I think I said at one point that four years old is the perfect age for a human. And then I think I said it about five year olds. But I really mean it this time: six-and-a-half is just the best. Henry and I took a super-quick trip to New York City this weekend, and I can’t get over what a great time we had. We met my dad there on his way back from a very long international trip, so our first stop was lunch with Papa Bill–pizza, of course!– and a quick run through the Lego Store at Rockefeller Center.
The weather was truly, truly terrible: 49 degrees, windy, driving rain. But the great thing about a little boy is that rain means puddles and puddles mean splashing. We splashed in every puddle in Midtown, then we hit the Upper West Side puddles, and a whole bunch in Central Park, too. I had a whole day planned–Cantral Park Zoo, rowboats, Empire State Building–but it went out the window when the rain started, and as is so often the case when you’re traveling, the new plan was full of great moments and surprises of its own.
After lunch with Papa, we took a pedicab along the park to the American Museum of Natural History, and it blew our minds. Henry is in a hard-core dinosaur phase, and his kindergarten just did a unit on dinosaurs, so he raced from room to room, shouting out facts and names–Cretaceous! Jurassic! T Rex! He was in his glory. We loved the whale exhibit, and I was surprised at how interested he was in the meteorites and the minerals, too. We held hands and wandered from hall to hall. It was so wet and stormy outside but so cozy in the cavernous, dark museum. We stayed for hours.
You know that if I had been with almost anyone else, I would have planned the whole trip around restaurants, but this kid could care less about food, and the trip was for him, not for me. He is, however, passionate about one food item: the hamburger, so we stopped at Shake Shack for burgers and fries and ice cream cones. I loved Danny Meyer’s book, and his philosophy of hospitality is so compelling to me. Maybe next time I’m in NYC we’ll get to one of his fancy restaurants, but this time around, we gobbled up his crinkly fries and burgers, and we were happy as clams.
After dinner we walked by the Dakota Hotel and then Strawberry Fields in Central Park. Aaron is a serious, life-long, hard-core Beatles fan, and it was surprisingly moving to explain to Henry John Lennon’s life and death and the significance of what he created, and how much it shaped Aaron a generation later.
Next stop: FAO Schwarz, which is absolutely kid-heaven. Then hot chocolate, and then Henry absolutely begged to go back to the hotel. We snuggled up in the big bed & watched a movie until he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. We slept with the curtains open, the lights of the city blinking and glittering, keeping us company as we slept.
In the morning, he watched cartoons with Papa, their tradition since they’re both such early risers. We had breakfast with friends and then we were on our way. We were back in the Midwest by noon, full of stories and memories.
When I was growing up, my dad took me all over the world with him, and I’m so thankful for those experiences, for the smells and sounds and tastes and images and memories that I carry with me from those trips. I’m so thankful to have seen and tasted so many things in this big beautiful world, and thankful that I saw so many parts of it first as a child. It’s very meaningful to me to continue that tradition with our boys.
Parenting and traveling are similar in that you think you know what it will be like, and then you realize at almost every turn that you had no idea what was in store, and that it’s better that way. The things you couldn’t have planned end up being the moments that take your breath away. Surprises abound, in parenting and traveling both. I’ll hold the memory of splashing in puddles in Central Park with my sweet silly boy in my heart all my life. I’m thankful beyond thankful for that boy, and for what the world looks like through his eyes.