(story)time: nyc books and sights, day four

04-This is the Rope

For this post, I’m revisiting the beautiful book This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson. It’s a family story that travels through generations, as a family moves from South Carolina to New York City, and then from apartment to brownstone, neighborhood to neighborhood.

04-This is the Rope Harlem

The third generation in the story resides in a Brooklyn neighborhood, and the illustrations remind me of the myriad of housing styles we saw as we walked around. I love this book so much, with all it’s rich paintings and the story of this beloved rope and its story.

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I’m going to admit – day four wasn’t the easiest of days. Our group split up that day – M and his dad went to the auto show at the Javits Center, while the girls headed out to explore Brooklyn a little more. In my head (and my notes) I had about a dozen places that I wanted to visit, but after being in Brooklyn for a few days, I realized that it’s really, really big. So all of these little “stops” I thought might be fun, were really going to require a ton of public transportation to pull off. So I shelved those ideas for another trip.

I figured by the fourth day, the little one might be anxious for something targeted more at her age. Looking back on the whole trip now, I realized that our formula had really worked just fine until this point, so we should have just stuck with that. Picking just a couple of places to visit, really taking our time there, making sure we visited playgrounds and snack spots along the way – those were the things that helped a six-year-old keep pace. Oh well.

To be quite honest, I don’t really relish the role of trip planner. It’s not that anyone officially bestowed that title on me – it’s just that I knew I’d have to have a plan anyway, because if we just woke up in the morning and walked out the door, everyone was going to turn to me anyway and say “so, what’s the plan?” But it’s also a lot of pressure too, which can get a little exhausting. As much time and research as I put into everything, there’s just no real way to know how long it’s going to take to get somewhere and how engaging it’s going to be once we’re there. Thursday ended up being a really long day, and I felt pretty bad about that.

We headed over to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in Crown Heights. When we first emerged from the subway station, we were right across from the Jewish Children’s Museum, and I sort of wish we had just gone there. There was nothing really wrong with the BCM, it was just a combination of little things. We were really hungry and they only served extremely overpriced snacks, plus the building systems hadn’t been switched over to cooling, and it was a warm week, so the place was really stuffy. And have you been to the Magic House here in St. Louis? Or to City Museum? Or the dozens of other amazing children-focused attractions? Well now I know why all these places are consistently ranked as some of the best in the country – they are just way better. We have so many fabulous institutions right here at home, that visiting mediocre ones in other cities isn’t all that exciting. I thought it would give F an opportunity to call the shots for a couple of hours, but she never really engaged in anything, and it just wasn’t that fun. (And I was warned about this, but still insisted we try it.) Oh well.

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There was also some serious indecision in the gift shop, and so I just bought a train and we left. She was in tears about it until I made the decision – then she was all smiles.

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We walked, and walked, and walked, and whined, a lot. I was decent at navigating, but again – it’s hard to get a real sense of how far you have to walk, plus I’m not familiar with the area, and so it’s also hard to get a sense of where you really want to be walking. I’m sensitive to this as well – I mean, we live in the heart of the city and we frequent many, many areas of our own city that many outsiders might consider “sketchy”. We usually scoff at that, or just ignore it. “Sketchy” can quite easily be code for other classifications. I’m not uncomfortable being in areas where I don’t look like anyone else, but I also don’t love to look like the out-of-place tourist who has no real clue where she’s going. Oh, and add to that an obstinate first grader who just stops walking about every third of a block. It was just a wee bit tiring.

We did manage to find kind of a cool place to eat just off Franklin Street, called Berg’n – it’s a big, open warehouse space that houses several permanent booths for local food truck favorites in a big beer hall. So we all got something to eat and took advantage of the super clean bathrooms.

Then we headed to Prospect Park where the playground was buzzing – it was Good Friday, after all, so it really looked like everyone was out of school and off work. Park Slope is lovely, and so was the afternoon, although this still from one of my swinging videos makes it look really gray.

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We didn’t make it to Dizzy’s for a real meal, but we did stop in for a bathroom break and also a chocolate milkshake break. And a rocking dinosaur ride too.

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By this point it was nearing five o’clock, and our plan had been to meet up with the guys at MoMA that evening. Friday nights are free family nights, which seemed like a great time to visit. But sitting down on a park bench for an hour made me realize just how tired I was – and now we were going to head into Midtown Manhattan, during Friday’s rush hour, Friday’s Holiday Rush Hour, so yeah, I wasn’t feeling so great about my planning abilities again. The problem was, we couldn’t really communicate with the guys because they had really terrible cell phone service at the convention center, and trying to communicate while on underground transit doesn’t work either. We had a plan, and we sort of had to stick to it. We took a deep breath, said goodbye to Brooklyn’s least sketchy neighborhood ($$$) and jumped on the train.

Young Frank Architect is the perfect book for this part of our trip – this is a great book for budding designers, and it’s also a humorous look at generational views on modern design. When Young Frank and Old Frank (his grandfather) end up out of sorts one afternoon after disagreeing on various design principles, they decided to visit MoMA for some inspiration. (Our favorite part is when, after reading several exhibit labels, Young Frank asks Old Frank if all architects are named “Frank”!)

04-Young Frank Architect

So let’s just take a moment to look at this lovely streetscape outside of MoMA.

04-Young Frank Architect MoMA

And then let’s just imagine that the line to get in wraps completely around the whole NYC block and one view through the building looks like this:

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It was a madhouse. And hot and stuffy as well. I think that was the theme of our Thursday. F was finished. Done. I didn’t really blame her. It was so crowded that she couldn’t explore anything on her own, and she was pretty sick of staring at the backs of other people trying to push their way through the exhibit halls. We finally found a square of a bench to sit down on and waited for the guys to show up. We weren’t sure they’d even get in, but we lucked out.

