They all declared it awesome, and I looked out my window in Greater Boston at some commuter cyclists and a dazed possum and was jealous.

C loves playing astronaut – I often find him loafing about dressed in a NASA shuttle commander’s uniform, mumbling something about rocket boosters. He also has a whole collection of space shuttles and rocket ship models he likes to zoom around the house. But it struck me –  every toy, every notion C has of the space program is now a thing of the past. Space was the promise of the future when I was young, now, it’s become nostalgia.

While C watched the farewell flight of the space shuttle on the evening news, I realized I was only a little older than he is when the first shuttle was launched in 1981. The whole enormous effort is gone and done in less than a lifetime. In that short time, it demonstrated to all of us, especially children, both elation and despair. In 1986, the Challenger disaster became a set-piece of memory – I can still smell the bleach they used to wipe cafeteria tables as I think back to when my friend came to tell us about it as lunch was ending. And I can remember the sick feeling I had as I looked in the newspaper at the plumes of smoke in the sky, and the faces of the astronauts that died. I still remember their names. Then there’s the poem I wrote to commemorate the event: “The very first teacher to go up in space/Many teachers wished they were in Christa’s place….” Thank you. It’s a gift.

Now, how does C connect to space, and its possibilities for greatness? Besides the fact that if you pass Level 20 of Angry Birds: Space (Yes! He did it, dear readers!), it provides you with a link to the NASA website if you want to learn more about space travel, beyond just how to kill a green pig with a purple bird at 3 g’s.

I know space is still a source of awe and fascination for him. There is a brand-new planetarium at the Museum of Science in Boston, and he, though offered admission on a weekly basis, refuses to go in and see the show. I think he thinks he’s really going to blast off, and he feels he hasn’t taken the proper astronomy classes to prepare. And there aren’t even as many planets to worry about as there used to be.

One of my favorite things to do with C, when we visit the ancestral home down in Long Island, is go to the Cradle of Aviation Museum. The museum is located in a row of former airplane hangars at Mitchel Field, in Garden City. Mitchel Field was a military training center going back to the American Revolution, and is adjacent to Roosevelt Field, an airfield used by Amelia Earhart, as well as Charles Lindbergh for his solo transatlantic flight in 1927. Roosevelt Field is now a mall.

The Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, ...

The Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also in the row of hangars is the Nassau County Firefighters Museum (love it), the Long Island Children’s Museum (which we haven’t even made it to yet because we love the fire trucks and the airplanes so much), and the fulcrum of my childhood nostalgia, the old Nunley’s Amusement Park carousel, bedecked with images of old-timey, sea-breezy Long Island, and removed from its former site in Baldwin which is now a Pep Boys.

We go to the museum mainly to sit in the cockpits of old war planes and helicopters and play with the controls, which look more like typewriters than instruments to help you guide a flying machine across enemy lines. While C battles his imaginary Red Baron, I look at the exhibits, with yet more nostalgia: Long Island, home to the Grumman Corporation that built the F-14 Tomcat (featured so prominently in Top Gun) has an incredible history in aviation that, like the space shuttle, is gone. In addition to the F-14, Grumman built several World-War II Navy fighters, the common mail truck, and the Apollo Lunar Module.  You can see one, up close, at the museum, and many of the volunteer guides that work there were former engineers for Grumman. You ask them where the bathroom is and then they’re like, “It’s over there. Oh, by the way, I built that.” When my boys are a bit older, we are going to sit up and listen as these guides recall this Long Island, and this future, that has, for now, like the space shuttle on its way to the Intrepid, passed us by. Because Grumman is now called Northrup -Grumman, and is located in Virginia. In a mall. Next to a Pep Boys.

When watching grown-up TV with your kid goes wrong, #2: National Geographic: Volcano!

Pompeian painter with painted statue and frame...

From Pompeii (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Previously on “When watching grown-up TV with your kid goes wrong”  — watching cyclists crash at the Tour de France.

So. The traveling Pompeii exhibit came to the Museum of Science in Boston over the winter (I know I’m late, but I didn’t have a blog over the winter), and we took C to see it. Mainly, I must admit, because I wanted to see it. I love Italy and ancient history, so it was a good excuse for a kid outing which would feature something I might enjoy. And I love the MoS, but was excited to skip my googleplex visit to the space capsule that every kid in Boston climbs in and out of a googleplex times, and see something new.

C was a good sport and perused the exhibit’s displays of Roman art. He was surprisingly interested; he asked questions, and let me explain what a fresco is (“Oh dear mother! You learned ever so much in college! ‘Twas not all in vain! Enlighten me further!”).

