Overheard in New York City

We’ve just come back from a month in New York.  I still can’t believe we’ve been and gone.  It all happened so fast.  One day I said it’s not fair that they’re taking you away from Ellie for a month when she’s so small.  The next day I said yes, yes I’d like to go with you.  A few days later I was boarding a plane with a three-month-old, wondering if I was a bit mad, and had I remembered to pack underwear for myself?

But once we landed, as we drove over the East River into Manhattan, and I saw that skyline, the one I had seen in films and on TV and read about in books, lit up magically against dark blue, I knew I wasn’t mad, just very very lucky.

*****

The next day it rained.  Not London rain, misty and wet but essentially manageable.  It was a torrential downpour.  I had not packed for torrential rain.  In my head, New York in May was sunny with a slight chill in the air.  Perfect for wandering through Central Park with Ellie and a coffee.  In my head, New York was not awash.

But I had not travelled three thousand miles to sit in an apartment, moping.  So I braved the downpour with Ellie, and it was so very wet, and loud, and everyone walked so fast.  I’ve worked and lived in London for ten years, you’d think I could handle fast.  But no-one cuts up a pavement like a New Yorker.

I had the pram in one hand, and was doing battle with the door to a shop in the other.  Could I get it open enough to get the pram through? Could I hell.  I was drenched.  And tired.  And fed up.  Did I mention I was wet through?  And then a cab stopped, and a man got out of the back, and opened the door for me, and wished me and “the little lady” a good day.  He got back in the cab, and it drove off.

And just like that, New York, I love you.

*****

One day I sat in a coffee shop for an hour or two, people watching.  I saw all sorts of people in the queue: tourists; locals; people whose stories I made up; people who stopped to talk to us.  In the (long) queue there was a girl, wearing three-quarter length trousers and who had perfect, swishy hair.  She was looking at a map, confused, turning it around.  Behind her was a nervous looking guy with glasses, who kept looking at his feet.

“I’m trying to find Greenwich Street”, she said to him.  “Can you help me?”

His ears burned bright red.  “Uh…yes.  Sure  Um…” and he looked at her map, and stumbled over the directions.

“Thank you”.  She smiled at him, and he looked like a rabbit caught in headlights.  “Do you live round here?”

And they talked all the way to the front of the queue, her easy, natural, him looking like he thought this was a cosmic joke, but relaxing into it, stumbling less.

Her order was called.  He looked crestfallen, she was going to leave.

Fate stepped in.  They’d made her the wrong coffee.  He got a few more minutes with her.  And when finally, they both had their coffees, they stood around, talking some more, not quite saying goodbye.

“I’d better go…I have a… thing”

“Yes, yes.  Of course”.

“ASK FOR HER PHONE NUMBER” I willed him.

“It was lovely to meet you” she said.

And she walked away.  He watched her leave, his coffee forgotten.

“YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO RUN AFTER HER!” I shouted in my head.  Ellie gave me one of her Looks, as though to remind me that life isn’t a rom com, and that I shouldn’t eavesdrop.

And he looked at me, and I looked at the door, and he exhaled, and he walked out of the coffee shop.  In the direction of Greenwich Street.

I have no idea if he caught up with her.  I hope he did.

*****

We walked, Ellie and I, up and down Manhattan, through parks, along streets, stopping to look in shop windows, eating pretzels, drinking coffee.  We took the subway, with its rickety trains.  We walked the High Line, that beautiful belt of green high above the industrial wasteland of Tenth Avenue.  The blossom was out.  We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with Catherine (who rescued various pieces of Ellie’s clothing that flew off in the wind) and ate icecream with chocolate sauce.  We saw the Statue of Liberty with Gemma, who’s quote “is that it?  It’s kind of…small” was bettered only by me thinking that the lady giving out the Ellis Island audio tour headpieces with the big badge saying “ANTENNA” was actually called Antenna.

So yes, there were sights.  But mostly, Ellie and I, our time was spent getting to know our neighbourhood, discovering where the best bagels were, waking and walking and walking, up and down and across, round the tip of lower Manhattan, along the harbour, through East Village and Tribeca and SoHo and Little Italy and all the places I’d read about in books and wanted to know what they looked like, how they smelled, how they felt.

It’s different, visiting a place with a baby.  It takes more planning, yes, but it’s not as limiting as I’d assumed.  More people talk to you.  People are kinder.  You walk slower, and you take more in.

*****

We’d just strolled through Central Park and were on our way to the Peninsula Hotel, to meet some friends who’d just got married.  I wanted to show Ellie the skyline from up close.  My feet hurt, so we decided to get the bus.

There was a huge guy sitting two seats down from us.  He was enormous – the width of two people.  And looked terrifying.  He had one ear entirely pierced, and had a black eye, and cornrows, and was wearing a vest.  I had Ellie in my lap, and he kept looking at her.  I pulled her closer, and turned away.  Four more blocks, I kept thinking.  Two more blocks.

He leaned over.  I shrank away.  He said something.

“I’m sorry?”

“The tag.  From her hat.  It’s covering her eye.  She can’t see”

“Oh.  Thanks.”

He smiled at me, and got up to leave.  His vest said “Big Daddy”.

