This is and is not about New York City. I’m on an airplane right now, flying back to Salt Lake City after spending three days falling in love with both Utah and New York City at the same time (one a little bit more than the other). This wasn’t my first trip to a big city or even my first trip to a big city with children, but it was my first time doing it without another adult, so maybe this isn’t so much a reflection on New York City as it is of single motherhood in extreme conditions. But friends, let me tell you this, one Country Mouse to another: New York City is hard.
I know your friends regale you with stories of the wonderful food, the sights, the theater. I know they post +75 photos. I know they make it look easy. Your friends are lying to you. Either that or your friends did not bring their children. Either that or your friends’ children have been secretly training for a marathon.
New York City requires several things that children do not naturally do well: distance walking, personal space, and convenient bathrooming. I have never been so hyperaware of bathroom locations in my life (and this includes potty training two children). We arrived in New York City several hours before we could check into our hotel, so after dropping off our bags we went to lunch, where I foolishly let the littlest one have soda. And thus it began. In between the bathroom hunts we had amazing cheesecake and saw glorious buildings, but it was somewhat diminished by the urgent cries of “Mom! It can’t wait!”
We were further hampered by the fact that getting from one place to another in a city uses entirely different muscles than it does in the country. I’m used to traveling with children in a self-contained vehicle — nobody is kicking strangers; everybody has plenty of water, treats, air-conditioning, and rest; and, of course, we have a go-bag in the trunk with a spare of everything (including two spare panties).
Moving around in a city is simple in theory, but in practice it is so darn hard. Walking? The blocks go on for days in the sticky, oppressive heat, and anytime anyone said “That’s a quick 10 minute walk,” I knew that with my kids it would be at least 40 sweaty minutes. Taking the bus? First you have to figure out how and where to buy a MetroCard — a task that sounds simple but involved at least 35 minutes of walking and two information desks. Or you could try to pay cash and discover you’ll need $12 in change. Change. Luckily, a kind lady rescued us on that day with her MetroCard or this Country Mouse would have sat on the curb and ugly cried.
Subway? Didn’t even try. With my luck we would still be lost under New York City. Taxis? At some point the high cost of taxis will seem well worth it, and watching TV and movies will have taught you that hailing a cab involves standing on the curb with your arm out. But nobody tells you how intimidating it is to actually do it for the first time or how not to panic about the fact that if none of the magic yellow cars takes pity on you, you’ll be walking until your next birthday or ugly crying at the next bus stop.
Basically, getting around New York City takes at least five times the effort that you think it should, so you arrive at your destination feeling about how you would when leaving a similar destination at home. But that’s ok, right? Because New York City is worth the effort. Well, yes and no.
Our trip to New York City was prompted by a desire to go to a Broadway show. My kids are pretty savvy little theater-goers. My seven year old has been attending full-length shows without incident since she was 4. But we have never gone to the theater when completely bone-tired, so I didn’t realize my lovely theater patron would lose her show manners — shifting oddly in her seat, standing up randomly, and spending a large portion of the intermission weeping — when attending the theater in New York City.
The much-anticipated show (“Wicked”) was wonderful. My 13-year-old daughter said it was the best show she’s ever seen. But it’s hard to have a transcendent theatrical experience when you spend several hours physically holding back your child’s legs so they don’t tap or even brush the seat in front (and before you assume I was being paranoid, the aforementioned weeping followed a comment from the patrons directly in front of us regarding the contact of little feet and seat). So even though the quality of the production was in a different league from what one can catch in my neck of the woods, the overall experience is better back home.
We recently saw a production of “Beauty and the Beast” at BYU that was truly lovely, and I could be engaged the whole time because neither of the girls beside me were too tired to keep it together (not to mention the fact that the difference in ticket price would cover my groceries for a month).
We had great times in the city: eating amazing food, wandering in Central Park, seeing celebrities I could almost remember the names of (the balding doctor on “ER”? That one lady with red hair?), exploring the Museum of Natural History, etc. On 78th Street, walking with a slice of pizza in my hand and ending up on a bench by a dog park to eat it, I could see finding happy places in the behemoth that is New York City. It is, I am sure, a gold mine I have yet to fully discover. But, friends, let me tell you this, one Country Mouse to another: Where you are right now is a gold mine you have yet to fully discover, too.
Here in Utah we have theater, we have museums, we have parks — and the effort to enjoyment ratio is highly favorable. So be happy where you are and don’t feel like you are missing out. New York City will still be there when your children have greater bladder control.