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Posts tagged ‘travel’

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!)

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?

Wheels Over Indian Trails

When my children remember being small, what images will come to their minds? Memory comes on like the pops of flashbulbs, one image, then another, until the light stays on to make a continuous picture. For me, Memory Number One is at age three, in my nursery room classroom, a dark room in the basement of a church. Cubbies and fingerpaints. The face on box of Munchkins. A set of stairs in the room that rose to a window, where we’d crawl out into the light, to the playground. Pop.

Next I’m in the car in the parking lot behind Miller’s Hardware in Lynbrook, New York, listening to “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain and Tenille. Pop. “I will! I will!” Pop back to nursery school: the water table, plastic smocks, a Thanksgiving feast, a paper pilgrim bonnet, a turkey made out of an orange. Pop. There was a kid I dubbed “Ned the Head.” It was apt. He had a blond bowl cut. Where is he now? I think my mother knows but I won’t ask.

From when C was a baby we tried to take him on all sorts of adventures, thinking what he saw and did from birth would inform his character forever. He was eight months old when we took him to England, for a wedding, and we thought that though he’d never remember it, somehow the fact that he first saw the sea at the Jurassic Coast in Devon would always live within him. Maybe he’d grow up and crave ice cream cones with Flakes stuck in. Maybe he’d be a Hardy scholar. Maybe he’d buy his mother a retirement cottage in Lyme Regis. Nice thoughts.

C and his Dad at Beer, in Devon. Look over at the sea, C.

But subsequent, post-age-three trips to the beach in Long Island and Cape Cod have laid themselves over these first memories, and those trips pop into his head when now, at age 5, he thinks of the beach. Digging for something he calls “fish yolks” in the primordial ooze at the Brewster salt flats, throwing rocks into Gardiner’s Bay, or the surfside playground at Hither Hills. Pop.

The tide goes out in Brewster.

Now T is two, and we are on our own in the mornings before his nap, while C is at kindergarten. We trudge home after drop off. He plays trucks, blocks, looks at his books while I clean up breakfast, get started on the laundry. I think, I could take him to the farm/playground/Science Museum. But then, I think, ah, forget it, he won’t remember it anyway. The lot of the second child.

When we toured C’s kindergarten room before school started, it struck me how so many things hadn’t changed since I had been in kindergarten myself. I remembered the little colored plastic cubes they use to learn math. The calendar with numbered, changeable cards. Still the same. Pop. While C sat at a table and he and his new classmates stared shyly at each other, checking to see who would be the first to glue colored macaroni on a birthday crown, I chased T around the room while he took it upon himself to try out/destroy kindergarten. He grabbed at the calendar and I was brought back to that old room. Pop.

I heard the songs my teacher, Mrs Kurtzer, would bang out on the piano. “Abraham Lincoln kind and true. You did the best a man can do. Abraham Lincoln, we! Love! You!” I think she might have made it up on the spot. She did her best. There were the transparent, colored records she would play for holidays; an orange one for Halloween. Red for Valentine’s Day. The foods she would bring for each letter of the alphabet. Carob for C. It was the last gasp of the seventies. E was a tough one: “Edam Cheese.” I can still hear her say EEE-dam, and I think that’s the only time I have ever eaten it. Pop. Pop. The flashbulbs are getting closer together, and they must be for C now too. I must be careful what I say to him, I think. He’s going to start remembering it now.

That night I had a dream about going back to kindergarten. I was a parent this time, and I think I was supposed to be there for C, but it was definitely my classroom back in Oceanside, N.Y. In Mrs Kurtzer’s room there was a circle made out of black linoleum laid into the floor. We used to sit around the circle. In the dream, it was torn up; I could see where the circle had been, in an outline of crumbling, funny-shaped beige lino stuck in the old ruts. On top of the old circle was a big, colorful rectangular rug, like the kind we saw in C’s room. It made me sad to see that old circle, such an indelible image of school in my mind, carelessly ripped up and covered over. I had trouble falling back asleep after that; I had to go downstairs and watch a sitcom on TV at 3am.

