A Weekend in NYC: December, 2021

When Broadway announced its reopening after (?) COVID, I jumped on it, and bought four tickets to a December Saturday matinee of "Hamilton" for Samantha, me, Lyla, and Emily--a moms and daughters day for Samantha's 10th birthday just a couple days before, and a chance to meet in New York and see Jersey (cue Jersey joke...) friends we see too rarely. NYC in general and Broadway in specific had vaccination requirements, and Emily and I made sure we had the kids in compliance and our paperwork in order, and everything looked good until a few days before. Then, right on Samantha's birthday, shows started cancelling performances because of breakthrough cases. Emily and I were furiously texting back and forth, and our show was officially cancelled about ten minutes after we boarded the Amtrak for New York on Friday afternoon. Neither of us had told the girls yet, because it seemed like something that maybe we wouldn't have to mention, except, once we were sitting in our seats (front row mezzanie), a few minutes before the curtain, to say, "You know, funny story, we almost didn't get to see this!" Of course that's not how it worked out, so we had to break the news to them. It helped (I guess?) that we still planned on getting together, so they'd have a friend day out of it after all, and I suppose it also helped--though this sounds awful to say--that Samantha's become so incredibly used to things getting cancelled because of COVID. Maybe nothing is real until it happens anymore. The more positive spin on this is that buzzword of "resilient," but I just keep hearing "traumatized" in the back of my head. At any rate, I rebooked us almost-but-not-quite-as-good seats for a Saturday matinee in April, and what the heck--we'll try this again in four months. Who knows what the world will be like then? I sure don't.

When we got on the train at Back Bay with Tasty Burger burgers and fries and tots, Robert had already hopped on at South Station, just a couple blocks from his office, with some Chinatown buns to round out supper on the train, and saved us two sets of four seats across the aisle from each other. Helen didn't remember other train trips we've taken, but we all agree that, given the choice, a train trip is vastly more comfortable than the plane. I crocheted a hat, Marcus started teaching himself Esperanto, Samantha built things in Minecraft and listened to music, and Helen did a dinosaur sticker book in anticipation of dinosaurs tomorrow.

The plan had always been for dads and big boys and little kids to meet at the Museum of Natural History while we had lunch and went to the show, so now we just all pivoted to that. Helen had seen "Night at the Museum" just a week or so ago and was ready. We got into Penn Station and walked a few blocks to an AirBnB in an entire apartment building of AirBnBs on 31st Street. The bathroom was impressively small, but there were two separate bedrooms with four beds and a table and chairs and kitchenette, so it was definitely better suited to our needs than a standard hotel room.

Saturday was drizzly and misty and in the 40s; we got up, had Ess-a-Bagel sandwiches (cream cheese and nova lox; whitefish salad, tomato, and red onion; and bacon and egg) around the corner, and then walked uptown a bit, reading about Horace Greeley, looking at the Macy's windows, and stopping at a fancy French pastry place near Bryant Square Park. Robert had the first of many small heart attacks when a large hot chocolate was $9.90, but with two hot chocolates and a few pastries, we found a mostly dry table and two chairs under an umbrella and watched the ice skaters and listened to Christmas carols for awhile. We walked around and looked at the Christmas market stands, and got Marcus a giant scoop of Cookie DO cookie dough, with a spoon.

From there we walked a bit further to Rockefeller Center, looking at the tree and getting Dough donuts (chocolate frosted with cocoa nibs, powdered sugar Nutella-filled, and cafe au lait) to go. They wrapped the donuts really well, and I just put them in my bag while we hopped on the subway and headed uptown to the museum.

Just like home--the seats are a different configuration than Boston subways, but the kids just sat down and opened their books (or Kindles). I am really proud of the good city citizens and transit riders our kids are.

Outside the museum we joined (at 11:33) a long line of people waiting to get in. Everyone already had admission purchased and had a timed entry ticket--ours were for 12:30, the people in front of us for 11:00, the people behind us for 11:30, and the people behind them for 1:00. It was a giant mish-mash, with them checking vaccination cards and IDs at the front of the line and then letting peope in in waves that didn't correspond to any particular variable we could discern, but at 12:26 we finally actually entered the museum. The kids all talked eagerly, with Samantha and Lyla putting their heads together deep in discussion about..something, while Helen and Caleb played tag up and down the steps, and the big boys picked right back up in some turn-based game Marcus had saved on his phone since they were together camping in August.

Inside the museum, we alternated splitting up into smaller groups and all hanging out together, including a donut and coffee and chip break in the cafeteria (hi, memories of elementary school fieldtrips and hundreds of kids eating squished sandwiches in there...), a visit to the dinosaur wing, and a giant screen movie about sea lions. Samantha took scores of pictures, a few of which are below.

The sea lion movie had the surprising--to Helen, at least--twist at the end where the baby sea lion we had been tracking since the beginning of the film was now grown up and nursing a pup of her own. "Wait--THAT's Otto? With her OWN baby?" Helen asked incredulously, when Robert pointed it out to her. It was also really nice to sit down and relax in the dim movie theatre at the end of the day. From there, we saw the large Christmas tree with origami animals, dinosaurs, and geodes representing the museum's collections, and then we went to Seven Hills, a sleepy Turkish place on 72nd that was happy to accommodate all eleven of us at 5pm.

