Happy 4th of July

It never surprises me the number of things that occur in and around New York City.  You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but every time I turn the corner, there’s something new.

Federal Hall

Directly across from the drums and fifes on Federal Hall sat an old man playing an ErHu, a poor immigrant playing in front of the symbol of America’s wealth.

Wall Street Erhu

Happy 4th.

Wall Street

The Craziness of a New York Education

When looking for private schools in New York, the three-hour interview for a toddler to enter a pre-k 3 (that’s pre-kindergarten for three-year olds) class isn’t even the craziest part of the process.  Actually, that bears repeating.  The application process begins a year in advance, so that’s a three-hour interview for two-year olds to enter a class for three-year olds a year later.  Let the craziness begin.

First, there’s the parent essays.

What is your child’s greatest accomplishment?”  Not pooping her pants?  Talking?  Walking without face planting?

What are your child’s occupational aspirations?”  Seriously?  She’s two.  Her idea of a work day consists of nap time and finger painting.

What does your child want to study in college?”  Hey, she still a year away from her first day of pre-pre-kindergarten, and she hasn’t even had her first day of school, but let’s skip right to college questions.

I have no idea how I managed to write the required essays (paragraphs, with an “s”, as in, several paragraphs on the supposed academic credentials of a two-year old) for each those questions, but I filled in the questionnaire and sent it in.

On the big day, after the teachers called the students in, Mommy and I sat with a small group of parents when the Director of something or other with an overly fancy title appeared.

Director:  Good morning, parents.  I wanted to thank everyone for coming, but I don’t want anyone to get their hopes up.  As I’m sure everyone already knows, this year we have over 5,000 applicants for just fifty spots.

That’s… a lower acceptance rate than Harvard.  For pre-kindergarten.  Makes… sense.

Director:  Blah, blah, blah.  Tuition this for this year is $42,000.  Blah, blah, blah.

Holy…  This pre-kindergarten class is more expensive than Harvard.

Four hours later, the teachers brought you back to the waiting room.

Me:  How was it, Cookie?

Cookie:  It was fun, Daddy.

Me:  What did they ask you, Cookie?

Cookie:  They asked me to read a book.*  Then a different teacher came to ask me questions in Chinese.

Me:  Did you answer in Chinese?

Cookie:  Yep.  Then another teacher asked me questions in Korean, and another in Spanish.

Me:  What did they ask?

Cookie:  Silly questions.  Then they asked me to count to twenty and look at shapes and colors.

A week later, we received a happy phone call.  I’m proud of you, Cookie.  You were one of the fifty.

Me: Wonderful, so what will you teach in this class?

Director:  Letters, numbers, colors: the Common Core

Me:  But, with that many applicants, you’ve presumably selected only kids who can already read.

Director:  Yes, and I think your daughter will fit right in.

Me: So you’re still going to teach letters to kids who can read?  You’re not going to teach them anything they don’t already know?

College tuition for glorified day care?  No, thank-you.


* Fortunately, it was Good Night Moon.  You have that book memorized, Cookie.

Snow Reality –Goldilocks Version

Cookie watching the snowpocalyse predictions:  YAY! MORE SNOW! MORE SNOW!

Me: If it actually snows that much, Cookie, you can’t play in the snow.  We’d lose you in the snow drifts and would have to come find you in the spring when it all melted.

Cookie: Oh.  Ok.  SOME SNOW! SOME SNOW!


This is why kids like you love snow, Cookie:


…and this is why grown-ups like me hate snow*:


Don’t grow up too fast, and enjoy the fun parts of life, kiddo.


*Not pictured: hundreds of yellow spots at dog level, traffic jams, hypothermia, subway and train delays, and that grey slushy stuff that tracks everywhere.

Food Critic

Cookie:  Daddy, I want California rolls for dinner.

Me: Ok.