Besides the typical flashes of school and home life, my early memories stem from our family’s frequent trips into New York City. It was probably then that I developed my abiding love for New York. Even now those first memories come back to me in a heady rush and make me miss the old place, more than usual. And for some reason I remember the journeys in and out more than I remember what we did when we got there, things like seeing the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, going up to Columbia to see my aunt and uncle, or eating lemon gelato at Ferrara’s in Little Italy during the San Gennaro festival. Instead, it’s the Southern State, crossing into city limits on the Cross Island, a huge full moon over the Belt Parkway one night on a return trip from Brooklyn.

But most of all, it’s this -

English: John Fekner © 1979-1990 Wheels Over I...

By John Fekner. © 1979-1990 Long Island City, NY. Pulaski Bridge overpass at the Queens Midtown Tunnel.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The stenciling, in my memory, was more faded than it is in the image. When I see it in my mind the peeling paint is surrounded by a riot of traffic, grafitti, and slapped-up posters on the busy way into the city from the suburbs. On these trips, leaning back on blue leatherette in the back of a station wagon, I would anticipate this overpass and prepare myself to read this slogan. It filled me with dread. It couched my ever-present excitement to go into the city with sadness, and I went under the river feeling blue. But I guess if you love New York, that’s part of what you love; the melancholy, the ghosts of all the things that are lost, the dust heaps. The brutal passing of time, the bad dreams you have to live with if you want to press forward. Without that, the city could never be the continually changing fascination that it will always remain. And I’ll always mourn those indian trails, buried under a thousand levels of dust and asphalt, like I’ll mourn those palimpsests of early memories, my own and my children’s.

Right now, T is sweetly asleep. C is at school, sitting “criss-cross applesauce” on a brightly colored rug, tracing letters and learning songs, his head filling up with all wondrous and new things, and out will go the old. Until recently, he could still recall moments from his toddler days, but now, like me, he can only reach back to three. And I can already see, when we talk about nursery school, his old memories are popping like bubbles. He can no longer remember a time before his brother, but that’s as it should be. Later, after school, the three of us will go to Lexington for haircuts and ice cream, and play ball on the Battle Green, a patch of grass where, years before, something very different happened. Pop. While they fill their days with childhood concerns I’ll watch and remember, and act as steward for their early years, so those memories can one day, unlike indian trails, rise to the surface again.

Some slapdash notes on cycling sideburns and ferry menaces while I have five…you know

“There are 104 days to summer vacation,” Gawd help us, and it’s been harder than usual to fit in time to write, what with all the no school for C and having to take the kids outside to do stuff, rather than just have them watch Phineas and Ferb dream up fun summer activities on TV. Never mind the fact that I’ve been spending any free time I have watching the Tour de France (Allez Jens! Allez Chava!). Hold on, I just need to go and examine some Droids fashioned from Duplo. [...] I’m back. They were nice.

T is sleeping, and C is busy playing “Cowboy Lasso,” a game he “downloaded to his brain” (AKA, is playing using actual, not electronic, toys while running around screaming). Actually, I stand corrected: he tells me it’s actually “Cowboy and Cowgirl Lasso.” Very good. That media training I bought him for his fourth birthday was totally worth it.

I just finished watching Stage 11 of the Tour on my phone whilst tidying up the kitchen, so here are a few notes on that and other things to keep my blog going while I am trying to find time to devise some more thoughtful posts. Which I’m afraid won’t come until camp starts again, and the cycling ends, and before the Olympics begin. So basically never. Priorities.

Tour Coiffures. I am no expert on professional cycling, and while there is a lot to say about this incredible Tour, I hardly feel qualified to say much at all online. But I am qualified to make smart-a*s remarks. So. Bradley Wiggins. Much respect. Allez Wiggo and all that. Every time I’ve seen him mount a bike this season my first thought is, “this guy is not kidding around, is he?” I really admire his intense determination to win; you can see all of the hard graft and careful preparation in his riding, and in Team Sky’s riding. Which brings me to my point. I know Wiggins makes every effort to be as aerodynamic as possible. The right gear, the right bike – every move he makes is calculated to the last detail to ensure he doesn’t lose a millisecond to his rivals. He, I assume, like all of the other riders, shaves his legs, just to get that last extra push through the breeze.

