Zoë Takes Manhattan

Kristin K. Fouquet

© Copyright 2005 by Kristin K. Fouquet




Day 1

The adventure began at 4:30 a.m. when I stirred my seventeen-month old from her crib to catch an early flight to New York. My husband, Errol, had a week of training in the city and good man that he is opted to take the family with him for a semi-vacation. Although we did evacuate to Austin during Hurricane Ivan and then two months later took a weekend jaunt to Virginia for our friends Chris and Tam’s wedding, this felt like the first real trip we were taking as a family.

The flight was a little hairy with a cranky toddler but by the time we reached the hotel, The New York Helmsley, she seemed genuinely intrigued. A friendly desk clerk gave Zoë a big red apple. Thankfully, this new fruit kept her completely occupied for the twenty minutes that we were stuck in the elevator with the bellhop, Joe. As we waited in limbo between the 22nd and 23rd floors, Joe engaged us with warm conversation and dining suggestions. After reaching our room, number 3524, the hotel staff sent up some cookies and milk as compensation. Also at the front desk were vouchers for a breakfast buffet the following morning, another gift for our elevator inconvenience.

With all delays behind us, we were ready to hit the streets. We phoned one of our New Yorker friends, Tam, and she met us in front of our hotel on E. 42nd Street. Tam and I were eager to show the city to newcomers Errol and Zoë. Two minutes later, Zoë fell asleep in her stroller. We stopped and filled up on some pizza slices and bought some garlic knots for the sleeping traveler. She slept through Midtown and Union Square Park but awoke in the East Village. After eating some knots, Zoë was tired of being stroller bound. She held my left hand and Tam’s right hand as we explored the East Village and Soho with Errol close behind. Already a shopper, Zoë stopped in Soho to pick out a hat. She removed the pink floppy hat she was wearing to try on a shiny purple silk one. The milliner held out a mirror for her to inspect it. Zoë approved and Errol pulled out his wallet.

As the afternoon darkened into evening and our legs became tired, we hailed a cab and started talking about dinner. Ever prepared, Tam whipped out a copy of Zagat and perused the child-friendly section. A reviewer suggested that a restaurant called Barking Dog on E. 34th Street should be called Crying Baby because of its popularity with the stroller set. That sounded perfect for the likes of Zoë, so we headed there. Perhaps the restaurant was trying to live down that Zagat review because not only did they not have highchairs or booster seats, the staff didn’t want the stroller brought in. Getting the brush-off, we were leaving when the hostess said she was sorry but a very rude man added, “I’m not.” The sad thing about it is that if Zoë had been a Bichon Frise with a Louis Vuitton dog leash, she would’ve been welcomed with dog-lovin’ open arms.

I completely understand that many, one could even say most, Manhattan restaurants want to maintain an upscale allure for civilized adults and shun the concept of spaghetti and meatball-tossing children. After getting several negative but polite responses to the highchair question, we managed to find a modest Italian place called Pomodoro that had booster seats and good food. Unfortunately for Zoë, teething had her eating less than a supermodel.

Day 2

Good thing breakfast was on the house because Zoë was ready to go after drinking her orange juice. We walked through Grand Central Station and I refrained from blurting out the very corny line, “What is this? Grand Central Station?” but it was on my mind. Down 5th Avenue, we strolled on our way to Central Park. Once there, we waited in front of the Delacorte Clock. A few minutes after the stroke of noon, the clock chimed and came alive. Zoë laughed and pointed at the monkeys on top striking the bell and the animals dancing in a circle around the clock. She slept through Strawberry Fields and the whole west side of the park but awoke when we got to the Great Lawn. Errol and I ate kosher hot dogs while Zoë insisted on sticking with her liquid diet. She happily ran around on the grass until the rain came.

The next stop was F.A.O. Schwarz, the ultimate toy store. Needless to say, Zoë was overwhelmed. The stuffed animals were nearly life sized and the selection immense. She had almost as much fun riding the escalator as she did straddling a large stuffed camel. The newborn baby dolls were presented in a mock hospital nursery with a “doctor” to bring one out to you. Upon adoption, each baby even came with a birth certificate. When it was time to finally leave the three floors of fun, the rain had really picked up so we needed a cab.