Cookie:  I don’t want [neighborhood sushi place we frequent often].  I don’t want [another sushi place we frequent often].  I want Plaza Food Hall.

Yeah.  That’s Todd English’s Food Hall at The Plaza (that Plaza), as demanded by you, Cookie, at age two.  Most toddlers aren’t really speaking yet, and you’re picking restaurants, expensive ones at that (ok, not quite Masa or even Morimoto, but you’re getting there).  To your credit, you were able to discern and prefer real Alaskan snow crab from the imitation stuff usually found in Californian rolls, but yeesh.

That Time You Woke Up Surrounded by Police Officers

Mother’s Day 2014. (Apologies for the update, but my grammar was even more atrocious that usual.)

After a long day at the Botanical Garden full of toddler energy draining activities, you fell into a deep sleep in your stroller during the long subway ride back.  Taking advantage of your nap, your mom and I decided to get some groceries and dinner.  We split up, with mom heading to the grocery store and you and I to the deli and your favorite restaurant.

As we were waiting in line at the deli and paying at the counter, I noticed a woman staring at your stroller.  Your stroller usually draws many looks when we walk down the street (fully reclined and with the screen fully down, your stroller makes a very unique geometric shape), so I paid her no attention.  My mistake.

Done with the deli, I crossed the street to one of your favorite restaurants to place an order for take out.  As the restaurant inexplicably decided to test out their new base system (techno in the afternoon on Mother’s Day Sunday?  really?), I waited outside on the sidewalk.

I’ll admit I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings.  You were asleep, and I was playing with my phone.  It was broad daylight on a busy street in the middle of Manhattan with hundreds of people walking by.  We have walked down this street hundreds of times.  Familiar, comfortable, complacent.

Engrossed with my phone, I didn’t notice anything wrong until someone tried to snatch the stroller away.  Fortunately, my OCD saved us.  Fearing that the stroller would roll away at inopportune times (when you were an infant, I had nightmares of the thing rolling down hills, interweaving heavy traffic, with me chasing madly after it), I always wore the wrist strap, tightened and secure. Still in shock, I recognized the woman from the deli.

I placed myself between the woman and your stroller.


After backing up a couple of steps, the woman all but ignored me.  Instead, she stooped as if to look through the stroller screen, and shouted, “ELISA!*”



We continued to shout past each other a couple times while a crowd gathered.

“Why isn’t Elisa answering?  What have you done to her?”

“Who is Elisa?  That’s my daughter.  She’s sleeping.  Why are you shouting at her?”

“ELISA!”  When she tried to push past me again, I headed into the restaurant.  Done with grocery shopping, your mother joined me.

“Back off, I’m calling the police.”

The maître d’, having watched the scene unfold outside, barred the door and did not let the strange woman pass.  Your mother took your stroller deeper into the restaurant while the maître d’ and I guarded the doors.

Ten police officers showed up, including a counterterrorism unit in full SWAT gear (I guess it was a slow day for them, and I’m thankful it was).  Five of them hustled the woman off to one side while another five surrounded us.

“The woman over there claims the baby is hers.  Do you have anything that can show she’s yours?  Pictures? Documents?”

I don’t carry your birth certificate or passport on me, but I am a dad.  “Sure officer, there’s literally thousands of pictures on my phone, from her first day to this afternoon.” I handed my phone over.

“Yep, that’s her,” he confirmed when the sergeant from the other group walked over.  “No need to question the couple any further.  The kid isn’t hers,” he said, pointing at the crazy woman of questionable psychological stability.

A woman of questionable psychological stability it was.  My mind at this point finally slowed down enough for me to notice the details.  On a warm Sunday afternoon, she was dressed in a massive gold down jacket, reaching her knees.  She carried two gigantic recyclable bags, filled with unknown items.  When asked for documentation to show that the you were supposedly hers, from one of the bags she had pulled out a vanilla envelope.  “The first document was a court order declaring her an unfit parent and removing her child from her custody,” the sergeant explained.  “The picture doesn’t even look like the kid.”