Bradley Wiggins leads the Tour de France

Bradley Wiggins leads the Tour de France, sideburns intact. (Photo credit: robkingcameraman)

So why, Bradley, pray tell, don’t you shave those enormous sideburns you have been rocking. I kid, but not really. If you’re planning to duke it out with Vince Noir for the title of King of the Mods, I respect that. But those things on your face must, somehow, cost you a soupcon of time. Right now you’re doing all right, but as you head up the Pyrenees and into the last Time Trial you might want to rethink those face wings. They don’t help you fly. There, I’m done.

Candy Omaha. Here’s another bone I have to pick. We spent last week on vacation down in the Hamptons, on Long Island, and to get there we take a car ferry from New London, CT, to Orient Point, NY. Where, as we drive off the boat onto my native island, it is my prerogative to play a Billy Joel song as we celebrate my summer homecoming. Usually “The Downeaster Alexa.” That is, if the Spotify works, and it usually doesn’t. There ain’t no Island left for Islanders like me, indeed.

The Cross Sound Ferry runs a tight ship, as it were, and it is always fun to spend part of our journey on a ferry rather than in a car. And our favorite boat in their fleet is the Cape Henlopen. Mainly because it has an arcade where C and T can pretend that they are really awesome at Pac Man and some driving games.

The other reason that I like the Cape Henlopen is that it was built as a World War II landing craft, and participated in the D-Day invasion at Normandy, ferrying GIs to Omaha Beach. And now, in its dotage, it schlepps folks to more peaceful beaches, and Mohegan Sun. It was built for battle, not for the level of comfort of a pleasure cruise. There is some seating inside, and just a limited number of banquettes that seat at least six around a table. They’re big.

So why, lady traveling alone, and there are people like this on every passage, do you need an entire booth to yourself? So you can prop your Reeboked foot on the seat while you listen to your off-brand MP3 player (probably to Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, I’m just guessing)? So you can stare smugly out the window, avoiding the glares of groups of four (or more) who are trying to eat lunch on chairs opposite you? You didn’t even eat! You weren’t even using the table to prop up your copy of Fifty Shades of Gray! You just looked over my head as I picked PB&J (and T) repeatedly up off the floor.

I know what you might say, lady (or gentleman, similarly accused). You’d say you got there first, so tough luck to me. That you deserve to sit there just as much as anyone else. That there is no rule against taking up seating for six for yourself. And this is the only complaint I have against an otherwise excellently-run ferry service. There should be a rule. Even two people in a booth, I can understand. But one? There were lots of comfortable single seats that could have accomodated her; it was just selfishness. And the downfall of Western Civilization.

And “Piano Man” was probably playing too loudly in her ear to hear my remark, accompanied by a gesture in her general direction, “I hope you’re enjoying your giant booth.” But the lady in the booth behind her did hear me, and she looked up from her little game of Uno she was playing with her husband and grown son. Which seems a perfectly reasonable use for a booth. Sorry, I didn’t mean you. Hope you didn’t fall victim to any Draw Fours.

Toward the end of the trip, the booth next to this woman freed up, and I slid T in so he could stand up against the window and eat this enormous lollipop, the long, twisting, rainbow kind stuck on a wooden dowel. I had saved that pop for this long, last leg of the journey. T had already won every video game, said hello to every human and dog on this ship, and said “bye” to every boat that passed. So I can call it only karma that while this woman was on her phone worrying about her lunch plans at the top of her lungs, T whipped that pop straight at her so hard that it rained down in shards all around her, and her special booth (it didn’t actually hit her, thankfully). It was as if the ghosts of GIs lost to Normandy long ago arose from deep within the ship to let the Cape Henlopen see battle once again, reenacting Omaha Beach in rainbow sugar.

To her credit, she wasn’t mad when I came over to apologize, but when I tried to go into her booth to clean up the wreckage she waved me away, saying, “Leave it, the crew will get it.” Well, la-di-da to you, lady. T just fired a warning shot across your bow; hopefully next time you’ll heed his warning. Draw four.

I can hear T stirring so it’s time to call a cease fire in the war against cyclists’ sideburns and single seat snobs. We’re headed out to the swimming hole. There are still six hours to fill with summer fun before bedtime, a glass of wine, and the Tour recap show.

