Sunday, June 30, 2013

NYC Family Time

As some of you may remember, our last trip to NYC was, um, a bit damp and windy. We arrived 2 days before Hurricane Sandy and headed home on the first flight out of JFK following her departure. Our trip was a bit like living in the 1930s: lots of family time gathered around the radio and dreams of an electrified home.

While our last trip was, without fear of exaggeration, not the vacation we were expecting, our most recent trip, taken in mid June, was also a bit of a departure. Quite simply, New York is a very different town with a family in tow.  Still wonderful, but very, very different.

We got in very late the night we arrived and drove our rental (a very surreal experience to rent a car in a region you lived in for 10 years) up to Sumie's parents' house, arriving around 1:00am. Mimi was pretty tired, but by the time the morning came, she was ready to head to the backyard and swing.
She also had plenty of energy to hang out with her favorite furry playmate. Harry had obviously missed her, but the two were a bit shy at first.
It didn't take long, though, for them to warm up to each other again, and soon they were side-by-side taking pictures...
...and waiting for Papa to come home after a night out with friends.
Our first full day in the New York we headed to the Upper West Side to meet some friends for brunch at Isabellas.  We'd come here multiple times in the past and it really felt like home. And it wouldn't be like home if Mimi weren't refusing to behave in a restaurant.
As usual, it took us a while to find parking. But also as usual, I refused to put the car in a garage or even pay for metered parking.  "This is still my town, particularly when it comes to parking!" I declared. 5 minutes later I found a simply gorgeous spot half a block from the restaurant. Two years out and I haven't lost the touch.

Being back in Manhattan - dropping in for brunch, browsing the shops down Columbus, and hitting Central Park for some playtime - really brought us back. It wasn't so much a feeling of "Oh, we really miss this," but more, "It's like we never left." Later, Sumie looked up and re-read one of my blog entries about leaving New York (written my last night in our apartment almost two years ago). She was shocked how much my initial feelings on leaving NYC had held up, for both of us.  Here's a link to the post, if you're interested: PapainSF: Goodbye NYC.

On Sunday we made our first trip to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.  I can honestly say I was negligent for never having come here before. What an amazing place. Every thing is meticulously manicured, and yet the grounds spread for 250 acres: 1/4 the size of Golden Gate Park.

We met a friend of Sumie's, Kaori, who had brought along her 5 year old daughter, Miwa. Both Miwa and Mimi are half caucasian and half Japanese, and both speak English and Japanese interchangeably.  Despite the 2 year age difference, they hit it off immediately.
They explored the lilly-pad pools and made wet handprints on the pool walls.
 They tottered precariously along the koi ponds...
 ...and, as is for some reason typical with kids, they were more often fascinated by rocks, sticks, and weeds than the painstakingly manicured wonder that surrounded them.
It was a full afternoon in the park. By the end of it, Mimi and Miwa were fast friends.
One of the primary differences between this trip and any of our other previous adventures in New York is how significant "Mimi-friendly" events were in what we saw and where we went. While Sumie and I had one afternoon out in the city on our own (and a night out with our respective friends), this trip was far more a "family" vacation than any other we've experienced. Before leaving we'd dreamed of a romantic dinner at Eleven Madison Park, quiet walks along the Hudson, or perhaps a rowdy evening in the bowls of Lower East Side. Instead, on one of our last afternoons in New York, we found ourselves not on the train to the city, but in the car, heading for one of Westchester's most renowned, cherished, and kitsch family destinations - Rye Playland.

Rye Playland is a small, old-timey, community amusement park along the water in Rye, New York. This was my first visit, but for Sumie, it was a trip back to her childhood. Occasionally, after Japanese school on the weekends, her parents would take the entire family to Rye Playland as a little reward for their studies. I really enjoyed the park and had a great time taking Mimi on the rides, but can only imagine what Sumie was thinking watching her own little girl timidly hop on rides that she had once braved 30 years before.

Mimi is not the most adventurous soul, so Papa had to go on almost every ride with her. It took some coaxing, but we got her to brave the carousel - on one of the big-girl horses that actually goes up and down. To keep her calm, Papa, who was standing beside her, also had to bob up and down. Which is knees did not appreciate.
At the end of the day, Mimi sucked up her courage and attempted the Playland boats all on her own (this is a good thing as her father would have capsized the small vessel had he been allowed to board). As the ride conductor asked for a thumbs up from all the kids, Mimi proudly thrust her index finger into the sky. "Good enough!" the conductor announced and Mimi was on her way.  She braved the ride well, learning how to ring the bell and not getting worried once.
It's an odd thing, the kind of pride a parent feels for these little accomplishments. On a daily basis, Mimi does things far more dangerous than riding these boat - jumping off furniture, running down the driveway, refusing to eat her dinner - but they're not scary to her. Watching her overcome her fear - regardless how irrational - at Playland was a very special moment for me. Inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but also something I think I'll always remember.

At the heart of this vacation was family. Mimi absolutely loved spending time with her grandparents (as you can see below) and Sumie watched (well, listened) in amazement as Mimi's Japanese skills skyrocketed.
Mimi's been doing very well with using both languages here at home, but I think being around Ojichan and Obachan opened up something in her little brain for Japanese. She wasn't really mixing the two languages. She was using them independently - Japanese for everyone with dark hair and English for the white guy.  I'm actually quite envious of her language ability. But I take some solace for myself in thinking that, hopefully, I had at least a little to do with helping her get to this point.

By the time our vacation came to a close we'd definitely experienced something new: our first real family vacation. I think we also reaffirmed Mimi's New York roots. Every Manhattan native should have a Zabar's mug.
While NYC still feels like home, I happy to share that our place here in California, though significantly different, feels "right" in a very similar way. Mimi certainly thinks so. I think she missed her back yard.
It was a wonderful trip that, I hope, will be the first of many more to come. I'm looking forward to exploring old favorites in NYC (museums, restaurants, parks, etc.) anew through Mimi's eyes as she grows older. Next time: Museum of Natural History (and Shake Shack, of course)!

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