Nobody remembers all the planning you did

Especially not your kids

A few Fridays ago I took Ada to NYC for a day, a self-serving idea born out of my desire to see the Julie Mehretu show at the Whitney masquerading as quality solo time with my elder child. I revealed the idea to her the day before, that we’d be skipping school, waking up early to catch an Amtrak train, then going on an “adventure day” before sleeping over at her aunt and uncle’s apartment in Park Slope.

It’s the thing I always wanted my parents to propose to me—joy-slash-adventure prioritized over education—which now seems preposterous to expect as a child of immigrants growing up in the 80s. I remember the envy of having friends whose parents let them take “mental health” days, and others whose parents pulled them out of class 48-hours before February break to depart for their trips to Disney World. I remember once proposing the idea of a mental health day to my mom, and was met with a truly blank stare of confusion, before being shuttled out the door to the bus.

Once Ada grasped the reality of these New York City plans, she proceeded to caress her brother’s back, to reassure him that staying home was actually more fun, all while vigorously winking at me about her knowingly superior itinerary. She then got to packing: two chapter books, her pencil case, three large pieces of tree bark(?), and her stuffed bunny. I dissuaded her from bringing a five pound ziplock full of loose change by giving her a five dollar bill, which she could spend on anything.

Our itinerary:

In planning this itinerary, I felt I’d conceived of a viable mix of walking, indoor/outdoor activity, sufficient time and stops for food and snacks and serendipitous detours, and a few opportunities to pick up a few special knick knacks, with aforementioned $5, attempting to plan my way to success.

What I’d forgotten about is the stimuli—visual, auditory, olfactory—of making micro-choices on every street corner, and how much that decision-making requires exercise and stamina. That when you’re five and have lived the last 1/3 of your life in the country, you’re unable to ignore every piece of litter on the sidewalk, and not pick up every fallen flower petal on the West Side Highway. That when you see lychees at the bodega, you’re unable to walk by without a desperate negotiation. That you want one of everything novel — candy at the bodega, toys at the gift shop at the Whitney, plastic beach toys on sale at the hardware store on Eldridge Street.

My muscle for urban parenting has also atrophied in the last 18 months: the intuition required to yank her out from the path of a sidewalk cyclist, of holding her hand constantly as we parade across a crosswalk, of swooping in when she distractedly walks too close to the approaching F train. And, the necessity of say “no” more often to the many temptations the city presents.

If you ask her what she remembers of this trip, a scant two weeks later, it’s entirely mundane. It’s the dollar bill she serendipitously found crumpled and discarded on the corner of Eldridge + Grand. It’s the way she got to ride in the back of the Lyft without her seatbelt buckled. It’s how she thought there was so much trash on the street and raised concern about the rapidly expanding Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s how the ice tasted extra crunchy in the yuzu soda at Rice & Miso. She has little to say about the museum or Little Island, or any other particular stop. She couldn’t describe them to you, or where they were, or who was there.

The things we remember have nothing to do with the time and care you placed onto that meticulously planned day. It has no proportion to the import or cost of the entry fee. If two Fridays ago with Ada is telling, it has everything to do with the minutiae, the feelings, the story she wants to believe later on as she’s falling asleep and bragging to her brother about the adventure she got to have and he didn’t.

Recommendations for almost summer (kid edition):

  • Read: Elise Gravel’s illustrated books about insects and critters are the perfect summer companions. There’s The Slug, The Worm, The Mosquito, and forthcoming in August, The Bug Club. (For more summer reading, I’ve set up an affiliate shop at Bookshop.org for all my @kidsbookrecs picks and more.)

  • Listen: I recently re-discovered the Libby app, the best way I’ve found to borrow audiobooks for kids if you don’t want to pay for audible. We just borrowed Pax by Sara Pennypacker. You often have to wait a few weeks for the audiobooks to become available, but then they’re free with your library membership.

  • Play: In the realm of “toys with many plastic pieces actually worth getting,” i’d put this marble run, an item I wish I’d discovered early pandemic. If you’ve successfully made it this far with only wooden toys, then Hape makes some beautiful marble runs as well.

  • I think Keen’s Newport H2 are the best all-around summer shoe (water, hike, adventure, rugged) and Crocs are the best spray-ground/get wet shoe. Sorry, Natives. Sorry, fashion.

Recommendations for a heat wave (parent edition):

P.S. We’re taking a 13 hour flight with the kids in July. What are the best headphones these days for kids? Better yet if there is a way to split them for two kids.

P.P.S. I’ve moved on from my j-o-b to product/content/creative consulting and to work on some personal projects (like this newsletter! possibly a podcast!, @kidsbookrecs, etc.) Wanna work on something together? Chat about a potential project? I’d love to talk.

P.P.P.S. If you liked this this newsletter, share it, send it to a friend, and let me know!

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