Sunday, March 28, 2010

The pain of parenting

Striking a pre pink-eye pose

It's a given that it hurts becoming a mum. But I'm quickly learning that the physical pain of the birth is just for starters. All the emotional angst is equally bad. If you're not worrying, Philip Larkin-style, about filling your offspring with the faults you had, and worse, then you're fretting about the latest parental travesty you've committed according to the latest piece of research or author with a book to publicise. 

Last week's crime was entrusting your toddler to a nanny. Or, more specifically, your son: dumping him with another woman is a red rag to adulthood philandering according to the psychiatrist Dr Dennis Friedman. He reckons delegating his care teaches him the concept of "The Other Woman". Gee, thanks. Now you're damned if you leave them in nursery because it messes with their stress levels and  damned if you pay someone the earth for some one-on-one care. Some doctor he is. (And note it took a man to come up with that 'theory' - excuse more likely.) As one of my DC mom friends put it, 'If the first rule of doctoring is to do no harm, then he's harming working mums by heaping on that maternal guilt.' I might just be in the clear on that one though, because apparently the biggest danger is before they turn one, when the serious mum-to-son bonding is going on. 

And from emotional pain to physical pain: this week I've succumbed to the punishment that is doled out for shoving your child into a nursery. I refer, of course, to the joys of an illness passed from son to mother. A medley of cold, sore throat, conjunctivitis and an ear infection. (That's me; he just had the cold and pink eye.) To be fair, the nursery is only obliquely to blame for the ear ache. I fear I brought it on myself by doing a headstand for Louis. We were trying to replicate how one of the kids there was dancing on his head, so Louis wanted me to do likewise. Not a wise move as it turned out. It immediately triggered the most intense pain I've experienced since trying to make a certain little person embrace the world. One week on, it's still agony. My top tip is if your ears already hurt, stay the right way up.  

My guilt trip

Just in case anyone is interested in my ultimate verdict on the ski trip. No obligation. And I posted this pic because it made it into the paper, but not onto the website. 

Friday, March 26, 2010

What's toddler for metrosexual?

He sweeps; he cooks

If a modern man in touch with his inner femininity is a metrosexual, then what do you call a toddler who fancies himself as a domestic goddess? Any improvement on culinary cherub?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A new Standard for toddlers

Hanging in the lobby
And a glimpse from the High Line

I'm not sure Andre will thank me for this, but I thought a question I received from Planethalder about the toddler-friendliness of the Standard Hotel merited a quick post rather than a long return comment. Now, I feel kind of bad making a big thing out of staying there, because it's NOT the sort of place we normally wind up. Sure, we'd like to; if someone else was paying. (In fact, we debated exactly what sort of job you'd need to do to stay there for work. Not sure of the answer except it's definitely not working for a loss-making newspaper or a licence-fee funded media group.)

The only reason I booked it was because we stayed there for a couple of nights last year when it was barely open. The "barely" bit is crucial because it meant the rooms were a steal. Okay, so they'd only finished building about five of the 18 or so floors but we certainly didn't miss the lack of fitness suite or cocktail lounge. Or restaurant. Especially when the lack thereof meant they threw in a room service breakfast, which I worked out this time would have cost north of 50 bucks! And under 21s weren't allowed in the cocktail bar. Which was just as well because given it was like walking into a Bond film - we popped in one by one to check out the amazing view - we probably wouldn't have been allowed to stay either. 

Anyway, it being March and the weather being awful meant the advance internet-only rates were vaguely affordable on a one-night only basis. So I decided to splurge. I'm guessing Andre Balazs didn't have under twos in mind when he designed it, but it turns out high-end luxury is perfect for little ones. From the sleekest hotel cot I've ever seen, to the peekaboo shower, the (small) room was perfect for Louis. A King-size bed helped too, even if it did take up most of the floor space. And yes, that means he's still often to be found in our bed come the early hours. So, no, Planethalder, we didn't have a suite. Gulp. I'll admit it was cosy, but hey: we're family. Apart from the view, the best bit was the bathtub, which was big enough for Louis to swim in. And they provided bubble bath. 

