In a recent New York Times article the wonders of taking children to New York City are celebrated. While the obvious is stated by writer Pamela Paul right away (“New York is an overwhelming city to visit with children”), she then plows straightaway into all these suggestions as to where to take the kiddies. As a lifetime New Yorker who has children, let us cut to the chase and get to the truth – bringing the kids to New York is like eating a Big Mac right before your colonoscopy.
In recent days as the tourist season descends inexorably upon the Big Apple, I have seen first hand the frenzy of people with children visiting these streets. As a parent I know I often avoid things I really want to do because I have the kids in tow. So when you witness parents with kids waiting on the long line to get in to see the 9/11 Memorial, for example, you know that Mom and Dad are taking in what they want at the expense of the kids (who in this case were wailing, trying to run around, and were basically miserable in the heat).
Paul does advise that some places like MoMA and the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum are good bets, but even these can take the wind out of the most earnest sightseeing parents’ sails, and the geographical distances are great between them. Do not believe for any minute that you should “walk” New York. The best way to go is what we New Yorkers already know – the subway! You will find that the train is your best friend, though at peak times it will be crowded with residents like me who are, honestly, less than thrilled to see you and your runny nosed tykes crowding the car with crying mouths open and dripping sippy cups.
The most glaring problem in NYC for tourists and New Yorkers alike is the appalling lack of public facilities (meaning toilets). With my kids a potty break is almost essential every hour (or for the little guy sometimes less depending on how much liquid he has sucked down). This is perhaps the biggest obstacle and a daunting one. Recently down at the Burger King close to the World Trade Center a family of four confided to me that they waited for the bathroom (after they had to buy food because the toilet is only for customers) for over thirty minutes due to the long line.
All over the city the problem is just as bad. Paul tries to blow it off and suggests using some department stores, Starbucks, or (and this is a good one) “dash into a restaurant looking sheepish.” Lady, I don’t if you are a New Yorker or not, but “sheepish” isn’t going to cut it around here. And every Starbucks is so overcrowded (long lines with kids who have to pee are not acceptable) and many times you will find a note on the locked door with a message like “Won’t Flush But Will Soon: Promise!” Try to tell that to your four year old who has just had two juice boxes!
No, truthfully and honestly New York City is no place for kids (and sometimes not for adults too), especially at this time of year. I was walking around the city yesterday and saw a frenzy that is a bit disconcerting. The tour buses pull up, people shoot out toward the destination (in this case The Empire State Building), and all seems lost for those of us who are on the clock and need to get someplace.
Anyway, if you are crazy enough to bring your kids to New York, you are going to have to forgo the guilty pleasures you and your spouse have sought (that cocktail in The Peninsula Hotel is definitely out) and take in the joys that are mostly free and less stressful (and include a convenient potty station).
1. Central Park (or any of our beautiful parks). They are free, allow the children places to run and play, and provide plenty of photo-ops (Paul suggests the Alice in Wonderland Statue) with my favorites being The Sheep Meadow or Bethesda Fountain. Oh, and don’t forget our world famous zoo!
2. Circle Line Cruise. For a trip around Manhattan that is inexpensive and extensive, you and your kids will not find a better option. You literally get to see everything without having boots on the ground. The air out on the water is refreshing, and you will get enough pictures to fill that album when you get home.
3. Toys R Us (Times Square). Every kid (and parents too) should go here once in a lifetime. Yes, of course, you will have to pick up the obligatory toy, but there is an unforgettable life-size T-Rex (whose roar should scare and delight), a Ferris wheel, a huge Barbie dollhouse, and interactive games.
4. Statue of Liberty. Okay, you know you want to go here, Mom and Dad. The kids will want to see it and climb it and look out the crown’s windows to view the city in all its glory. I remember doing this for the first time when I was six years old and have never forgotten a moment of that climb, the fun had with my parents and family, and the view out those windows. Your kids will never forget it either.
5. Citi Field. Yes, I am a Mets fan, and many of you will want to venture to the Bronx to see that other place that shall not be named here, but your kids will love Citi Field’s amenities. Besides the outstanding Jackie Robinson Rotunda and Mets Hall of Fame and Museum, there are batting cages, a whiffle ball field, a dunk tank, interactive games, and kid friendly meals at the concessions. Oh, and you get to see a baseball game too!
So if you come to New York those are my suggestions if you have kids. I know most of you will throw caution to the proverbial wind off the East River and just dive in, but you are in for a rough ride. New York City is a great place to live and work, but to visit the Big Apple especially with children is an arduous adventure. Those of us who live here know to avoid the touristy places as much as possible with children in tow, but sometimes we must bring them because of some necessary and compelling reason, and then we pay the price.
My advice is to go to a more kid friendly place like LA or Orlando. Those places are made for kids, just ask Jack Nicholson or Mickey Mouse. They will tell you like it is. Take it from someone who has done Disney, Hershey, Montauk, and Maine with the little ones – a stay-cation is sometimes the best gift you can give yourself and the kids. They have all their toys, games, and comforts of home. You have infinitely less stress, save some money, and the potty is always available. Ah, the comforts of home indeed!
Photo credits: map & circle line – nytimes.com; subway – wikimedia.com,