A stamp in my passport

Elphie finally has a stamp in her passport, ironically (for anyone who gets the film reference) it doesn’t say Italy on it, despite that being her first international destination, as the grumpy customs officer in Sardinia refused to stamp it as we were travelling within the EU. So the United States of America gets the privilege.
Photo credit: Tim Dodd

New York is one of my favourite cities. A city that never sleeps has a certain appeal to a night owl and with its towering skyscrapers, amazing architecture and history, there is no truer monument to what man (and woman) can achieve. So I was thrilled to be sharing it with Elphie – although I am not sure she grasped the significance.

The flight over was not too bad. My top tip would be to ring the airline as far in advance as possible to ensure you get a cot seat on the bulkhead. They bring down a shelf and provide a bassinet for smaller babies – a bit of a squeeze for Elphie on the way out or a reclining seat that looks like a bouncer for bigger babies. We did get bulkhead seats in the end, but much wrangling at check-in was required.

Elphie only slept for one hour stretch and then another half an hour, so six hours of entertaining her were required. Luckily eating was sufficient entertainment for about half that time, but the rest was spent rocking her in the aisles, playing peekaboo and inspecting the ice flows of Canada.

And then we were there! Concrete jungle where dreams are made (oh). Six whole days to explore the city – we have been many times before so the majority of the tourist stuff was done, so mostly we just wanted to wander around exploring the city on foot and spending most of our money on delicious food.

So my top tips for taking New York by storm with a six month old:

1. Know no limits

New York is an incredibly baby-friendly place. No one batted an eyelid as we went to expensive restaurants with a baby. American service was at its best with staff normally going out of their way to accommodate us. The patrons too, far from being upset about a baby interrupting their swanky meal cooed and ahed over her and wanted to take her onto their table (Fred would not allow it!).

The furthest step we took was sitting drinking cocktails (or in my case a delicious grape juice since NY cocktails contain more alcohol than even my lenient approach to breastfeeding allows) at the bar of Jean Georges, a swanky Washington Circle restaurant. Elphie loved it!

Notably some nights were easier than others – sometimes spending the whole meal happily clonking her toys about, sometimes sleeping, but on one night she was cranky throughout probably because we were eating too late for even her nocturnal habits to cope with. So dine but dine early would be our advice!

2. Sling it

Buggies are cumbersome and awkward on the metro and in airports; it was much easier to walk and ride the city carrying Elphie in a sling (meant she could nurse on the move too!).

We literally walked the length and breadth of Manhattan, well maybe not length as we only made it half way up Central Park but certainly breadth and even perambulated around Roosevelt Island, a weird enclave just off Manhattan accessed by a cable-car (or tram as the Americans would say – the confused moments I had looking for a tram when I arrived on the island were priceless, but no streetcar(!) was to be found). Roosevelt Island mainly seemed to be famous for the Frankin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms park and a ruined mental asylum. It was strange to see so much abandoned and unused so close to one of the most expensive real estate in the world but apparently Cornell is going to open a tech campus there in 2017 so hopefully Welfare Island will be reborn.

3. Baby it’s cold outside

You may have heard that the East Coast of the US has been rather chilly. To keep Elphie snug, she wore a vest, leggings, babygro, her deer stalker hat and if really cold then in an unprecedented step her pram suits (the huge puffy all in one babygro type things with a hood) while being carried. Another advantage of slinging it being we could act as hot water bottles for each other.

We also had this double zipped hoodie that all the baby wearing mothers are wearing in 3 sizes bigger than I am (should probably have gone 4 sizes for growing space) that you can zip up around you and the baby in the sling. And it is pretty unisex so Fred sported it when he was her carriage.

4. Pit stop

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before but the perfect place for a pit stop is a hotel lobby, especially a big one belonging to a big chain. In hotel lobbies there are loos and comfy seats and no one bothers you as they assume you are waiting for someone, they are rarely that busy and you don’t have to buy anything to use them. Much better than a cafe for a nappy changing / feeding stop off. I don’t know why I don’t do this in central London all the time!

5. I say nappy

Given we speak the same language it is amazing what can get lost in translation. Many years ago I asked a sales assistant in one of the huge New York pharmacies where the water was and got the response “vegetable oil?”. So I have been very careful to call it “wahder” in the States ever since. But in a state of emergency you can forget the nuances.

Such a state arose when we went to visit the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

The Intrepid is a former aircraft carrier now used as a museum for a multitude of aircraft, the aircraft carrier itself and in case that wasn’t enough the space shuttle Enterprise (that never actually went to space – who knew?).

After a delightful and long visit we were nearing the end with only concorde to go, which Fred wasn’t that bothered by, when poonami struck. So off I popped to the ladies, only to discover horror of horrors that we were out of nappies. We had changed her quite a few times that day and I had not replenished the night before. Disaster.

So we sat for a good while reviewing our options – send Fred out to buy some but would they let him back in; both go and buy some or go back to the hotel, pretty bad options for Elphie; find someone with a spare nappy somewhere on the boat!

Serendipitously I spotted a buggy, but it was covered so I could not tell the age of its inhabitant and hence whether its nappies could be shared with a not so tiny any more Elphie. I approached the driver and asked him how old the baby was, he said he was the uncle not the father but the baby was two months. I was a bit flustered and explained that couldn’t help with our nappy emergency and beat a hasty retreat.

Then I saw the accompanying toddler, tights proudly announcing the presence of a nappy and with the immense range of the size 4 nappies, that most toddlers wear, from 7-18kg (15-40lbs), I could be pretty sure they would do for Elphie!

But at that point embarrassed Britishness set in – we had already approached them once (very unbritish) and if we approached them again we would obviously seem like stalkers. Nope, couldn’t be done. There must be another infant or toddler somewhere on this aircraft carrier surely?!

There wasn’t.

So with the museum soon to close, I did the impossible and asked the lady if her toddler was still in diapers and she had any spare. And she did! She admitted to having had this quandry herself before and provided a lovely pair of Dora the Explorer size 4 pull-ups. Disaster averted!

Karmically enough, the very next day, a lady asked me for a spare while we were visiting The Met and obviously I had about twenty spare so was happy to oblige! We thought we’d see The Met in half a day – you need about a week there, all we managed were the Egyptians and the Americans – and surely only in America would there be the reconstruction, not replica, of an actual Egyptian tomb.

So in case my rambling has made you lose the plot – the morals of the story kids is when in Rome and remember to refill the nappy bag!

6. Toys

Have lots of them. Elphie needed a lot of entertaining – especially when out at restaurants and especially because she doesn’t really have the sitting upright skills required to make a high chair vaguely comfortable.

And to avoid them ending up on the floor, we used a dummy clip to tie onto them and connected it to her clothes so that even with her greatest shot-put attempt it always boomeranged back!

7. Jetlag

Oh boy! We have now been back over a week and madam is still on New York time, mostly going to sleep between 2.30-3am. Fun. I reckon my best way out of it will be to get up on time rather than sleep in for a few days to reset her body clock – so far I have avoided it due to be knackered myself after barely sleeping on the flight back but 3am is a ridiculous time to go to sleep even by our standards.

Speaking of which, it’s 2.50am and what do you know, she has finally fallen asleep!

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