Chugga Chugga Two Two – Adventures of a Toddler on the Second Avenue Subway

Like most Upper East Side moms and residents alike, I was absolutely ecstatic about the January opening of the mythical Second Avenue Subway project after decades of setbacks and delays. Aside from easing congestion along Manhattan’s East side and providing efficient transportation to other neighborhoods, the unveiling of the long-awaited project also provides unique opportunities for those of us with young children.

New York City weather is as unpredictable as the sale racks at Bloomingdales on Black Friday, and much to my chagrin, my rambunctious 2-year-old doesn’t share my affinity for hibernating indoors in sub-zero temperatures, torrential downpours or the most simmering summer heat waves. The 86th Street subway station has become a frequent fieldtrip destination for my kids, especially on days when either rain or severe temperatures prohibit outdoor play. The subway platform at the 86th Street station is 93 feet below street level and impervious to the city’s most severe weather elements. And unlike most other subway lines, a mechanical cooling system within the station will be activated this summer to maintain a comfortable temperature of approximately 10 degrees cooler than outside at street level.

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As my toddler approaches age 3, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep him entertained within the confines of our Manhattan apartment. Always on the hunt for new adventures and opportunities to assert his independence, he thrives in new environments and enjoys being an on-the-go tot. Because of his blossoming curiosity about the world, I present him with frequent hands-on experiences to keep him physically active and nurture his urge to know more. He’s been enamored with the Q Train since its Upper East Side inauguration and we can’t pass by its entrance without him pleading to go for a ride. The first order of business when headed to the subway is perhaps my toddler’s favorite part – descending via escalator deep into the cavernous station. I use this opportunity to teach and reinforce the basic safety measures of facing forward, holding hands, and being cognizant of what’s going on around us at all times. Although we always avoid rush hour, the escalator can be treacherous for toddlers and it’s imperative to take the proper precautions to avoid injuries.

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Once on the train platform, we eagerly await the arrival of the train. As it approaches, my toddler beams with excitement and his silky baby strands blow wildly in the breeze of the oncoming train. Years from now, I will remember him as joyful as he is in these tender moments. When the doors open and people file in, he knows to quickly locate an empty seat and sit down. And when the train starts moving, he’s in all his glory, squealing with delight as the train accelerates down the track. It’s not long before my toddler amasses a fan club of passengers who are enchanted by his playful demeanor and irresistibly sweet face.  A natural performer, he feeds off this attention and loves making new friends. It doesn’t matter where the train stops or what’s nearby; as soon as we exit the subway car and ride the escalator to street level, he’s ready to turn around and do it all again.

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Although he’s barely 2.5 yrs old, my toddler enjoys examining the large New York City Subway map in the train car and pointing out various locations around the city. He understands that the colored lines represent different trains and that straphangers ride different trains to get to different places. We’ve had many conversations about how the subway is a means of connecting people in different neighborhoods city-wide. I point out landmarks he recognizes (such as JFK Airport and his favorite parks) and we discuss which train line we would take to reach those points. Two-years old isn’t too young to be introduced to basic concepts of geography and by allowing him to take an active role in the discovery process, I’m laying the foundation for a lifelong love of learning. Next stop – the New York Transit Museum!

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Ready, Set, Shop!

On blistery cold winter days, Manhattan parents often struggle with keeping their rambunctious tots entertained in apartments where space is extremely limited. As the mother of a thrill-seeking 2-year old boy, I’m always searching for new indoor venues where I can set my son free to burn off some energy. For parents in the city’s Upper East Side neighborhood, common rainy-day destinations include The Children’s Museum Of Manhattan, The Museum of Natural History, Barnes & Noble Bookstore, the local library and a variety of pay-as-you-go indoor play spaces. After having exhausted all of the aforementioned resources this winter, this weekend we piled into the car and drove to The Westchester, the county’s premier shopping experience and home to some of my favorite retailers. What could have easily been a series of unfortunate and embarrassing meltdowns with a toddler and infant was actually an enjoyable afternoon for our whole family. Below I will share some easily applied strategies that will help to ensure your shopping day with the kids is also stress-free and delightful.