That taught me.

*****

We came through security at the airport, on our way home.  In America, security is a megatron faff.  Running the show was a woman, I’d say in her fifties, barking at her staff, keeping the lines moving, following procedure and protocol to the letter.

We eventually got through, and the woman pulled me aside.

“It’s procedure, ma’am, for all passengers travelling with a baby.  We need to dust your hands for explosives”

“Right”

Ellie turned her head to face her.  The woman’s face transformed.

“Oh sweet angel of mercy.  That is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen!”

“Um. Thanks.”

“I never had kids.  Couldn’t.  But this one, she’s beautiful”

“Thank you.  Thank you so much”.  I didn’t know what else to say, so I smiled, and started collecting my bags.

“It’s the luck of the draw, kids, isn’t it?”

I wanted to say no, no it’s not.  But in some ways, it really, really is.

Categories: Travel, Written By Anna
28 interesting thoughts on this

28 Comments

  1. Posted May 28, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I would say that yes, “It’s the luck of the draw”, so much this. I don’t know where we would be if it weren’t for modern medicine and magic science.

    But, what I wanted to say is that:

    a). Wow, this all sounds like such a lovely trip and makes me excited to travel with our little one (not so little anymore at 4 months and a half .

    and

    b). Do you have any trips for transatlantic flights with a small baby? Do not mean to derail the conversation here, but I would really appreciate it. You could email me also if you’d like, please! Pearls of Anna wisdom!

    • Becca
      Posted May 28, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      I would also like tips for flights with babies. My friend took her six or seven month old to California and said less than crawling stage was ideal.

      I also want my second bagel of the day now please.

      • Posted May 28, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        Flying with babies:

        The earlier the better – young babies almost always LOVE the feeling and sound of planes, and sleep pretty well. Plus at less than 6 months, there’s not much that can’t be sorted out with a mummy cuddle and some food – both of which are very handily on tap whilst sat on mummy’s lap for 14 hours. If you have a bassinet seat, bring a sheet or a big muslin that he baby has slept on already to put inside the bassinet – it will smell familiar and be comforting.

        Once they start crawling things get a little tougher because they DO NOT want to sit still on your lap. Aim for a night flight if possible, because entertaining a small baby for 14 hours in the day time in a space the size of a shoe box is not fun. If you can at all manage it, it is ideal to have a separate seat for the baby, and take their car seat on – that way they can sleep in their own comfortable space, you have somewhere safe to pin them into if you just need to stand up and get something out of the over head locker, and you don’t have a baby on your lap for 14 hours.

        Anytime between crawling and around 18m is going to be tough because they’re old enough to move, but not old enough to understand that they can’t always move. If you’re travelling then, it’s totally manageable, but be prepared to do lap after lap of the plane aisles, and bring lots of hand sanitizer for all of the crawling/picking up random things from the floor that they will do.

        Tuck away a few favourite toys in the weeks preceding and bring them out with much fanfare when a meltdown is imminent on the plane.

        Stickers. I’ve not met a child yet who can’t be kept quiet with a sheet of stickers.

        iPad – give in, let them have it…they will relish the treat, and will sit still.

        Bring at least one outfit change for them AND for you – nappy leaks are not something you want to sit in for 14 hours.

        Allow more nappies and food than you think necessary. If you get delayed, you don’t want to be running out of nappies.

        Baby carriers (ergo/bjorn etc) are amazing, especially if you’re travelling on your own. Strollers sometimes don’t get given back to you until you get to the baggage reclaim – you need something to get you between the two, and sometimes babies just want to be carried.

        Forget looking cool and buy a backpack and use this as your carry on – you don’t want to be carrying baby and a handbag and a change bag down a plane aisle.

        Ummm…there is so much more, but hopefully that helps a little bit?!

        Sorry – should have just written a post about it.

        • ChirstyMac
          Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

          I know nob-all about it myself, but a buddy with kiddies said this blog was pretty comprehensive and had helpful info:

          http://flyingwithchildren.blogspot.co.uk/

        • Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          Great advice Clare – thanks – we are off to Florida with Baby N at around 12 weeks so need all the tips we can get :)

          • Becca
            Posted May 28, 2014 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

            #jealous

            Won’t that be around Halloween? I look forward to pictures of Baby N dressed in a variety of different costumes? I’m thinking Pumpkin will be my favourite but I’d also like to see skeleton.

        • Posted May 28, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          Oh thank you so much Clare, that was pretty helpful. Chirsty, I will go check out that blogspot thanks too!
          Rebecca, Florida at 12 weeks sounds like bliss :)

        • Posted May 28, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

          Thanks C! I did find some things different with Ellie, and I’ve got a couple more things to add:

          - not all airlines will allow you to take the carseat on the plane – we flew BA and wheeled the carseat/chassis up to the plane and then they put it in hold. Also, with flying economy, there’s not always room for a carseat (unless you book the baby their own seat which isn’t economically an option for many). So having a baby on your lap for a long time is sometimes the only option. The air hostesses were really helpful though and used to babies.