Annoyingly, given that it was our last night in NYC we didn't need to make use of the Standard's most toddler-friendly aspect: the first floor bar that served drinks and meals 24/7. Where was that on our second night when I couldn't get Louis back to sleep at 3am?! We could have both done with one of their potent cocktails. Not to mention fries. Instead, I needed a 7am coffee but balking at the room service charges I went on a foray and found Hector's Cafe, "the low rent" option according to the guy at the front desk. One of the few genuine relics from back when MePa was all about packing meat, Hector's has been dishing up greasy mountains of corned beef hash and stacks of eggs and pancakes since 1949. An institution. Writing this makes me feel bad that we actually had breakfast in the Standard Grill, just to check it out. Ah well, next time. 

And I nearly forgot: the staff are lovely. Plus, it's smack, bang over the High Line, Manhattan's newest - and most pretentious - park. Don't get me wrong, it's lovely. But when you're not even allowed to walk on the grass, well, that's America for you. As is the fact that there were more "park wardens" than visitors there the day we were there. But I'm probably just sore because the weather was so bad. It's beautiful and Louis loved it. Even if he couldn't play on the old railway track. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Toddlertown: the hidden NYC

Boy oh Boyhattan! Who knew there could be so many different New Yorks? There's glam New York of SITC fame: cocktails,  shopping,  shoes, the West Village. And tourist New York: museums,  bus tours, buildings, Fifth Avenue shops, street pounding. Or, even, film set New York: iconic skyscrapers, bustling businessmen, Park princesses. And then there's Boyhattan: or New York with a toddler in tow.... 

Happily, what I thought would be the least toddler-friendly city, turned out to be anything but. It helped that Grandma Penny warned me to prepare myself mentally for a totally different trip. Sionara splashing cash in SoHo, bye-bye new DVF dresses. In short, as she put it: "The key is to forget the things you used to enjoy doing in NYC and enjoy being a kid again!" Easy enough, especially when friends with toddlers from DC were sweet enough to make the trip up to see us. 

What didn't help was the weather. There we were, all set to exploit the many joys of Boyhattan - watching the horses in Central Park, catching the Staten Island ferry, riding the Central Park carousel, checking out the children's zoo, hitting the Bleecker Street playground - when the weather gods turned against us. To say it rained would be an understatement. This was rain like I'd never seen before in a city. The streets looked like a movie set alright: a scene from 2012 when a tidal wave hits Manhattan. Well, that and an umbrella morgue; dead brollies were strewn on every corner. 

Bang went most of my plans. Central Park was out on all bar the first day, which killed me and left Louis distraught since horses sensibly stay stable-bound when it's wet. Happily, however, fire trucks still have to go out in the rain. As do taxi cabs. "Yellow!" taxi cabs. And Moma - or "Momma" as it's now known - has a Friday night window when it's free to get in. Plus, it turns out there's a great FDNY - Fire Department of New York - exhibit/shop just by the Rockefeller Centre, so we didn't run short of things to do even if I did run short of places to push a snoozing Louis in his stroller. (Check me out slipping back into the dialect!) Turns out the elevators in Saks make far too much noise to make it past the army of perfume-squirters on the first floor, darn it. In short, we coped. In fact, for the most part, we thrived. Especially Louis, who didn't suffer nearly as badly from jet lag as I'd feared, even if I was out pounding the streets on day two at 5.30am after attempts to get him to make it past 3am failed miserably. 

Although the obvious highlights were seeing our friends - and especially me sneaking off for a couple of cocktails solo with one of them on the Friday evening while DJ worked in his room and babysat Louis - the trip was pretty much made by a reckless last night back at the Standard, the epitome of cool in MePa that stands astride the now finished High Line. Staying there even vindicated turning in early since the rooms are so amazing: all look out either on to the Empire State Building or the Hudson river. And I got to teach Louis a new word, "funky". Maybe one day we'll get to return. For now, there's always the movies. But I'm staying clear of 2012. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Trans-atlantic toddler travel

One maxim pretty much sums up travelling alone with a small child: if something can go wrong, it probably will. Like your taxi for the airport arriving half an hour late. Or south London being more grid locked than I've ever seen it. Even policemen were abandoning their "nee-nor" cars and continuing on foot. Suffice to say at 9.25am, 90 minutes after I'd orderd my cab and five minutes before I wanted to arrive atHeathrow, we were still the wrong side of the river and barely inching forward. At which point I was honestly doubting if we'd ever make it and was quite happy to divert instead to Paddington to catch the most expensive train in the world, aka the Heathrow Express. Somehow we made the 9.41am, but only thanks to my taxi driver dumping his car and running behind me, the buggy, my two bags and Louis pulling my big suitcase behind him.

