Thursday, September 30, 2010

When Will It Be Summer Again?

So, school. It’s started again. I thought I was supposed to be whooping with joy that two of my three munchkins would be spending at least some portion of their day in school, leaving me ample time to, you know, do the whole proverbial sitting on the couch and eating bon-bons thing. Instead, I feel like an extra from Night of the Living Dead. Reasons for this include:

  1. My two school-bound children are attending different schools on different sides of town with start times ten minutes apart. I have not yet figured out how to clone myself.
  2. After all the early morning agita, Vivi’s day in preschool is a mere three hours long, so just when I’ve dropped her off (late), I have approximately 47 minutes before I need to turn around and pick her up again.
  3. That pesky third child who keeps hanging around the apartment. I was idealizing all the quality time Jack would have with me once his two older siblings were in school, but so far, all that quality time seems to be spent strapped into the double stroller dropping off or picking up someone from school.
  4. It has been raining all week.
  5. Have I mentioned that our stove and oven are still not working? Perhaps I have a vitamin deficiency from subsisting mainly on frozen waffles and that has added to my tiredness??

Unable to stomach the early morning school commute to preschool today with the three year old and a whiny, drippy-nosed 16-month old in the rain, I made the game time announcement to Vivi that we were going to play hooky. At first she was really excited because she thought we were going to play hockey all day, but her enthusiasm waned a bit when I told her that we just weren’t going to go to school today.

So, to all you seasoned moms out there, please tell me: does the back-to-school routine get easier in, say, the next five years or so? Or is this just the beginning of the rest of my life? And how many hooky days do I have before I get put on a parent watch list?

Monday, September 27, 2010

There's Still Time: Compo Beach, Westport, CT

Jack, digging up some sand for lunch. The kid loves to eat sand.

I know, I know—it’s not really summer anymore. But because I seem to have about three month’s lag time between when I intend to do something and when I actually do it (a month per child?)—my (non-real-time) blog included--and because we have been experiencing such a glorious Indian summer on the East Coast, I thought I could sneak in a post about the beach even though the autumnal equinox has already come and gone and I really should be waxing poetic about apple picking and the back-to-school blues.

I love the beach. Or rather, I used to love the beach. Now I just love the idea of the beach. The actual beach with three young children always seems to disintegrate into something much hotter, much sandier, much schleppier, and much whinier than even my lowest expectations.

The Coppertone girl's got nothing on Vivi

Still, summer just doesn’t quite feel like summer without a proper trip to the beach and since we didn’t do our usual Delaware shore summer beach vacation this year, I thought we needed to squeeze in a little sun, sand, and surf before September drew to a close.

We go nowhere without being fully provisioned

This is how, on a recent, beautiful September weekend, I braced myself for the heat, the sand, the schlep, and the whining and drove up to Compo Beach in Westport, Connecticut, for the day.

Charlie shows off one of the treasures he discovered at low tide

Parking on the weekends is $40, which sounds kind of steep until you consider that just about anything for a family of five is, in fact, kind of steep (do not even get me started on 3D movies. Anyway, Jack is too little to take to a feature-length film yet, but if Steve, Charlie, Vivi, and I had gone to see, say, “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”, at our local theater instead of coughing up 40 big ones in Westport, our movie tab—popcorn and candy and drinks not included—would have run us a whopping $69).

Once you pony up for parking, there are ample spots very close to Compo Beach’s thin strip of sand on the Long Island Sound and the schlep factor is blessedly minimal. The beach itself is probably one of the best beaches I’ve ever been to with little kids. It has a New England-y feel (minus the crashing surf), with gentle, lapping waves and an endless sand bar where, at low tide, we could walk out for what seemed like miles trying to catch crabs, hermit crabs, and minnows.

I am a big fan of the Ergo Carrier, but if any of my readers have it, would you mind divulging how you've mastered getting it and the kid on by yourself? Even Jack looks skeptical

Facilities at Compo Beach included bathhouses with restrooms, showers, and lockers; concessions; multiple ball fields; sand volleyball courts; lighted basketball courts; a skate park and open skate area; picnic areas and grills; and a wooden playground.

So, if you didn’t get a chance to scratch your beach itch this summer, there is still time this fall to do it.

Compo Beach, Compo Beach Road, Westport, Connecticut 06880;; Hours: Open May 1 to October 1, 4:00 AM to 10:00 PM (although I don’t know what happens come 10/1—if the beach actually closes or if you just don’t have to pay for parking anymore); Westport parking emblem or daily parking fee ($20 on weekdays/$40 on weekends or holidays) required.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gray Line New York Double Decker Bus Tour Redux: The Downtown Loop

"I wanna see the Flat Tire Building!" Vivi demanded. "Vivi,' said Charlie, sounding very grown-up. "It's the Flatiron, not the Flat Tire Building."