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Vest ::  Jocelyn (sold out) – similar here  Boots :: Marc Fisher Diaper Bag :: Gucci   Bracelets :: Hermes

Put Them To Work

We all have that one mommy friend whose toddler sits peacefully in a shopping cart while his/her mother leisurely shops. Not my kid! Like most 2-year-old’s, my toddler requires constant entertainment and demands immediate gratification. Boredom is our main source of behavioral issues while in public, so giving him an active role in shopping makes him less likely to seek out mischief and lessens the likelihood of any meltdowns. Because he is also extremely independent and loves a challenge, he really enjoys whatever tasks I ask him to complete. Whether it be finding socks of a certain color or grabbing an item from a shelf within his reach, it keeps him busy and gives him an enormous sense of accomplishment.  At the Westchester, one of his favorite projects was throwing a few coins into the water fountain and making a wish for us. He loved being Mommy’s little helper. 

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Teach ‘Em

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A trip to the mall is generally viewed as an indulgence for Mom, but should really be considered as mutually beneficial for both Mom and babies. Here’s why – shopping presents a unique opportunity for the practical application of basic arithmetic and other everyday skills. “If we buy 2 pairs of shoes, how many shoes in total will we have? One, two, three, four…” Math is everywhere in a store and the lessons can become more complex as the kids grow.  “If we buy 3 barrettes and give one to a friend, how many barrettes will we have left?” A fun game I play with my toddler is finding items of a specific shape as we walk through a store. Kids can also practice reading price tags and comparing the cost of different items. With my infant I focus more on introducing colors and exposure to vocabulary words, but I’m always looking out for those teachable moments. 

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After combing through the racks at Neiman Marcus, what 2-year-old wouldn’t need a break? I suggest strategically planning shopping trips around either playgrounds or amusement centers as a way of rewarding good behavior and allowing them to burn off some energy after all of their “hard work.” Physical activity also lengthens my son’s attention span and helps him sleep better at night. Fortunately for us, The Westchester had just revealed a brand new interactive play area complete with colossal step-and-play keyboard, fluorescently lit Magna-tile station, wall-mounted bead mazes and a baby-friendly arena with soft, colorful gym equipment. My son had so much fun in this play area and can’t wait for his next shopping adventure at The Westchester!

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Evan channeled Tom Hanks in the 1988 classic, “Big,” as he boogied on the giant electric piano.

Feed Them

Kids sure do work up an appetite (even from a smallish spending spree) and stopping to refuel is critical. Incorporating a fun dining experience into a busy shopping day is an effective method to keep kids distracted and happy while simultaneously providing parents an opportunity to relax. Stopping for lunch also breaks up the day and can actually extend your shopping trip and your toddler’s patience. Mariposa, the newly remodeled restaurant at Neiman Marcus Westchester, serves sumptuous New American cuisine in a fine-dining atmosphere. The sophisticated eatery is surprisingly kid-friendly and offers a traditional children’s menu. As soon as we entered, the waitstaff were warm and welcoming and quickly supplied my son with crayons, paper, and juice. Our waitress was extremely patient and understanding and eagerly brought clean spoons to my daughter as she repeatedly dropped them on the floor.  Mariposa was the perfect backdrop to our lovely laid-back lunch! 

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While none of these strategies are foolproof,  their execution will almost always buy you at least a few more minutes to peruse the shoe department in peace. Children react well to positive reinforcement, so be sure to praise them for even the smallest good behaviors. With a little planning, patience,  and realistic expectations, a trip to the mall can be enjoyable excursion for the whole family. 

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Have Babies, Will Travel

Sunscreen ✅, bathing suits ✅, passports ✅, toddler and infant ✅.   Some people think my husband and I are crazy for bringing our babies on vacation with us, but the truth is, it wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable and fulfilling without them in tow. Traveling with our children also exposes them with to new people, cultures and lifestyles that will help them become well-rounded adults with a perspective that extends beyond our neighborhood. We really love embarking on these adventures with them and cultivating memories that will last a lifetime.

Our family just returned from a week-long trip to Riviera Maya, Mexico. While there, we stayed in a 2200 sq foot suite at Grand Residences Riviera Cancun Resort. Like most Manhattan parents, we sacrifice living space for the unique opportunities that raising kids in New York City provides for our family.  When we travel, however, we never skimp on space and instead opt for spacious family suites at hotels that specialize in providing a luxurious experience. YOLO! The Grand Residences did not disappoint and in many ways even exceeded our high expectations. You can find my honest review here.