A beginner’s guide to Anglophilia

The first bite of pasta and tomato sauce for an Italian-American baby is a momentous event. This is what they’ve been building toward since birth: getting past the milk and mush to a plate of macaroni. My Italian-American baby, C, had his first bite of the stuff at a wedding in a country house in England. And this was exactly how I wanted it to be: a perfect marriage of his inevitable upbringing, with a little bit of balm on the raging case of Anglophilia I’ve had since I was a teenager. Can we blame Morrissey? Maybe, I don’t remember when it started. But it remains.

So when our good friends were getting married in Devon, we popped onto a plane to Heathrow with a nine-month-old C. Along with a car seat, and case; stroller, and case; diapers, clothes, a bear and an extra bear. He squirmed and cried in a strange baby hammock given to us by Virgin Atlantic, which was hooked onto the bulkhead wall. People walked by and grimaced. But we made it. And it was all worth it when I pushed him out into his first bit of British air: the sandwich aisle inside the airport Marks and Spencer where I immediately ate a well-deserved egg and bacon sandwich. I swear I love England for those triangle sandwiches alone. They know exactly their worth; they’re not trying to be heroes.

On the way to Devon we stopped at Stonehenge so C could commune with representatives of his ancestry: German tourists. We had come dressed for our idea of English spring: cozy tea behind rain-fogged pub windows. But the sky in the Salisbury Plain was perfect blue, stretching on cloudlessly without end. C covered his eyes with his blanket, and I listened to the audiofuhrer, as the Germans call it.

Cheap sunglasses at bright Stonehenge.

In Devon before the wedding we stayed at a thatched cottage with friends. I mean, really. It was awesome. In the early morning, before everyone else was awake, I fed C Tesco-bought baby fruit from those little squeeze packs that we didn’t have in the US then. It was a wonder. I squeezed and looked past him at the sun coming up over sloping fields, and far-off forests that probably held fairy cottages and cairns. Or not – I couldn’t hike that far with a baby on my back. But even in more reachable places like the patio, the pub, the village church, or Tesco…oh please let me put in this Wordsworth quote – even though if you read the whole thing it doesn’t really fit: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/But to be young was very heaven!”

For the wedding, we dressed C in a seersucker suit and took pictures of him with a fascinator on his head. I wanted to wear one myself, but I knew I couldn’t; people from Long Island can’t wear feathers or insects on their heads and not look like they made far too much of an effort. Look here’s Kate Middleton laughing: ah heh heh ha! ha! ha! Oh, it’s all just too grand being you.

The England that I love, that I imagine, and that I see (or choose to see) when I get to go there, is something I can only peer at from outside a window. In fact, as someone said to me at breakfast the day after the wedding, as I tried to open a leaded window in the dining room of the impossibly beautiful Elizabethan estate that we were so lucky to stay in: “Careful, that window is older than America.” Duly noted.

Windows older than America.

I think that remark sums up what I find so beguiling about Englishness or what I, as an American, perceive as Englishness. First off, that was a quick, funny remark; it’s why I love British comedy television so much I’ll admit membership to New Hampshire Public Television’s Britwit Club. But it’s also emblematic of how the English, unlike we here, live in the shadow of a long history – a history that gives England a rich culture and community life: quaint Medieval villages around a green, gnarled hedgerows, listed homes, Iron Age remains by the layby, the local pub, a rich language for Americans to destroy…Ordnance Survey maps. Anthony Trollope. Only Fools and Horses. But with the legacy comes the stewardship of it: living up to its glories, facing up to its wrongs, keeping the best of it alive while trying to move forward. I don’t mean to dissect the entire English psyche here, and I don’t think that the person who made that joke to me was getting at some huge meaning, I am just saying that perhaps part of being English means sacrificing a little bit of yourself to maintain that history. Stiff upper lip and all that. Choosing to schvitz, say, rather than risk breaking the lovely old window. Unless you’re Kate Middleton. Then you can do whatever you want and people call you a duchess. No, I’m not jealous.