Riding to Chris and Tam’s apartment on E. 34th Street, I remembered that I had expressed my concerns about bringing Zoë to their place. Tam reassured me that there was nothing that she could hurt or vice versa. Oh, sweet oblivious couples without kids, I thought as I entered their meticulous newlywed apartment. In my childless days, I would have thought how pretty the picture frames adorned every shelf and table. I would have thought how cozy all the lit candles made the place feel. As a mother, all I saw was glass and fire. Zoë bee lined to a candle and promptly submerged her finger in candle wax. It must have cooled because she didn’t complain as I wiped it off her finger. The cords from the Venetian blinds had to be put up high, along with a vase of Gerbera daisies. The stereo and shelves of videotapes, DVD’s, and CD’s had to be barricaded with large throw pillows. We managed to find some harmless things for her to play with and distracted her constantly from things off-limits.

When it was time to meet Chris after work on the Upper West Side, the rain was still coming down steadily. We walked a few blocks looking for cabs to no avail. It would be a real challenge to find one. We finally stopped at a corner and Tam put her arm out as occupied and off-duty taxis whizzed by. She turned around and saw that Zoë, in her father’s arms, was also extending her arm out in imitation. Zoë’s attempt at hailing a cab must have done the trick because one pulled up just then.

We hurriedly ate at Assaggio’s on Columbus Avenue. The food was grand but books, crayons, chalk, toys, peek-a-boo, and orange juice only go so far in keeping a toddler entertained. You know she’s ready to go when the entrees haven’t arrived and she’s already saying, “Bye” and waving to the waiters.

Day 3

After a relaxing room service breakfast, Zoë and I walked Errol to his class on Madison Avenue. She and I strolled through the Theater District and Times Square. We found ourselves in front of The Algonquin Hotel. In another lifetime, I would have gone in and had a drink to the memory of Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and the rest of the Round Table gang but on this day, I was content to nod in recognition. We strolled around the obligatory Rockefeller Plaza then headed to Bryant Park.

Bryant Park is situated just behind the New York Public Library, another destination I would have to forego with toddler in tow. Suddenly, I heard the lovely voice of Edith Piaf singing from the park. Indeed, it was a recording of the Little Sparrow playing at Le Carrousel, a perfect French carousel built in Brooklyn. Zoë rode a beautifully ornate horse as I stood next to her. After the ride, she ran around a bit and found the outdoor reading room. Several portable racks of books were placed among the café tables and chairs. We found the children’s books and picked a few to read. Five books later, she was off again.

Determined to dine out, Errol had his heart set on eating at Wu Liang Ye. Two orange juices bought us enough time to finish our appetizers but the entrees had to be boxed up to go. She did not want to be strapped to a highchair any longer. Our accommodating waiter offered Zoë a fortune cookie but alas, even the novelty of that couldn’t stop her almost insatiable desire to move.

Days 4 and 5

Zoë wasn’t feeling well in the morning so we stayed in. By afternoon, she had a fever and threw up after eating only a little bit of food. A call to her pediatrician assured us that a trip to the emergency room shouldn’t be necessary, so we just kept an eye on her. We figured it was teething related fever since some new white caps were surfacing on her gums.

Staying in the hotel room for two days wasn’t so bad. Coincidentally, those were some of the worst weather days that week. We had a corner room on the 35th floor with views that showcased The Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, and the East River from one window and the top of the Chrysler building from the other. Away from the domestic duties of sweeping, mopping, laundry, and dishwashing (except for rinsing out sippy cups), I felt free to spend all my time with my daughter. When she was really warm and feeling bad, I held her and read to her or watched television while she slept in my arms. By Day 5, she was back to her silly self and we played chase by crawling around on the floor and hiding behind either side of the bed.

Also, on Day 5, as I tried to get Zoë to eat an apple Danish, she didn’t bite but she said, “ap-pull.” Not only was an apple the first food she had in The Big Apple, it was also in that city that she first said the word she has been chanting ever since.