Regardless of the quality of accommodations awaiting you at your destination, you must first conquer one of the most dreaded aspects of traveling with multiple kids – the plane ride. Below I will share some useful strategies for navigating airports, eliminating stress, and keeping even the most challenging children content and quiet on airplanes.

  1. Wear sensible shoes.

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Before having my babies, I had no problem navigating airports and train stations while teetering in 5-inch platform heels. After all, how else are we supposed to reach those overhead compartments? These days, traveling most often involves wearing my infant in a carrier and sometimes even carrying my toddler simultaneously on my hip.  In these instances, heels would be extremely impractical and arguably hazardous. In addition, most airlines require that you remove your shoes when you go through security so it’s essential to wear a shoe that easily slips on and off. There is no need, however, to sacrifice fashion for function. I almost always travel in a ballet flat or smoking slipper, both of which are incredibly on-trend.

       2.  Infinity scarves – wear one.

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They’re chic, small enough to stash in your carry-on, and sometimes all you need to transform an outfit from DRAB to FAB!  Most important, an infinity scarf can even double as nursing cover. The Itzy Ritzy “Nursing Happens” infinity breastfeeding scarf comes in a variety of patterns and colors. An absolute must have for any nursing mom on-the-go, this is the one accessory that I cannot live without, especially while traveling with my kids. You can get yours here.

       3.  Do your research.

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Mamava pod in JetBlue terminal at JFK

As a nursing mother, it can be daunting to locate an on-the-go nursing space that is both clean and private. Mamava is an app that acts as an online GPS tool to help nursing moms locate their pod-shaped booths away from home. The Mamava booths provide comfortable and private nursing/pumping space with deadbolt closures and indicator lights that show whether the space is vacant or occupied. Each of the pods features a bench, fold-down table and an electrical outlet to charge your phone or plug-in your pump. Mamava pods can be found at all major NYC Airports (JFK, LaGuardia, Newark) in addition to many other airports, stadiums and convention centers around the country. After checking in at JFK Airport for our most recent flight to Mexico, I used the app to locate the closest nursing pod to feed my infant prior to boarding.  It just so happened that the closest Mamava pod was only a few gates away in the JetBlue terminal – jackpot! I was able to seamlessly feed my daughter while still allowing for plenty of extra time before boarding, which leads me to my next tip.

        4.  Board early. 

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Evan and Chloe – all settled onboard

Many airlines announce pre-boarding for families flying with children under the age of 2. While other airlines may not announce pre-boarding for families with children, they might grant it if you request it at the gate. When you arrive at the gate, tell him/her that you’re flying with infants or toddlers who are likely to require additional time. In my experiences, flight attendants are usually accommodating to parents with small children as many of them are also parents and understand the lengthy process of getting small children settled on the airplane. Boarding the plane early also allows for extra time to sanitize the seats, windows, arm rests and tray tables before the other passengers board. Fact – the dirtiest part of the airplane is actually the seat headrest, as these never get cleaned!!

        5. Stick with the Schedule.

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Try to keep your travel day schedule consistent with that of a normal day at home. Altering your child’s nap schedule can backfire and create a nightmarish flying experience for parents and passengers alike. If your child sleeps easily in a car, your best bet is to schedule a flight during nap time. My toddler naps at 1pm and my infant naps around 1:30 or 2pm. I typically try to fly around 1pm when I am almost certain to get a nap from both. Once my toddler starts nodding off I can then focus on getting my infant to sleep, which sometimes requires pacing in the aisles while wearing her in my Ergo carrier.  I almost always wear her facing inward otherwise she gets too distracted by the other passengers and won’t fall asleep.  Once facing inward, her tired eyes are no match for the combination of gentle turbulence, white noise from the engine and the closeness that the baby carrier provides, which brings me to my next point.

       6. Use a carrier. 

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If you don’t have one, get one.  I love my Ergo 360 for its multiple positioning options, but any carrier would suffice.  I typically wear my infant in the airport and use my free hands to push my toddler in an umbrella stroller, which makes it extremely easy to weave in and out of crowds. As previously mentioned above, the carrier is also invaluable on the plane.