I think this is why in a lot of great English TV comedies (which is where I get many of my ideas about England, for better or for worse), there is such a strong sense of irony – the people in these shows aspire to better lives, higher things, more money or status, but those attempts are foolish, to be mocked. Look at Basil Fawlty trying to put on a “gourmet night” at his sad little seaside hotel. Look at Del Boy Trotter, who says, poignantly, “This time, next year, we’ll be millionaires!” but he never (quite) makes it out of Peckham. There’s the ridiculous Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet), Blackadder, David Brent, Edina Monsoon…on and on.

Meanwhile, in America, it’s all meritocracy, the sky’s the limit! The road stretches on forever! You can be anything you want to be, darn it! President? Astronaut? Go for it! It’s what we tell our kids, and look at the TV shows that are produced here for children. So few of the kids on them are typical; most of them are extraordinary. Look at Big Time Rush, Hannah Montana, iCarly, even Dora the Explorer: everyone’s a rock star of some kind or another (this is why I prefer Caillou). It’s an impossibly positive message, it’s the vastness of land and mind that this country is built on, which is great…but it’s annoying, isn’t it? Because, and I think the English know this, one in a million of us will make it to some higher eschelon, fame, fortune, whatever we determine to be outsized success, but most of us? Won’t. Which is fine. And in the face of that, you need to take comfort, more than comfort, pleasure, in everyday things: a cup of tea, a good joke, a well-done day of work in whatever it is that you do. We all have dreams, of course, we all want to be as good as we can be, and we should always try. The British themselves have achieved a bit of success over the years. And I’m not saying in London jigs of glee are being danced every day at elevenses. But look how happy they look on TV when someone brings them a cuppa! That’s nice.

Anyway, there’s got to be a halfway between the UK and USA in this way of thinking. That you can dream but not let the dreams overtake you. What’s halfway? The middle of the ocean? No, look at the Titanic. Canada? Have they got it figured out? I don’t know, ask Caillou.

So back to the kid. When C’s off being president of the United States of the Moon, how will be remember his dear old mother and her fondness for the English way of life? How will he build on those first experiences of British sun and pasta coursing through his little body in those tender years? After the wedding dinner (in England, do you call it a “wedding breakfast” even if it takes place at dinnertime?), he went up to his crib while we danced to Parklife in the old hall, the baby monitor straining to transmit through ancient stone. And then it was time to go home.

On the flight back to Boston, desperate to stop him crying so that we (and everyone aboard) could have a peaceful flight, we jettisoned the baby hammock, propped him up in his car seat, and turned on the seatback television. We discovered Pocoyo, and he watched a string of episodes whilst shoveling Virgin America pasta and tomato sauce into his face. Now that’s his first AND second bowls of pasta outside driving distance of Flatbush Avenue. But it worked. And he discovered a show that he loved, narrated by Stephen Fry.

Stephen Fry (left) as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie a...

Stephen Fry (left) as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster in the TV series Jeeves and Wooster. (Wikipedia)

Like the Italian language, I think it can only do him good to get the tones of Stephen Fry in his young ears. Pocoyo is a Spanish children’s show, narrated in translation by Fry. Against a white backdrop, Pocoyo and his animal friends (including Pato, the fussy duck) have a series of silly adventures. It’s sweet – a sort of whimsical Caillou, that Fry enhances with a gentle wit. It’s just fun, none of the characters have Grammys or their own talk shows. And when he is a little older (but not much), together we’ll read my favorite English author, P.G. Wodehouse, and watch Fry and the incredible Hugh Laurie portray Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster. Why? That deserves its own blog post. To come. In the meantime, I know Fry’s voice can pull C out of a cranky mood, which I understand. It’s what I do to stop myself from crying sometimes. I turn to Fry, Laurie, to Wodehouse, and to the comforts of an imaginary England.

I like to think, maybe even in England, there is someone that might find some romance in the place that we live. I hope so. That would make me feel less like running away to run a post office in a small village in the Cotswolds. Maybe someone there wants to come see Mass. Ave., that looks so straight and dreary to me, full of nail salons, pizza parlors and CVS stores – and find some beauty in it. The streak of Paul Revere as he rode to Lexington, say, or the start of a western trail that blazes across a country, full of hope, without limits. I don’t know, maybe I can squint and see that myself. I’ll keep admiring those worn old colonial route markers that pop up along the way. I’ll drive out of my way to pass them, and pretend they’re Stonehenge.

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