New York City with kids, part 7–The Bronx Zoo

There are multiple zoos in New York City, but I’d never been to the Bronx Zoo because it was a nightmare to get to without a car. Since I had a car, we picked a day and we drove to the zoo.

The zoo has strollers, wheelchairs, and mobility aids for those who need assistance, and for the most part the zoo is very accessible. The one bit that we found very confusing was how to follow accessible paths to the penguin enclosure. Apart from that, they make a point of ensuring the zoo is accessible.

The exhibit Rhiannon was most excited to see was the Snow Leopard. I don’t know why apart from their school’s mascot is a leopard? I don’t have a picture of that because my camera phone pictures are blurry. But we saw it, and while it was asleep when we got there, Rhi made us wait so long that we eventually saw it get up and move. Points to Rhi for her persistence.

The tigers were another big draw. Above you can see me taking a picture of Rhi taking a picture of the tiger.

After the tigers, the kids spotted a quest you can do in the zoo. At various spots marked on the map, kids can do an activity and get a stamp on their passport. After x stamps (3? I don’t remember) kids start getting stickers for completing activities.

Above is one of the exhibits in the bird section. The woman was talking about different nest building materials and why different birds use different materials. They also learned about how bad plastic straws are for the environment.

We also saw the American Bald Eagle, which is the symbol of the US. Rhi had learned that in Kindergarten and was very excited to put her knowledge into practice. They’re not very common in most of the country but are more common in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska (in parts of Alaska, they’re actually considered a pest).

We skipped a lot of the zoo as it is very big and there got to be a point where the kids were tired, hot, and just done. Again, rather than forcing the issue, allowing them to decide when we were done made my life easier. If Ravi had been with me, we might have made the effort to see one more animal, but it was just too much for me and the nerve pain all the walking over the past few days had caused.


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New York City with kids, part 6–The Jekyll and Hyde Club and Big Gay Ice Cream Shop

 One of the things I was told by people in the know was that I had to take the girls to the Jeykll and Hyde Club restaurant at 91 7th Ave. After the Met, we decided to have dinner there.

This is a restaurant where you do pay for the experience. It’s not more or less expensive than other sit down restaurants, but the food isn’t something to write home about. You also need to make sure you have cash or be ready to use their ATM.

They advertise that something spooky happens every ten minutes. We found it to be more frequent. There’s a mixture of animatronics on the walls, like the werewolf, and live entertainment.

Here is one of the live entertainers with a  pet spider she introduced to the children. He’s a laboratory experiment, she told them, but he likes to meet the humans. She also checked them with her ghost catching net to see if they were posessed. Another actor led us in the pledge to join the club, and walked up and yelled BOO! making us jump.

While they note that there is an entertainer fee added to your check, it’s only three dollars per person. I highly encourage you to tip the staff directly. (Remember that tipping is a thing in the US.)

While Jekyll and Hyde has desserts, we elected instead to go across the street to The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. They make soft serve ice cream, usually covered in a topping. They also have the option to eat your ice cream plain or to get a popsicle.

I got vanilla ice cream with a chocolate and pretzel topping. It was delicious.

I think this was a great way to close out our day.

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New York City with kids, part 5–The Metropolitan Museum of Art

With the exception of toddler, I highly recommend going to The Met with your kids. If you don’t think they’ll handle actually being at the art, stop by and have a snack and people watch from the steps, a common practice made famous by Gossip Girl.

We met up with my friend J and her daughter A for our trip to the museum. We stopped and did a wefie–but you can tell who was into this idea and who wasn’t.

Here is my advice for the museum with kids. Give them a notebook and some crayons or colored pencils and let them sketch. No, you won’t get to hit many exhibits (we did the costume institute and the Egyptian stuff) and no, you probably won’t stop and stare at the things you might most want to see, nor will they necessarily be interested in what you’re interested in.

If the goal is to get your kids into museums and for them to have fun, let them drive the bus so to speak. The girls focused on this random bit of temple with hieroglyphs and the statue of Sekhmet below.