Even at Heathrow I still felt cursed. The so-called fast bag drop queue was longer and slower than I'm convinced any check-in queue used to be. Then there was the umbrella incident at the security gate: apparently you're not allowed umbrellas on "eppa-planes" either anymore. Or at least that was the new law Sod decreed especially for me. I kid not: even the lady back at the Virgin desk said I'd been unlucky to get stopped.

I guess the lesson learned is that it pays to leave more time than you could ever imagine needing. The extra half-hour I'd felt oh-so-grown-up about leaving us was the difference between us catching and missing the plane, but it was still barely enough. That said, I did manage to down a coffee, buy Louis an egg sandwich and grab an emergency London bus for additional plane amusement purposes from Hamleys, so it wasn't a complete disaster.

And if Sonoko is reading this fearing for her solo trip to Tokyo this summer, then there is a happy ending to this tale. Despite life conspiring against me, Louis couldn't have been more angelic. He did everything right from actually sitting in his buggy when required (a minor miracle, trust me) to making a dash for it at the final security queue at just the right minute, which meant the lady frisking people took pity on me and let me jump the last bit. He was a delight on the "eppa-plane", which thoroughly delighted him; I'm not sure he's ever enjoyed eight hours so much. The "special Louis didi", which is what he still calls the TV, was just the most exciting thing ever, even if he did barely manage ten minutes of Fantastic Mr Fox. I'd be lying if I said the time passed quickly - with the exception of the blissful 60 minutes that Louis napped, during which I ate my meal, drank a G+T and watched half of Julie and Julia - but I'd also be lying if I said it was a nightmare. In fact, I'd happily do it all again, which is just as well seeing as we fly back on Monday.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Newark, Newark"

Mummy's Lego skyscraper

This Boyhattan trip thing has got me thinking a lot about comprehension. And I don't just mean that I'm still struggling to comprehend what possessed me to book a trip that requires solo trans-Atlantic travel with Louis and then jetlag the wrong direction when it really matters, i.e. when he wakes up for the 'day' at 1am just as I am nodding off....

No, what I'm really curious about is how much Louis actually comprehends about what's going on. I've been telling him we're going to New York for a while now, and he dutifully spits it back at me when asked. (Although what he actually says makes it sound more like we're going to "Newark" for five days.) He knows DJ got an "airpoplane" to New York a couple of days ago and was still "sleeping in Newark" this morning when I was trying to persuade Louis that 545am was not a good time to start the day. But what I really want to know is what he thinks "Newark" actually is?

DJ spent Sunday singing "New York, New York" to him while playing every other song on iTunes that we have with New York in the lyrics, which is quite a few. And I was hoping to buy Madagascar, which is set in Manhattan, because I thought that might be fun but clearly made a mistake thinking the HMV I popped into yesterday might actually stock something I wanted. Ahem. I digress. So instead he's had to make do with pictures of skyscrapers in old guidebooks. Not to mention building them out of Lego. Then yesterday morning he picked up the DVD box of Manhattan (I was getting in the mood), looked at the buildings on the front and (unprompted, I promise) said "Newark". Then today, when I said we (I) had to do packing, he knew it was for "Newark".

But he can't really understand that New York is a whole other city, like London, only not, and a long way away. Can he? I tried spinning the globe we have around and pointing it out, but he just thought that was a game and started spinning it faster and faster. Or perhaps he really does know what he's talking about. Who knows: maybe he'll remember his last trip there and start pointing out the sights.

Okay, so I don't really think that. But something is definitely going through his head. And on that time wasting note, I'd better go and pack because somehow I don't think his contribution - a set of mini books for his 'wow' bag - is going to be much use when we finally get there. That's assuming we both survive the flight.