We are getting ready to pack again which means that our time in New Rochelle & New York City is coming to an end.
It is a strange feeling, almost a melancholy one that it is time to put our lives back into three backpacks. It could also mean that I really genuinely hate fucking packing. To be honest I have it down to an art-form now and as we don’t have a huge amount of stuff I could probably be packed and ready to leave in about 30 minutes. Which is probably the time I will leave myself to complete the job even though I had today to start and we have all day tomorrow. I might even surprise myself and do it tomorrow leaving myself a night to spare. Pigs might also fly.
We have had the most amazing two weeks and I think I have learnt more about the kids and I in this short amount of time than I have in a lifetime. I have thrown plans out the window as common sense and a little amount of experience tells me that they are not really feasible. I have been surprised by what the kids like, I have been sorely disappointed by things that did not turn out how I imagined them in my dream addled head. I have been overwhelmed at times by doing this on my own to the point of exhaustion. At other times I have been deliriously happy that it is just me and I have no-one else to answer to or to appease, or make happy. Being a single mum traveller means that you can occasionally make completely selfish decisions about things that suit you, even if it means at the end of some days you are exhausted to the point of being bat shit crazy.
Being on your own also means that you do all the worrying about money and plans, about what is safe and what is feasible, you are the camel who carries things and the human garbage bin. What is it about kids that look at you and see a garbage bin? It does not matter where we are, what they are eating or what we are doing. I know that at some stage a little sticky hand is going to eventually thrust a piece of rubbish in my face. It makes me see every kind of colour of enraged crimson and ruby and want to jump up and down in a frenzy screeching like a wild banshee, “What the fuck is this, I am not a fucking garbage bin, I am an incredible creature living out a Hollywood movie in my head, do not thrust your empty hot dog wrapper in my face as if I am happy to receive it. Out damn spot. Out. Damn you.” Instead I calmly say, “I am not a garbage bin Archie/Rissie” and point them in the direction of the nearest bin or the backpacks on their pack. I amaze myself how many times in a day I can calmly repeat that whilst jumping round like a crazed harridan in my head.
One of the first things that surprised me about New York City is that there are rats as big as squirrels in Central Park. On our second day to Central Park, having seen no squirrels on the first day I went armed with an attitude of patience and a bag of acorns. I was going to capture the perfect squirrel photo. We had found a playground for the kids and a place for me to read and daydream when a movement out of the corner of my eye alerted me to the fact I had found my squirrel. I started laying out acorns, had my camera out, I even started to track it, not yet ready to be patient. After a few moments I realised that what I was actually tracking was a great big fucking rat. I let out a little yelp, jumped a bit, wiped my hands on myself, even though I had not touched anything and moved our bags. I refused to look at anyone in the surrounding vicinity. I did not want anyone to know I had been fooled by a rat. Biggest bloody rat I have ever seen. He had probably eaten all the bloody squirrels in Central Park.
I had a couple of big ticket items budgeted and planned for New York City. The Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and lastly The Natural History Museum. There are some things as a visiting alien to a new land that you just can’t miss out on. A bit like going to Rome and not seeing the Colosseum, Paris and the Eiffel Tower or Sydney and the Opera House. Surprisingly enough the big ticket items were not the kid pleasing experience I had thought they would be. I had however thought that the Natural History Museum would be a guaranteed Archie and Rissie pleasing experience so I left it to our last Saturday. As soon as we departed the subway platform though and had the security guards bellowing at the masses who were trying to get into the Natural History Museum door off the platform my gut told me to change my plans. At the ripe old age of 44 I am still steadfastly ignoring the signals that my gut sends me, so we went around to the main entrance, trudged up the stairs and entered the throng. $47 USD and 30 minutes later I was kicking myself.
The Natural History Museum is an amazing building, truly beautiful and I am sure you could get lost in there for days. But the people, the crowds, the noise. It was all just too much. Also I don’t think the Museum as such is designed for children. Not that I am saying it should be, just that I am not interested in traipsing around a museum and dragging two reluctant, bored and overwhelmed children with me. When I win lotto I shall return on my own and savour the museums as only a solo adult who has no time-frame but her own can. I stopped at the Information Desk and asked the lady if she could recommend a few things that eight year old children would like so I could plan my visit. I asked this as the Museum is overwhelmingly large and spread over 4 floors. The lady who was there to assist visitors laughed at me. I don’t think she was being mean, I just think she assumed that the whole museum was perfect for children and I was a stupid foreigner asking a stupid question. So she was not exactly helpful and already our visit was off on the wrong foot. I felt like poking her in the eye with a knitting needle. Luckily I don’t knit.
After about 30 minutes Rissie came to me in tears and asked me, “How can I read anything when I can’t hear anything over the noise?” For some reason it made me think of Zoolander when he was looking at the model building of the School of the Blind that he meant to be sponsoring and he asked, “How can the children learn how to read when they can’t even fit into the building?”. Having that image in my head and trying not to burst out laughing meant that I was not particularly supportive of Rissie’s anxieties. But do you know what? There were too many fucking people and the place was just too big for me to be a very good mother, and increasingly the three of us weren’t in the right frame of mind.
Then we went looking for Dumb-Dumb – not sure if that is his right name, but he was the big Eastern Island’s statue from The Night at the Museum movie. By the time we got to him there were people swarming all over him and whatever quality time Archie had imagined with Dumb Dumb was just not going to happen. So we left. Five minutes later it was Archie’s turn to be in tears, stressing out about the money we had wasted and that he was a disappointment to me. Funnily enough at that exact moment in time I was actually stressing about having just wasted almost $50 USD on a museum that none of us enjoyed so as soon as he started crying about it I felt like a fucking arsehole and wanted to sit on the footpath with him and have a good cry as well. Expect I couldn’t voice that. I had to reassure him that all was ok, he didn’t need to stress, that occasionally the money didn’t matter.
Once he was ok, I then felt like bursting into tears and asking Archie and Rissie in a really, mean sarcastic way, who was going to make me feel better now that everything was ok for them. I went through one of those entirely selfish, ‘woe is me’ moments. Naturally we all calmed down, started aimlessly walking and window shopping the Upper West Side, wandered into a glorious church and found a vegan place that was on my list and had an amazing lunch. Day was not a loss by any stretch of the imagination. I am just starting to think the Big Ticket items aren’t my cup of tea. I will continue to do them, I can’t imagine going to Rome and not seeing the Colosseum. But I think my expectations will be low. We are travelling slow for a reason, that is to get to know areas, to live like locals and to have the time to find ‘my’ version of whatever place it is that we visit and stay for a while. It is then that the magic seems to appear.
On the final Sunday I had Greenwich Village planned. It is a place that has lived in my head for as long as I can remember. It is also home to one of my food heroines Chef Chloe. Apart from that I had nothing planned, I was being a little selfish as I did not factor in the kids, I just wanted to go. It had been all about them for two weeks, now it was going to be about me. Bloody me. I deserved a day doing exactly what I wanted to do dammit and I was going to do just that. Anyway, it was the best day ever. As soon as we alighted from the Bleecker Street subway station I just had a good feeling. We had no time frame and nowhere to go so we wandered. Chef Chloe did not disappoint and I believe I was beaming inside and out as I sat in her amazing cafe and ate her amazing food.
Afterwards we found Washington Square Park and a few hours later the kids were soaked after running through the Washington Square Fountain in t-shirts and undies. I had snoozed, read, daydreamed and watched squirrels all to the background of jazz musicians and New York City traffic. I found my New York. I never wanted to leave.