Back by popular demand, here are some more new New York City factoids from our second Gray Line New York Double Decker bus tour that you can make your own and dazzle fellow guests with at your next cocktail party:

  1. When the Empire State Building first opened in 1931, it was dubbed the “Empty State Building” due to its paltry 18% occupancy rate.
  2. The fastest that anyone has made it from the bottom to the top of the Empire State Building’s 1,576 steps is in nine minutes and 33 seconds.
  3. Before he was a retail magnate, R.H. Macy worked on a whaling ship in his teens and sported a red star tattoo. This same star tattoo went on to become the ubiquitous Macy’s logo.
  4. St. Vincent’s Hospital, which opened in 1849 and treated patients from Titanic survivors in 1912 to the victims of the September 11th attacks, closed its doors earlier this year after 160 years of service.
  5. More than 150,000 people crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on its opening day on May 24 1883. When rumors began to circulate about the bridge’s instability one week later, a frantic mob began a stampede over the bridge, killing twelve people. Shortly thereafter, P.T. Barnum staged a publicity stunt in which he marched 21 elephants over the bridge to convince the public of its soundness.

Sitting pretty on the upper deck

When we got to Battery Park, we had to switch buses to complete our eastside loop back uptown and because it was so hot out, Charlie and Vivi convinced me to sit downstairs in the air-conditioning. This was a blessed relief for all of three minutes until I realized that sitting downstairs, one could neither hear the guide’s commentary over the roar of the bus engine nor see properly out of the windows, which were covered on the other side with advertisements. When you embark on your own double decker bus tour, make sure to sit on the upper deck.

Stops and sights on the downtown loop included Greenwich Village, Times Square, the Empire State Building, Union Square, SoHo, Chinatown, Little Italy, the East Village, Rockefeller Center, and the World Trade Center site.

Starting to get antsy on the lower deck. Two plus hours is a long time for the little people to be still and quiet

Gray Line New York Sightseeing, Departure point: Seventh Avenue and 47th Street, by the Olive Garden restaurant, (212) 445-0848 or (800) 669-0051 (toll free) Tour length: 2+ hours; Operates daily 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM; $39 per adult/$29 per child ages 3-11.

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Fifth Borough: The Staten Island Children's Museum

You thought I was going to forget about Staten Island, didn’t you? Although known as the “forgotten borough” and often mistaken for part of New Jersey, I would be remiss if I left out Staten Island, home to not only nearly half the cast of “Jersey Shore”--including Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino--but also to a children’s museum that is less expensive ($6 as opposed to $10), less crowded, and infinitely cooler than its Manhattan counterpart.

Start on the third floor in the Bugs and Other Insects exhibit, where kids can try on an exoskeleton, wend their way through a giant ant hill, watch bees in their hive, sort arthropods, and ogle over an emperor scorpion and tarantula.

Being a bug

The Ant Hill

Next, make your way around the corner to Charlie’s favorite exhibit, House About It. Children of all ages will delight in donning hardhats and neon orange vests, helping complete construction on a two-story frame house, operating a digger and wrecking ball, and bouncing up and down on a life-size level seesaw. This was probably my favorite exhibit, too, because there was no shortage of deep, wooden window seats where I could stretch out comfortably and check my email while the kids channeled their inner construction workers. (What? You didn’t think I played with my kids all the time, did you? My new favorite line, borrowed from a friend’s mother, is actually, “I’m your mother, not your playmate.”)

"Look, lady, the only thing I can guarantee is that it's going to take twice as long and cost twice as much. Capiche?"

Take a break in the museum’s Snack Zone, which has vending machines and a limited menu, but also allows you to bring in your own food. Then visit the Great Explorations exhibit where kids can trek through a rain forest, dive to the bottom of the ocean, build an igloo, and cross piranha-infested waters on a wooden raft.

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the Amazon...

By now, the kids are probably nearing their saturation point (that’s a euphemism for “whining to beat the band”), so hit one last exhibit on your way out. We opted for Ladder 11, where Charlie and Vivi, disguised in fire helmets, uniforms, and airpacks, slid down the firepole to their waiting firetruck and responded to all sorts of imaginary five-alarm fires throughout the city.

Auditioning for the 2011 Staten Island Fireman Calendar

Make a note of the exhibits for which you didn’t have time today (Portia’s Playhouse, Block Harbor, Sea of Boats, and The Big Game), so that you can visit them the next time you come.

Finish the day at R.H. Tugs, a nearby, child-friendly restaurant which is rumored to have been where Madonna’s 1986 “Papa Don’t Preach” video was filmed and serves up standard barfare, along with great views of the tugboats and cargo ships going by.