At this point, you finally woke up.  Groggy, “Mommy?” you asked and hugged Mommy.  The woman stared at you, shaking her head.  I could hear her mumbling from down the street, “I don’t understand.  How could that not be her?”

“This isn’t how you get your kid back,” the officers surround her explained.  “You can’t go around taking other people’s kids.”

“So what do you want us to do?” asked the sergeant.  “Do you want to press charges or do you want to go home?”

Your mom and I shared a look.  “Go home.”

“How are you getting home?” he asked.

“By subway, down the street,” I pointed.

“Ok,” nodded the sergeant.  “Joe here will escort you to the subway.  The rest of us will keep her here until you’re safely away.”

Later that night, your mom and I wondered if we did the right thing.  That poor woman, probably distraught and missing her daughter over Mother’s Day, would never had gotten another chance with her baby if she had an attempted kidnapping arrest to her name.  Besides, you, Cookie, were never in any real danger –she wasn’t getting the stroller away from me, and even if she did, there was no way she was getting away (that isn’t to say I didn’t have nightmares of you disappearing for months afterwards).  On the other hand, what if she tried to take someone else’s child?  What if she tried with a child being watched over by an older nanny or grandparent or a child who was temporarily out of parental sight?

Did we do the right thing in not pressing charges?


*not the actual name she shouted.

There’s No Good Answer

What do you do when someone else’s kid throws a tantrum?  What if it’s not just any tantrum, not an omg-I’ve-waiting-in-line-overnight-but-they-ran-out-of-the-newest-iFadphone-just-before-me tantrum, not even an omg-they-handed-out-free-iPads-and-I-didn’t-get-one meltdown, but a full on hey-this-is-something-I-actually-care-about* psychotic break?

There’s never a correct reaction to one of these.  Smile, and you’re condescending.  Grimace or complain, and you’re an uptight grownup who’s obviously never had kids and can’t sympathize with anyone who has.  Stare straight forward, and you’re cold hearted bastard ignoring the profound human tragedy unfolding before you in 14 acts and 27 octaves.  Avoid making eye contact, and you’re the lazy bum shirking his societal obligation to help.    Try to help, and you’re interfering with someone else’s kid (and also run the risk of picking up the next designer strain of Streptococcal Spoiledbratius from the bawling germ factory).**

What to do?

The tyke (5? 6 years old?) started off running circles around the subway pole, little hand gathering untold biological filthiness from the epitome of uncleanliness in the New York subway system.  His mom shrieked at him to stop, and after a half-hearted attempt of dragging him away from the pole, she couldn’t even and retreated to her seat.  The urchin, having won his hard fought battle to go back to the pole, instead flopped backwards on the subway floor, rolling on the wet floor (it wasn’t raining) and howling at the injustice of it all to every subway rider trying very hard to ignore the calamity unfolding.  After a few minutes of not drawing any reaction from anyone, the kid leapt up and turned his attention to the subway doors alternating between trying to pull open the doors of the subway car and pounding on the glass, screaming that he must get off of the speeding express train.  All the while, his mom stared straight ahead like every other passenger.

Ugh.  I wasn’t going to say anything.  I really wasn’t.  I’ve been in New York long enough.  I know the rules… except someone had obviously (but not obvious enough to the mom studiously ignoring her raucous brat) vomited on the doors in the early morning, and the little monster was banging his little hands right into the congealed spray pattern, little chunks either clinging to his grubby hands or flying everywhere.

“Um… you might not want your son to play in someone else’s subway vomit.”

A glare.  A yank of her son’s arm by a mother who has transcended discipline.  Smiles from the other passengers.  Did I do the right thing?


*Just kidding, Apple fans. My portfolio cares. I care.

**Cookie, you had the right answer.  You slept through it all.  Sleep is the correct reaction to a meltdown.