But then we came to a video, playing on a loop in a darkened alcove, recreating the events of August 24, 79 BCE. The scene opens on a quiet Campanian summer day. Then, a distant rumble! It quickly ramped up to buildings crumbling, a lone statue teetering on a roof and falling, rampant fire, and a finally, a carpet of blackness rolling toward the viewer. And, scene. And, scene. And, scene. We watched it several times. It was romantically eerie. C was captivated.

One of my favorite things about C is that he’s not a fearful child, by and large. He’s fine with the good old-fashioned dark. He is very matter-of-fact about thunderstorms, and ferocious beasts, and monsters in the closet. So what came into play here was his taste for the morbid – which I wouldn’t put in my top five of C traits, but he’s certainly not alone amongst preschoolers there, I don’t think. Or we just know a bunch of weird kids, I don’t know. And we hadn’t even walked through the casts of the dead yet. When we did, he didn’t really understand them. He thought they were sculptures, and all I could say was that, in a way, they were, and that they help us remember how these people lived and died.

Though I didn’t want to add fuel to the flames of his love of the macabre, I also didn’t want to gloss over the sad truth about what happened in Pompeii; personally, I don’t think it does C any good to pretend that bad things never happen. I know that lots of parents felt the exhibit was inappropriate for their children, and did not take them. And all I can say is that for many children, it probably wasn’t appropriate. Knowing my son, I felt that, with my help, he could handle it. And by shielding him too much from frightening things, I fear he won’t learn how to develop a mechanism to cope. That’s not to say I let him watch films and TV that feature outright violence, or even the (often terrifying) five o’clock news – he doesn’t.

Coming away from the exhibit he had a lot of good questions. What began as a morbid fascination turned into a real interest about Pompeii itself – we even took a couple of trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he was nearly kicked out of the Greek and Roman hall for yelling to his cousin, “THESE SCULPTURES WERE AROUND WHEN VESUVIUS ERUPTED! THAT’S WHY THEY HAVE NO ARMS!”

But while Pompeii was far across an ocean, and far into the past, volcanoes, he realized, were still around. And this did make him a little nervous. There were no tears or sleepless nights (though he did have a dream that he was swimming in a “cold volcano”), but he often wanted to talk about volcanoes, and how they worked, and he needed to be reassured that there are no volcanoes where we live (though someone in his class at preschool told him there was – thanks a lot, kid!). He reasoned that if we found ourselves near a volcano, say on the way to the supermarket or something, we could outrun it. Or our car was probably fast enough.

So we bought him this book, which is written for young readers, and despite the title: Pompeii…Buried Alive!, carefully handles, without glossing over, the destruction of the day. We also got this book on volcanoes, part of DK’s Eye Wonder series, which is great. Both of these became quickly dog-eared. They helped me explain to C that people know a lot more about volcanoes now than they did in the year 79, so that we are much better able to predict and prepare for volcanic eruptions. I remembered when Mount Saint Helens erupted, I told him as we looked at the Eye Wonder book. I was little like you. But many fewer people died during that eruption. It was nothing like Pompeii; they had much more warning, because of science and all that people had learned since.

But these books led to even more questions. Like, how many people died in Pompeii? The number is too great for C to get his head around. I tell him that it was a lot, but we don’t know exactly how many (it was around 16,000).  Then, for more answers, I go to the mother ship – the TV! She knows all! Let us check the oracle of Netflix!

I found the video National Geographic: Volcano!  on that cursed Netflix streaming. I guess this highlights one of the problems of Netflix streaming – it’s TOO fast. Whatever you want is at your fingertips. You want polar bears? Click. Special on polar bears. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done.

So we just pressed play. I figured, it can’t get more wholesome than National Geographic, right? Let’s watch this! I told him. It will tell you about volcanologists. They study volcanoes so that we can understand how they work. They can walk right on active volcanoes – right next to lava sometimes! And it’s fine! It’s fine! You’ll see!

It’s NOT fine, as it turns out. About fifteen minutes in, after a spectacular montage of volcano action footage that C wanted to watch a thousand times, a group of volcanologists head up a volcano, and only about half of them make it back. Great. Hey, television: it’s one thing to address important issues in a realistic fashion. It’s another thing to make a liar out of me! Thanks a lot!

But he still wants to be a volcanologist. Actually a “volcanologist bike racer superhero.” I wonder, like with most things C does, does he say that to please me or annoy me? I’m not sure. Both, I guess. He is still at the age where he tries to hold opposing thoughts in his head concurrently. Example: I wanted him to sit down and eat dinner. He wanted to say no, just to stick it to me. But he was hungry. After some hemming and hawing: “How can I eat dinner and not eat dinner at the same time?” I don’t know, I told him. Maybe Netflix has a show about that.

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