They managed a good two hours in the museum before hunger and boredom started to kick in, and we got them out of there quick.

Things I wanted but did not actually see include the impressionist gallery. If you want to really explore the Met, get a sitter and strap on your walking shoes and still accept you won’t see it all.

As a heads up, there was no obvious park access from the Museum that I saw. Don’t plan to go to the park directly from the museum–it’s a long walk down 5th Ave to get to an entrance. There also isn’t a great kid’s section of the Museum gift shop–there are some kid books, and in a separate gift shop closer to the coat room there were some toys, but overall I found the gift shop disappointing for kids.

The Met has a suggested donation, but you can go for free which makes this not only a great cultural experience, but an affordable one as well.

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New York City with kids, part 4–Playing in Central Park

After we had lunch at American Girl, we rode a  pedicab (bike taxi) to Central Park. Be wary–the pedicabs can charge drastically different prices and it can get crazy expensive very fast. Confirm their rates and if they take credit cards (like ours did).

We got dropped a little inside Central Park, and the girls immediately ran to the giant rocks near where we were. I sat and enjoyed a peaceful half hour or so.

Central Park should not be missed. It’s a massive park in the middle of the city, and just like there are parts of the Botanical Gardens or Gardens by the Bay where the sounds of the city fall away–the same is true of Central Park.

With kids, I recommend the Central Park Carousel spring/summer or Skating Rink fall/winter, any of the twenty-one playgrounds, any of these suggestions, or the simplest solution–walk into the park and find a place to chill. Bring a ball, or a frisbee. We walked a bit up the path from the Plaza hotel where the horses go, and just hung out. The kids found a way to play and could’ve happily stayed there longer.

Now, of course, a classic Central Park experience is a carriage ride. However, it is not a practice without controversy. Nor is it cheap. The fifteen minute price sounds good, but the reality is that you barely see anything. Go for a longer ride if you want to see more of the park. Or, of course, you can go up a stop on the subway and explore another part of the park.

After our carriage ride, the driver let the girls feed a carrot each to Diablo, the horse.

Attractions near or in the park include the Central Park Zoo, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Natural History Museum, all of which are good with kids. We only went to the Met on this trip (future post), but I did the Natural History Museum with Elanor in 2013 and she had a blast.

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NYC with kids, part 3–The American Girl Store

If you have a kid who loves dolls between the ages of roughly three and eleven, you can’t miss the American Girl Flagship Store at 75 Rockefeller Plaza. (You can take a virtual tour of the store here.)

The first thing we did at the AG store was to get girl/doll manicures. They use different nail polish on the girls and the dolls that is non-toxic and safe. The girls loved being pampered, and seeing their dolls get pampered, too was super fun for them.

Then the dolls got their hair done, too. The salon at the store can also do child hair, but we couldn’t get a convenient appointment.

This is the finished style that Elanor wanted. Worth noting that the doll’s dress was designed and sewn by Elanor during her sewing classes.

Then we had lunch at the cafe. The food was surprisingly good for a restaurant where you’re really paying for the experience. The dolls get their own seats, and it’s fancy in a child-friendly accessible way.

The newest doll is Luciana, who wants to be an astronaut. Here’s her special cotton candy milkshake, complete with stars and moons candy confetti. I loved my iced strawberry lemonade.

For dessert, the girls did the special girl/doll decorate your own cupcake. They got bare cakes, frosting, and toppings. Both girls went all in on it, and had a blast.

Does the frosting go on the cupcake or straight into the mouth?

The retail store is two floors and has everything American Girl. The Truly Me dolls (the dress that is wearing the dress E made is Elanor’s Truly Me doll that is the closest in appearance to her) and the new contemporary dolls like Luciana are featured on the main floor. If you go down a level, there is a large amount of floor space dedicated to the historical dolls (complete with kid friendly interactive displays), as well as a book/dvd section, and a Bitty Baby doll section (Bitty Baby is the baby doll line, like Rhi is holding above).