I simply adore the book The Iridescence of Birds, A Book About Henri Matisse, by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper. We have lots and lots of art and artist related books, but this one is my favorite. It gives the reader a glimpse into the childhood life of Matisse, and frames the colors and his observations and his relationship with his mother in a way that asks the question “Is it any wonder that he painted in this way?” This book is a calming read, which is just what I needed about this time…

04-Iridescence of Birds

04-Iridescence of Birds Dance

…because I may have gotten lucky to get this uninterrupted shot…

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…but this is a far more accurate depiction of our evening spent at MoMA.

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In the end, I think it was worth it – at least for Ella. She did a really in depth study on Van Gogh in elementary school, and she’s always loved A Starry Night. She braved the crowds with my camera, patiently waiting a turn for a view.

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We left the museum, and everyone was really tired. I tried to rally and enjoy the sights – and for the most part I did. But I was really ready to let someone else take the lead for awhile. We strolled around for a few blocks, saw the famous lions at the entrance to the New York Public Library – and we reminded the girls of our favorite Library Lion (this book by Michelle Knudsen is an endearing tale of an occasion where it’s okay to break the rules in the library).

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We strolled around Bryant Park, walked into Grand Central Station, and sat down for a late night dinner of Shake Shack burgers and fries and shakes.

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Most everyone rallied after the shakes, and we headed back to the house for a well deserved rest. I tucked all the ideas I had for the day that didn’t come to fruition away for another day, another trip. And I resolved not to worry so much about whether everyone else was enjoying everything – as M reminded me again that night – everyone’s allowed to throw in their own two cents if they aren’t. (And the little one’s going to throw in a dollar every chance she gets!)

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And now I’m exhausted just reliving this, are you? Takeaways from day four? Find out the quietest hours at a museum and pay whatever they ask you to pay to visit then. Leave the day long neighborhood wanderings for the adult only trips. Skip the sort of places you already frequent at home, and search out places where you can actually learn something new. And milkshakes make everything better.

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Find these titles at your favorite local independent bookstore. Happy reading!

8 Responses to (story)time: nyc books and sights, day four

  1. I am impressed with how much you squeezed in, and sorry it was such a long day. SO sorry that MoMA was so packed. We were there earlier that day. It started out relatively quiet, but filled up quickly. We were lucky to have booked a group tour, which got us front row “seats” for the works they showed us on the tour. For other art (such as Starry Night and Matisse and Picasso), we had to fight the crowds. However, it is amazing how many people moved out of the way for the Brownies – the girls balked at wearing their uniforms, but after they heard museum patrons from all over the world oohing and ah-ing over them, (“Oh, look, they’re Brownies!” or “I was a Girl Scout” or “I love your cookies!”), and letting them move to the front of the crowd, they realized the power of those little brown vests. The fact that they were well-mannered, and carrying notebooks, and were asking for works of art by title and artist helped, too. So impressed how much these second graders already know thanks to a great art program in our schools.

    And yes, milkshakes make everything better! We learned this a couple of weeks ago when I dragged the kids to a fabric store about 30 minutes away, on a school night, because I had no other block of time that week to get there and a project that needed to be finished for a class. Bribery with milkshakes works every time 🙂

  2. I love the keepin’ it real vacation posts. We just booked tickets to take a trip to California this summer with the girls, and I LOVE my husband, but he kind of needs a reality check about what we’re going to be able to do while we’re there (and still enjoy ourselves and enjoy each other). So we’re having a lot of discussions about what will actually be manageable with an (almost) 4-year-old and (not quite) 2-year-old. (Like ONE ballgame, but not all 9 innings, for starters.)
    Brooke recently posted…FlashbacksMy Profile

    • One of our best non-beach vacations was with F as a little tot like Coco. We did Chicago, and it might have been the smoothest of all our trips. We saw a lot, but it never felt rushed or crowded.

      A successful trip really has to take in mind the variety of interests of everyone in the group. I also try to think about what I might find disappointing in a trip, (or someone else might) and work to avoid that. For example – when I’m on vacation, I look at it as an opportunity to eat at places I’ve read about or that have been recommended by other people. So I know I have to plan that into the mix so we’re not scrambling at the hungry hour. Others in my family might be more disappointed if an exhibit is closed, or if the weather means we can’t do some big outdoor event. I’m more like ‘Was I forced to eat lunch at the airport or in a fast food drive thru lane or some random Applebee’s somewhere? Nope? Awesome. Successful trip!” 😉

    • My biggest regret was not coming straight over and forcing ourselves into your group. I know we could have pulled it off with two girl scouts in the pack. I think it would have been such a fun day, and we could have hung out in person!

      Oh well, live and learn. It wasn’t a horrible day – just not my favorite of the bunch. They can’t all be.

  3. milkshakes, for sure.
    I realize you were Brooklynites this trip, but I highly recommend the NY Historical Society, the Egyptian wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art — and the Cloisters in upper Manhattan, just to name a few. Oh and the Natural History Museum.
    My NY slip is showing.

    • The Met is on the list for next time. Too many museums, too little time. The Guggenheim won out, but I love the Met. We did hang out on the bears outside the Met for awhile!

      The Natural History Museum was tops. There are some pictures from there on the last post.

  4. Reading about your Day Four validates my reason for spending most of our time in NYC in Central Park. With a 6 and 8 year old, they just want to be free. Seeing the city through playgrounds and coffee shops was a perfect plan. Someday we will see more, but not until their little legs get a stronger. Although I’m dying for my next visit. Maybe this time I’ll go with adults.

  5. Pingback: (story)time: nyc books and sights, day five | third story(ies)

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