          - We did a day flight on the way out and a night flight on the way back. The day flight was much easier. I’d assumed the sound of the engines would knock Ellie out for the night flight – they did not, she found the plane and the new environment unsettling, and it was much harder trying to keep her quiet whilst everyone else was trying to sleep. BA offered us a cot for Ellie – it was way too small and she’s not a tall baby. So lap it was. Next time, I’d do a day flight both ways. She’s usually a decent sleeper so basically logic goes out the window – just pick the flight that works best for you and take the hit if your baby won’t sleep.

          - I’d had it drilled into me that the baby needs to suck on something (finger/dummy/feeding) on take off and landing to take the pressure off their ears as their ear canal is tiny and can’t take the change in altitude well. Ellie found this more annoying than helpful and didn’t seem to have any trouble with her ears – AND she had a cold on the way back. Each baby to their own, but be aware just in case.

          - Be prepared for a whole flight of jigging/shushing/general worry that they will wake up and make noise. I know, I know, “babies cry, it’s what they do” but half way into a flight in a pressurised cabin, screaming just seems louder than on the ground. People were brilliant when Ellie made noise, and just stuck their earphones on. But I still worried. Maybe the older Ellie gets, the more relaxed I’ll be about it.

          - Feeding. I just breastfed on board – but be prepared to have to taste any bottled milk (formula or breastmilk) that you take on board at security, and always check what each airline’s guidelines are. You’ll always be able to take on food for your baby (milk, solids or both), but you may need to package it in a certain way.

          Finally – it was way less hassle than I’d feared. Relaxed parents = relaxed babies.

  2. Posted May 28, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    This makes me really nostalgic for New York City. Lovely stories enchantingly told, as ever Anna K! I can imagine taking a baby would put a whole new spin on the city. One of my favourite things about NYC is how easy it is to get talking to people -also one of my favourite things about having a baby.

    Px

  3. Posted May 28, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I know you said that life is not a rom-com but if this piece was a book, I’d buy it. And if it was a movie i’d see it three times then buy it on DVD.

    *sigh*

    • Becca
      Posted May 28, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      Yeah this. I reckon we should start a twitter campaign to find out if he found her. I do so hope he finds her.

      • Posted May 30, 2014 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        Maybe email the coffee shop and ask? They may now be a regular couple at the shop? Your writing is so descriptive that they will know who they were if they were regulars – doesn’t every NY coffee shop know its regulars?

        A comment about travelling with babies & small children – my eldest granddaughter used her Trunkie as her carry on and inside were a couple of her favourite cuddlies and then wrapped goodies – enough for 1 per hour of the flight – so the stickers that someone mentioned were wrapped, I think I remember a paper crown to be decorated, a couple of short (cheap) story books, some colouring paper with trianglular crayons so they didn’t roll around when they fell on the floor. She sat in the lid and played in the base when it was safe for her to be on the floor.

        And a final tip, not really about travelling but it sort of fits in with the theme and the coffee shop – try a house swap. My daughter had three weeks in Brooklyn & Montclair on a swap with her house in the UK. They were a little concerned to begin with but have now done 4 or 5 swaps and just love the idea – you get to live as a local. They couldn’t have afforded 3 weeks in New York with a toddler in hotels.

  4. Amy
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Wow Anna, your such a great writer. I was there, sat with you and Ellie, watching that couple, willing one of them to say something! You’ve got a gift with words. Your happiness and enthusiasm for life jumps off the screen. This piece of writing could cost me a lot of money…I feel like rushing out and booking a trip to New York!

  5. Liz
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I want to go to New York, right now.

  6. Katielase
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I have only one thing to say to this… write a book Anna! PLEASE.

    KL x

  7. ChirstyMac
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    BOOK! BOOK! BOOK! BOOK!
    (If I chant loud and long enough, it’ll happen right Anna?!)

    Nostalgia for NY. Bucketloads.
    Love this, as always. x

  8. Vicky
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Love this! Have you seen “missed connections” on craigslist btw? That couple might be on there!

  9. gemma c-s
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    My favourite part was you saying ‘do you think they gave her the job because she was called Antenna? Oh, wait…’

    • Posted May 28, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      Bahaha – had forgotten about that! Oh dear. How am I gainfully employed?

  10. Posted May 28, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant. We’ve not gone very far with the Peas yet but this makes me just want to GO. Anywhere really. Just to explore and wander and just be there. Bliss. x

  11. Posted May 28, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Also… BOOK!

  12. Posted May 28, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    LOVE this x

  13. LottieS
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Wow-what an experience and beautifully written too! Loved reading this and the baby on a plane tips are an boon for me too. Repatriating with a 15 week old and we have a ten hour flight to survive!

  14. Jacquie
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Wow, a beautiful piece to read on a miserable night in the midlands! Took me back to holidays with my girls, New York one of their favourite places and mine, this has brightened my day. Thank you

  15. Posted May 29, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Please, please, please write a book. That is all x

  16. Posted May 29, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Oh sweet angel of mercy I love this post!

  17. Posted May 29, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Anna. Your writing just floors me, every.damn.time. Also, goddamn, I want to move to New York now. I love the High Line.

  18. Posted May 29, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Also that man ‘Big Daddy’, I think I love him.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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