No one really wanted the day to end, so Emily and Nathaniel drove us downtown, singing Christmas carols in the car. On 32nd Street, Emily and I jumped out with the girls and the little kids, and went into a three-story Korean food course. I got Korean walnut cakes filled with walnuts and Nutella; Korean fish waffles (plain mochi batter with Nutella or matcha mochi batter with custard); and two sampler boxes of four different churros each (marshmallow with pistachios; marshmallow with coconut; chocolate with almond; cinnamon matcha; etc.). Emily found it pretty overwhelming in there noise-wise, though Lyla was wide-eyed--and Caleb loved running into two stuffed Squid Game people on the second floor ("SQUID GAME!" he yelled, and ran right up and patted the hand of the circle guy). Eventually I waited for the food while they all went outside, sitting in one of the many shelters NYC has allowed restaurants to erect in parking spots. Boston, while allowing expanded outdoor dining because of COVID, didn't go nearly as far as New York in removing parking entirely from many blocks and having structures with actual roofs and walls and utilities--lights, gas grills for Korean BBQ, etc.--just lining the sides of streets up and down the blocks. It was really impressive. We finally met up with everyone else, who had managed to find a parking spot, and we all crammed into our little AirBnB for dessert and a last round of friend-time.

The big boys sprawled on a bed and kept playing their game; Helen and Caleb managed to play hide-and-seek in the tiny apartment; and Samantha and Lyla build avatars of each other in various games and programs on a top bunk in the other room. Helen also helped Caleb open a Christmas present Sarah had sent down for Emily's family, and everyone of course ate churros, until finally Emily and Nathaniel herded up their kids and drove back to Jersey around 10:00.

On Sunday we were up and out of the apartment at 8:15, storing our suitcase with a guy in the lobby for $5, and walking a couple blocks to the Empire State Building. I remember going to the Empire State Building so many times as a kid--whenever we had cousins in from California, or Russian exchange students, or my Wellesley little sister visiting, and maybe a few other times on our own. But the exhibits before you get to the observation decks have been greatly expanded (along with the security, and also the price). The kids all loved it--we had read a few books about the building of skyscrapers before, so things like walking along the beams and throwing the hot rivets were familiar to them. Interestingly, they didn't know anything about King Kong. On the 80th floor, with the inside viewing windows, there were lots of vintage binoculars set up showing little movies inside, and Helen really loved those--even though she couldn't reach most of them.

The girls also appreciated the candy Empire State Building for the holidays, and the green screen/photo opportunities.

Upstairs on the 86th floor deck, it was lovely--a beautiful day, with great visibility and awesome clouds above the city. Two sides of the observation deck were balmy and pleasant, and two were whipped with wind, but I've definitely been here on days when all sides were biting and blustery.

We entered around 8:30, despite our 9:00 tickets, and stayed until 10:00, at which point we walked back to 32nd Street and went into Miss Korea for a great Korean brunch--what could be better than a barbequed meat sampler platter, and an assortment of banchan, at 10:00 in the morning? I love New York and 24-hour-a-day restaurants.

Marcus ate nearly all the scrambled egg banchan, and cup after cup of seasoned bean paste on spicy grilled pork, plus he and Helen split a rice cake soup that I ordered, and he and Samantha and Robert downed cups of roasted barley green tea. I appreciated the fish cakes and the zucchini banchan, and the free serving of spicy tofu stew, and also the chilled noodle soup I ordered (not particularly seasonally appropriate, but it's relatively hard to find in Boston and makes horrendous take-out, so I wasn't passing up the opportunity), and Helen ate a lot of the marinated grilled chicken while doing a "hidden pictures" activity. It was the first live Korean BBQ we've had since before COVID.

From there, the kids and I stopped for snacks in the H-Mart (strawberry Pocky, Singapore-style pork jerky, and milk-tea-coated almonds--everything good, but that last one, really quite addictive) while Robert grabbed our suitcase, and then we went to Liberty Bagels on 35th, braving the loooooong line for some red and green or rainbow bagels to eat on the train. They were a hit, whether with ham and egg inside or with Oreo cream cheese (Helen). Robert and I shared a pumpernickel everything bagel with lox/lemon/dill cream cheese, but all the bagels were really excellent.

It was an easy walk back a couple blocks to the train station at that point, and we managed to get good seats again. Marcus read and did his math homework, Samantha read, and Helen read or played that little Strawberry Shortcake cake-decorating game--I mostly dozed. Marcus has managed to grow into an actual helpful adult-sized person on trips, someone who can run ahead and grab seats on a train, or carry a backpack and wheel a suitcase and also walk Helen along. I don't know how it's happened--but I appreciate it. We got into Back Bay just before 6:00, and then it was a short subway ride home, and Helen was washed and brushed and asleep by 7:00. It was a good weekend, though not the weekend we'd planned. We'll try for that again in April.


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Created: 12/20/21. Last Modified: 12/20/21.