       7. Technology is your friend.

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The Amazon Fire (Kids Edition) tablet is hands-down the best purchase I’ve ever made. My toddler is obsessed with it and can easily spend hours perusing the preloaded kid-friendly apps and videos. On the tablet he can easily flip through e-books, watch his favorite television shows, trace numbers and letters, and engage in so many other educational activities. As if that’s not enough, the tablet comes in a removable foam case that protects it from the wrath of even the angriest toddler. If somehow your child defies the odds and manages to break the tablet, Amazon will replace it at no charge for up to two years.

Grand Residences – A Tropical Wonderland

Gourmet dining, pristine beach, immaculate spacious accommodations and exceptional service – what more could any family want? The Grand Residences Riviera Cancun Resort provided the most perfect backdrop for our first international vacation as a new family of 4.  Our private driver greeted us at the airport and whisked us away in a luxury SUV only after providing chilled aromatherapy towels and bottles of ice cold water. Our car was equipped with two car seats for our children and our driver was extremely helpful in getting them settled in their seats and making sure we were all comfortable.  During the short drive from the airport he called the hotel and arranged for the most delicious cucumber margaritas to be offered to us upon arrival. After a quick check-in, we were given a tour of the grounds, ending in our beautiful 2200 sq foot suite.  Much to our surprise, aside from the two cribs we had requested, our concierge had also set up an infant bath tub and diaper genie and left dolls in the cribs for each of our kids. I was also delighted to find the greatest assortment of Bvlgari bath and shower products in our bathrooms in addition to espresso machine in our kitchen and many other amenities throughout the suite.

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living/dining room in the master suite

Although my toddler was too young to be left in the Kids Club (for kids 4+), we spent several hours in the colorful activity rooms with him and were extremely impressed with both the staff and program.  Kids can paint pottery, make t-shirts and jewelry, build with Legos, read books and participate in many other fun activities. The staff members were extremely interactive and kept all kids busy and happy. I wouldn’t hesitate one bit leaving my children (once old enough) in the Kids Club. There is an activity desk across from the Kids Club that provides sand toys for the beach and anything else kids may need, including life jackets, snorkel gear, and body boards.

The Grand Residences Resort is home to Riviera Maya’s largest infinity pool, and their staff goes above and beyond making sure that you enjoy every minute under the sun. The moment you choose your chair at either the pool or beach, a server arrives to set up your chair with towels like a bed and leaves ice waters, chilled towels, and Evian facial mist.

There is a very large children’s pool area in addition to a swim-up bar, a separate lap pool and several hot tubs.

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bikini: Asos   sunglasses: Prada

For those who love the beach, this is the place for you! The water is incredibly crystal clear and there are hardly any rocks or seaweed on the beach.  My toddler loved frolicking in the white powdery sand and dipping his toes in the surf.

While my husband and toddler braved the choppy waves, my daughter and I enjoyed exploring the resort and walking along the beach. 

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shoes: Valentino    sunglasses: Prada    kaftan: Lindsey Brown Luxe Resortwear (old)

The beach bar, appropriately named Heaven, serves a wide array of menu items including (but not limited to) chicken tacos, salads, burgers and a full children’s menu. The palm trees and tropical flowers were certainly a welcome departure from the concrete jungle. 

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If you choose the all-inclusive option like we did, you will be eating most of your meals in their El Faro restaurant, which is truly a fine dining experience from start to finish. Some of our favorite dishes were the lobster and filet mignon, fig and goat cheese salad, and the créme brulée trio.  The service is impeccable and waitstaff will honor any special request. My toddler would become antsy toward the end of our meals and our waiter would bring him crayons or other small toys to keep him happy while allowing my husband and I to finish our dessert. There is almost always live music in the dining room, which really makes for quite a lovely ambiance. 

Although it didn’t bother us much, the night life is quiet (or non-existent). After putting the kids to bed, we enjoyed sitting on our balcony and listening to the ocean or taking a dip in our private outdoor hot tub.  My toddler was determined to get into the hot tub and we allowed him to join us on our last evening. 

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This resort is the personification of five-star hotel service. If there is such a thing as heaven on Earth, it’s at the Grand Residences. After 6 nights in paradise, we returned to the concrete jungle feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and comforted knowing that this tropical wonderland is only a short plane ride away.