You can get the dolls, clothing and accessories, and some of the dolls have matching child outfits, as seen above. Rhi wanted to get an outfit that she and Lovely Rosie could both wear.



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New York with Kids, part 2–Broadway

Happy fourth of July–aka America’s Birthday! I’m writing this in advance, so I’ll write about our 4th in a post or two.

So, New York City with kids. Anyone who has read my blog knows I’m obsessed with theater, especially musicals. So taking my kids to NYC automatically means that Broadway shows were on the menu. Shows open and close at any time, so keep that in mind when I’m discussing specific shows.

Each of my girls saw their first broadway show around the age of 5/6. However, I’d been taking them to children’s theater since they were really little–like 2/3–so they were familiar with the idea that when we go to shows we’re quiet and sit still and all that jazz. I highly encourage you to do this to familiarize them with theater.

There’s always a Disney show or three to go to on Broadway–at the moment The Lion King, Aladdin, and Frozen. They’re specifically meant for kids, and are a good bet, especially with the little ones.

I chose Wicked (which Elanor had seen with me in Singapore, and Rhi was jealous that she hadn’t seen) and Anastasia (based on the animated movie). On a previous trip to NYC Elanor had seen Phantom of the Opera (the 25th anniversary had been on Netflix, and E had become obsessed with it) and Cinderella (which isn’t on Broadway anymore).

When you take your kids, there are seat boosters for the kids. If you can’t find them, ask an usher.

Ironically, Rhi fell asleep during the intermission of Wicked and slept through most of the second act due to jetlag. But she enjoyed what she saw. I think Elanor appreciated Wicked on a different level than she did at 7, and I’m sure she’ll appreciate the more adult themes that go over her head even more later.

Anastasia was a really great musical for the kids. The sets are exciting, as are the special effects. The performers were good, although we did see a matinee on Tony Awards day so we missed the headline performers.

Matinees are better for the younger kids, but you know your kids well enough to decide if they can handle a 2.5 hour show that starts at 8pm.


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My NYC/Boston series will return on Friday. Today I wanted to write about the protest our family attended this past weekend. There were more than 800 protests around the country on Saturday to protest Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that not only arrests everyone crossing the border, but separates children from their parents, placing not only the adults but the children in detention centers, which is a nice phrase for internment camps.

Thinking of my Singaporean audience, I’m going to take a minute to discuss American immigration policy. The subject of US immigration policy is the sort of thing they build entire graduate level History and International Relations classes around, so I’m going to have to make some seriously broad generalizations.

It is easiest to understand that US immigration policy is a lot like most US policies, which is to say that it is grounded in white supremacy. Today’s immigration debate is no different. No one is having vapors about my Canadian immigrant friends, nor would they get told to go back to their own country. Meanwhile, I have brown skinned American born friends who have been told to go back to their own country within the last month. Did people sit around and deliberately plan to keep out the non-whites? In this case–and I’m talking specifically about Trump’s immigration policies–the answer is probably yes because people of color are more likely to vote blue (Democrat) than red (Republican–Trump’s party).

The popular mythology says both that illegal immigrants are flooding through the southern border. It is false. Undocumented Immigration is at a 46 year low.

Another myth says that immigrants are here to steal benefits. In fact, undocumented persons are only eligible for Emergency Room care, schooling, and WIC (a welfare program for very young children, which pays for things like formula). They are ineligible for social security, food stamps (different than WIC), medicaid/care, etc. More info here.

Nope, the US has never been great on immigration policy (Chinese Exclusion Act, anyone?). But Trump has taken it to a new low. Let me get back to the big one–he’s putting babies in internment camps.

He would lie and say he’s continuing a policy from under the Obama administration. This is a lie. This is terrorism thought up and administered by his administration. He did it with an executive order.

Here’s a detailed article about Trump’s policy, and what’s happening to kids.