Staten Island Children’s Museum, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY (on the grounds of Snug Harbor Cultural Center), (718) 273-2060,; Hours: Tuesday to Sunday: 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM (when New York City public schools are open); 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM (when New York City public schools are closed); Admission: $6 for people one year and older; Grandparents are free on Wednesdays.

R.H. Tugs Restaurant and Bar, 1115 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY, (718) 447-6369,

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Battle of the Playgrounds: Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 6 Playground and Imagination Playground at South Street Seaport

In Slide Mountain at Brooklyn Bridge Park's Playground at Pier 6

In this corner, we’ve got Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 Playground (I’m too hot and tired right now to come up with a snappy acronym for it), a brand spanking new, 1.6-acre destination playground that opened in June amidst much fanfare. The playground features four separate play areas: 1) Water Lab, with water wheels, big rocks for climbing, sprinklers, geysers shooting water sky-high, a moat, and a dock from which kids can jump into an ice-cold wading pool; 2) the 6,000-square foot Sandbox Village; 3) Slide Mountain, boasting wicked fun slides and chutes, a giant silver climbing sphere, and bleacher seating for parents to sit and watch their kids without hovering constructed out of salvaged wood from a Brooklyn warehouse, and; 4) Swing Valley, with 21 swings of all ilks. The playground sits right on the water and offers up spectacular views of lower Manhattan and the New York Harbor. A final perk is that (on the weekday we were there anyway) there is free and plentiful street parking.

Cooling off in the Water Lab

One of the slides in Slide Village

There is, however, some trouble in this playground paradise--most notably that there is no shade to speak of—at least during the morning and early lunchtime hours when we visited. If we go again, I may try for a late afternoon outing in the hopes that the park will be afforded some shade then. Whenever you choose to go, be sure to bring bathing suits, water shoes, towels, and plenty of water and sunscreen.

Like shade sources, food is also scarce. We were grateful for the lunch we had packed, because outside of Uncle Louie G’s Homemade Gourmet Italian Ices and Ice Cream truck, there was not a nearby concession cart in sight. It’s kind of novel that the playground has four clearly definite play spaces, but that also poses a potential quandary for a parent with multiple children in tow who want to try different things. I was immensely relieved that I had left 15-month old Jack home with our sitter as the water area, where Charlie and Vivi understandably wanted to spend most of their time, would have been posed a challenge for a young toddler.

Helllloooooooooo in there: The listening forest at Imagination Playground

In the other corner is Imagination Playground at South Street Seaport, which opened at the end of July and whose attractions include a stroller-accessible ramp, sandpit, tube slide, aquatheater with cascading water, rope climbing structure, masts and pulleys, and a listening forest. Taking its inspiration from the historic Burling Slip where it is located, the playground also has all sorts of random, loose parts like burlap bags, buckets, shovels, brooms, carts, and fabrics meant to be incorporated into the children’s play. Pirates still reign supreme in our household these days, so there could not have been a playground better-suited as a backdrop to Charlie and Vivi’s (oops, I mean Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Turner’s) elaborately reenacted “Pirates of the Caribbean” scenarios. They especially enjoyed scrambling up the ropes, swinging in the hammocks, and swabbing the decks of their imaginary ship with miniature push brooms.

Yo ho ho and a carton of chocolate milk!

I be tired and want t' go t' bunk! (Pirate speak for "I need a nap!")

We visited on an overcast day and it was quite pleasant temperature-wise, but had it been sunnier, I think we would have suffered from the dearth of shade. There were some canvas umbrellas and a walkway under which there was some shade to be had, but Upper Westsider that I am, I think I’m just spoiled by all of the old shade trees gracing the playgrounds of Central and Riverside Parks. South Street Seaport offers a myriad of dining options and we picked Red, a decent Mexican place with an expansive outdoor patio.

So which playground did I like better? Although both are certainly worth a look, I cast my vote for Imagination Playground and it has more return appeal for me because: A) it’s easy to get to; B) it’s conveniently located near South Street Seaport, so there are lots of places to eat and lots of other things to do if you tire of the playground (after lunch, we managed to squeeze in some back-to-school shopping at a nearby Gap and get temporary tattoos, although we ran out of time before we could board some of the historic ships docked at the Seaport); 3) there is something for everyone, from toddlers to older children, a big consideration for me with three of different ages, interests, and abilities.

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 Playground, Atlantic Avenue and Furman Street, Cobble Hill, New York 07652-5349, (718) 222-9939,; Free and open to the public.

Imagination Playground at South Street Seaport, John Street between Front and South Streets at Burling Slip, New York, New York;; Hours: 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM daily (summer); 2:30 PM to 7:00 PM daily (school year); Free and open to the public.

Where to Eat

Uncle Louie G’s Homemade Gourmet Italian Ices and Ice Cream truck,

Red, 19 Fulton Street (@ Front Street), New York, New York; (212) 571-5900;