Day 6

With Zoë feeling better, we ventured out again. She slept in her stroller as I walked the many blocks to the Upper West Side. Two blocks away from our destination, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, she awoke. The Museum offered an exhibit called Oh, Seuss! Off to Great Places which incorporated themes from the book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! and other Seuss classics. Zoë had a good time driving the Green Eggs and Ham train and sliding down Horton’s slide.

We met up with Errol after his class and ate at John’s Pizzeria on W. 44th Street. The pizzas there are cooked in a coal-burning oven which adds a slight smoky flavor and their crusts are reputed to be the thinnest in town. With a slight appetite having returned, Zoë ate almost a half of a slice. She seemed to be feeling much better as she made friends with some of the pre-theatre crowd in the restaurant.

Later, we visited again with Chris and Tam. Their apartment’s balcony has a fantastic view. Being familiar with the environs, Zoë ran around like she owned the place until she started rubbing her eyes, then it was clearly time to go.

Day 7

On the last day of class, Errol was let out early so we had the whole afternoon to see the sights as a threesome. We walked through Washington Square Park, bought a few books at the NYU book sale, meandered through Soho, and stopped in Chinatown.

Silly people that we are, we attempted to eat dim sum at Ping’s Seafood Restaurant on Mott Street. The fact that they didn’t have orange juice should’ve been the sign of impending doom but we forged on with orders of shrimp dumplings anyway. Although Zoë entertained herself briefly by playing with a plastic straw, spilling water on the table, and banging chopsticks on a plate, we began to realize why they hide those booster seats in the back room. As we were leaving, we could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from the dining room behind us.

While in Chinatown, we did a bit of shopping. Zoë got some adorable hot pink Mary Jane shoes with lotus blossoms on them. I got a red pair similar to hers but the size prevents them from being as cute. I also bought Zoë two red paper lanterns and a paper dragon for her room. The dragon makes her laugh. Outside of Chinatown, Errol picked up a new hat at a shop called Eye Candy.

We strolled through Little Italy and made a donation to the St. Anthony shrine. We stopped at the notorious CBGB’s club, which has been there since 1973 and may be losing its lease by the end of the year. They have their own shrine, to the late Joey Ramone of the band The Ramones.

Finally getting the idea that dining out with an active toddler isn’t very feasible, we had burritos on Chris and Tam’s balcony. For the last night with our friends, Tam had a very special present for me. Her grandmother, Lottie Victoria, had died last August and when Tam and her family were going through her grandmother’s things, they found some hatboxes. The hats were beautifully preserved with notes on when and where she wore them. Tam asked her father if she could take one for a friend of hers that loves hats. I was so touched. Now, all three of us had new hats to bring home.

Day 8

For our last day in the city, we put on our new hats and walked to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibits included Chanel, Diane Arbus, and Max Ernst. Zoë wasn’t interested in couture dresses, black and white photography, or surrealist paintings, but she did indulge her parents a bit. Perusing the permanent collection, I noticed her nose was running so we’d have to make it short.

Among the Van Gogh’s a woman approached us and offered to take our picture. She said she was an artist and would love to paint the three of us. She didn’t have a camera with her so we lent her ours as we posed. We later sent the photos to her. Who knows if she’ll actually do a painting of us but we were flattered nevertheless.

The remainder of our day was spent in the hotel room watching bad television. Our little traveler had been quite the trooper but it was evident that she now had a cold. I was grateful that we were flying back home the next morning. I was also grateful that Errol wanted his family with him in New York. I knew he was disappointed that dining out hadn’t been successful and that many of the things he wanted to do, he simply wasn’t able to do with us. I’m thankful that he thought we were worth the sacrifice.

As for Zoë, she made her mark in New York. She stomped the East Village streets, ran all over Central Park’s grass, and hailed a cab. To the dismay of her parents, she repeatedly screamed in the Egyptian room at The Met and proudly listened to the ensuing echoes egging her on again. Zoë took Manhattan and one day she’ll be back again. The next time, she might even remember it.

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