But the gist of it is that children and parents are being separated, and no one is keeping great records.

Children are being held in internment camps, where not only are they denied their parents, they’re denied something as simple as a hug.

At a shelter for migrant children near the Texas-Mexico border, Colleen Kraft of the American Academy of Pediatrics said she watched a 2-year-old girl scream and pound her fists on a mat after she had been separated from her mother. A shelter worker wanted to console her, but the rule was to not touch or hold the children, Kraft said staff members told her.

At another shelter in Arizona, three Brazilian siblings, distraught after they had been separated from their parents, were told they’re not allowed to hug one another, according to Antar Davidson, who recently quit his job at that facility.


What does tearing children apart from their caregivers and putting them in a detention center sound like? Listen to this audio without crying and I’ll show you someone without a heart, you know, like the people defending Trump’s policy. Children are being bussed as far away as New York City, and others are being put into foster care. Their parents aren’t getting updates and phone between parents and children are the exception, not the rule.

Caring Americans have had enough, and we’ve took to the streets. Including my family. I can’t imagine the pain of having Elanor and Rhi taken away from me, or what it would feel like for them to be taken away from us by people who may not even speak the same language as they do. (Some children are pre-verbal, non-verbal from the trauma of familial separation, or speak indigenous languages and we don’t have the translators to get information from them.)

There were hundreds of marchers with hundreds of thousands of people. Some of the protests, like LA’s were on the order of three times the size of the biggest pink dots.

Rather than go to the much larger protests in San Francisco or San Jose, we elected to attend the Families Belong Together March in Mountain View. It is worth noting that Mountain View is in a liberal part of California, which in turn is a liberal state. This was Ravi, Elanor, and Rhiannon’s first protest. I cut my protesting teeth back in the Iraq War, George W Bush years.

We, with easily over a thousand other people, gathered together and marched on City Hall to show up and demand change.

You might be saying “But Trump already said he’d end the practice of separating families,” to which I’d say “A–you’re ridiculous if you think that he means that, B-they want to end the Flores rule, which says that children can only be detained for 20 days so that they can detain them indefinitely, and C–there’s no plan to reunify the families already split up.” I have yet to see anything credible to suggest that they actually have stopped, and that their definition of a family unit is specifically very small. They are looking for space to create more internment camps because this isn’t going away.

If I think that Trump doesn’t give a fuck about people demonstrating, and I don’t, then what was the point?

The point was teaching our children our values. You might take your kids to church, and that’s in part to pass on your values. In this case, I felt that taking my children to a protest and showing them that they are obligated to speak out for those who can’t speak out for themselves is passing on my values. It teaches them that there are limits to power. Trump may way Americans to bow and scrape for him the way North Koreans are deferential to Ki, but this isn’t North Korea and we have the freedom of speech. It is our obligation to call out those who are doing wrong. If we can’t agree that caging children is wrong, I have to question your humanity.

The point is also to show the larger world that Americans aren’t standing idly by or cosigning this evil. We don’t condone the child abuse that is going on. We aren’t going to be good little Nazis and look the other way while Fascism is on the rise in America. We are going to speak out.

The point is calling out something that is wrong.

Oh, and toddlers are going to immigration court without caregivers, expected to represent themselves against the US government because non-citizens aren’t entitled to due process. Below is a 17 minute John Oliver segment about it–go to 5:13 to hear about children.


America was created by political dissidents. What is more American than dissent and protest?

This was their first protest, but this is the Trump presidency. I’m not naive enough to think this was their last.

Happy Fourth of July

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NYC with kids part 1-where to stay NY or NJ

New York City is one of my favorite places on earth. In this series of posts on NYC, I’ll not only talk about what we did, but give you travel suggestions as well.

Not long after school go out, I took the girls to NYC for a week and then to Boston for a week. Ravi stayed home to work.

This was a huge deal for me. My health has been so shaky over the past years that solo parenting so far away from help has been a no-go. I wanted to take the girls to Disney alone last year, but even that seemed dangerous for want of a better descriptor. But my medications have stabilized my condition (especially because of medical marijuana–a post for another day, Singapore readers), and for the first time it was realistic that I could travel with them.

We flew into and stayed in New Jersey. This is significantly cheaper than staying in the city–about half the cost in our case. However, we stayed far enough away (East Rutherford, NJ) that we had to drive into the city every day. However, this was also a good physical accommodation for me, as it meant I could always park in a convenient spot to minimize the amount of walking we did. If you want to stay in New Jersey, but don’t want to drive into the city, I suggest staying in Jersey City (which, if I recall correctly, has a good Doubletree) near the PATH train, which will take you into the city.

If money isn’t a barrier or you’re traveling during a low travel season, you can stay in the city. Anything in the theater district/midtown is going to be pricey year round, but it does carry the benefit that many tourist destinations will be within either walking distance or a short subway ride. We didn’t use the subway on this trip, but it is safe and convenient. Get a multiday card and explore not only the city but the other buroughs as well.

If you do elect to drive into the city, be aware that during certain times of day, a thirty minute drive will double or more, especially if you’re entering the city via the Lincoln Tunnel or the George Washington (GW) Bridge. This is really where taking public transit is a plus if you’re coming in from a further distance, like Jersey City. We handled the long drive times by generally traveling as off peak hours-wise as we could and by letting them use their tablets while I listened to podcasts and contemplated how much I missed my *real* car.

Further, depending on where in the city you go, expect to pay between 40 and 50 dollars to park. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Parent Relationships with US Schools

There is a huge difference between public schools in Singapore and the US, and that is parent participation. In Singapore there is a vibe of “go away” at the schools (or at least at ours) that I was never really crazy about. In the US, parents are often the lifeblood of an elementary school.

Parents volunteer to work events like movie night and the walk a thon (or tomorrow’s field day). For the last few months, once my health improved, I volunteered weekly in Rhi’s class.

Rhi’s class hatched some chicken eggs, and the day they got the eggs, a woman from the farm introduced them to one of her hens and talked about what it was like to keep chickens. I was there to help out, oversee washing hands after the kids got to pet the hen, and to take photos.

Other days I worked with kids on reading or math. One day at the end of the year my volunteer time was spent taking art off the walls.

Other parents sort the book order forms (each month the kids come home with a book order form–for fun books, not school textbooks) and when they arrive in a big box, someone has to sort them. Another parent made sure all the weekly folders had homework in them. Parents do a lot to help lift the burden off the teachers so they can focus on teaching our kids.

I like getting to know the children in Rhi’s class as well as the teachers. That way I have a feel for who Rhi wants a playdate with. I am on good terms with her teacher so I am also well informed as to her progress on a regular basis.

The opportunity to volunteer was such a positive experience that I look forward to doing it next year.

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Kindergarten Graduation

One of the reasons we decided to move back to the US was that while Singapore schools were working out for Elanor, it was blindingly obvious that they weren’t the right fit for Rhiannon. Rhi has some special needs including ADHD and sensory processing disorder. Nothing earth shattering, but enough that the rigid structure of Singapore’s public schools would be a train wreck for her.

Additionally, she just wasn’t ready for Singaporean first grade in January of this year. That was obvious last year, and it’s obvious today.

While I have complained about less rigorous US academics in the past when it comes to Elanor, the slower/gentler approach has been just right for Rhi. There was no expectation that she could read already. Nor is she expected to go into first grade in August knowing how to read. She has grown by leaps and bounds and can sound out easy words and has an ever increasing number of sight words, but she isn’t a fluent enough reader to survive Singapore public’s first grade.

We have had the best year with an amazing, warm, loving teacher named Mrs. G. She was exactly the right person to introduce Rhi to elementary school.

On June 1, Rhi graduated from Kindergarten.

Here’s hoping first grade is just as positive an experience!

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