A long time from now, with any luck, I will be very old. I will look back on my experiences as a young father: in the delivery room, first steps, first words, first days of school, ice skating rinks, hot dogs, board games, bicycle rides, dinners, friends’ houses… all of it.
I have a feeling, though, that one of those memories will unfold like an origami kaleidoscope. My mind will pass by it and feel something a little bit different. I’ll stop and look. Then I’ll remember the million little details of my trip to New York City with Lily in November 2022.
“I want to go to New York City,” my oldest daughter, all of eight years old, announced. I pondered it. How long could we stay? Would it be safe? Would we all go or just me and Lily?
“I’ll go,” I said. “Let’s see what mom thinks.”
My youngest daughter still associated flying with earaches, and the hour-long trip to Burbank airport in Los Angeles was the longest flight she’d take. It was settled: it would be just Lily and me, and all we needed were the dates. My wife checked her work calendar, and we settled on the second week of November. I would take Lily to New York, and to even out the score, she would take Norah to Monterey for a night or two.
Lily was ecstatic! New York! We talked a lot about the trip. I asked her to research hotels, her first Google research project. She needed to find three options under $500 per night, choose one, and tell me why she chose it. We ended up booking the Marmara Park Avenue, an affordable boutique hotel just a few blocks from the Empire State Building.
Next, I needed to book our flights. Lily understood that when the flights were booked, the trip would happen. She checked on my progress daily. I had recently negotiated a small sale of eNPS.co, one of my many side projects that never took off. I’d written this one off, shut it down, zipped up the code, and tucked it away. Then, out of the blue, someone asked if I would sell it. Conveniently, the offer was just enough to cover two round-trip first-class tickets to New York.
So, I splurged when that wire came through. For the first time in my 40 years, we flew first class. It was amazing.
This was the beginning of my much-anticipated five-day adventure to New York with my oldest daughter.
We arrived at Newark airport in the late afternoon. It was getting dark. The cab crawled towards Manhattan in long lanes of traffic. Lily’s face was glued to the window the whole time. I sat proudly, stoically, pleased with myself for making this trip happen, and nervous about whether it would meet my already wild expectations. But at that moment, I was relieved. We were doing it. Lily and I were in a cab, driving into Manhattan, and Lily was safe and happy. I swelled with pride.
The hotel lobby was small. There was a bar with a few stools and some scattered tables. This was not the Fairmont. Our room was great, though. It had a balcony! I took my Nescafe outside every morning and gazed up at the Empire State Building while Lily watched Spongebob Squarepants from bed. These are the little bits of routine that make traveling fun.
We settled into our room and went out. Lily was excited to see New York. We walked toward Times Square and stopped at a boutique hamburger restaurant. It was quintessential New York: small, crowded, expensive, and… vegan. Oh well! We stayed.
I took this picture of my dinner date that night. She doesn’t look seven years old to me here. This could be Lily at 20. I felt many more moments like this. Here’s another picture from the subway during our many uptown and downtown trips.
There are moments when I feel like I’m watching my child grow up fast-forward as if every day were a month or a year. I had this sensation throughout our trip. It would make sense to feel this after not seeing my kid for a while, like after a long work trip. Ironically, I felt this repeatedly during this short period when Lily and I were inseparable.
My greatest fear was losing track of her in New York. I worried about being distracted when a large crowd passed between us. I worried she would duck into a store or turn a corner when I wasn’t looking. We talked about what to do: find someone she could trust, like a mom or a police officer, and have them call me. I triple-checked that she had memorized my phone number. Fortunately, we never lost each other.
The days were long. We stayed awake until midnight or later, sticking to our Pacific timezone internal clocks. I would wake her up most mornings by 9 am local time, sometimes earlier. Lily was usually fast asleep.
We went to the Statue of Liberty the first morning. She was most excited about this activity. We took the subway to Battery Park and boarded the ferry.
I bought the special tickets that allowed us to climb the pedestal and get right underneath the statue. The view was incredible. We bought her a cheap digital camera so she could take pictures too.
And then we walked. I wanted to see the 9/11 memorial and had tickets reserved using CityPass. We walked through the museum and talked about what had happened there. I didn’t want to make her afraid of flying, but I did want her to recognize that we have both lived charmed and protected lives.
We then walked through Wall Street and headed back to the subway and then uptown to our hotel and the Empire State Building.
We loved the Empire State Building. I thought the touristy elements were thoughtfully laid out and interesting. I couldn’t believe the building was already 90 years old. It went up the same year my great-grandpa built our cabin at Pinecrest.
The next day, the rain showed up. It poured. I didn’t want to let her watch Spongebob all day, which she would have happily done. Instead, I booked tickets at a slime museum. I paid extra to have slime dumped on us. Marginally worth it. The best part was all the tactile slime bins. We both enjoyed sticking our hands in every one of them.
When the rain passed, we went to Rockefeller Center and used our tickets to Top of the Rock, and caught a lovely view of Central Park and mid-Manhattan. With no plans until the afternoon, I suggested we walk back to the hotel and see what happens.
We popped into Saks. Why not? We also walked through Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. It was Lily’s first time in a church, and she was full of questions. She knew that our neighbors go to church, and she’d asked me about it in the past, but this was an opportunity to get into more of the complicated detail. We made donations and lit votive candles. We watched people pray. I told her they were trying to answer the hardest questions.
We went by the Met. I didn’t have tickets, but we talked about what was inside. She was happy to skip this museum. We just kept walking.
I was anxious to get back to the hotel, and she was too. We cheated and took the subway for the last stretch. I let her watch television while I got changed, answered emails, and put on the nicest clothes I had packed. We were going to see Hamilton!
The show was fantastic, of course. I booked reservations at Del Frisco, a fancy steakhouse nearby, for dinner. It was great, but I’ve learned over and over again that I can grill better cuts of ribeyes with better results myself. Still, a date with Lily is a date with Lily, and I was very happy to be there.
Then we gave ourselves another treat. The night was clear, so we returned to the Empire State Building for the nighttime view. It was very special.
The next day, our only activity was the iconic Museum of Natural History. I’m sure I’d been once before, but I forgot how big and cool it was. We spent a couple of hours wandering around. I could have stayed a lot longer.
This was our last full day in New York City. I was already feeling nostalgic. The next morning we would be off to the airport, back in our first-class seats, and headed home to the old routine. A friend I met through a climate Slack group joined us for lunch, and we slowly made our way back to the hotel.
Lily was still excited to be in New York. I have many videos of her skipping along and running ahead. We both embraced the carefree feeling of being on vacation, and the endless possibilities of being in New York. Even if the plan was just to walk back to the hotel, we enjoyed doing it at our own pace.
Our last dinner in New York was perfect. I found a little Italian restaurant nearby. We sat at the bar and shared a pizza. I overheard a conversation between the owner of the restaurant and one of the regulars. The food was great. We weren’t ready to call it quits on New York yet, so I suggested we head down to Greenwich Village. Lily was game for anything. We wandered Washington Square park, watched the skateboarders, and returned to the hotel when we both got cold.
And then it was over.
Lily and I are good travel partners. It helped that we did everything she wanted, and maybe a couple of things I wanted too. It also helped that I gave us the budget to do it all. Most importantly, we got along really well. We listened to each other and we both appreciated that being in New York together was special.
One of my students at DVC told me that she also took her daughter to New York City when she was eight. She told me they still talk about it decades later. She recalled many details of that trip: which museums they visited, how her daughter complained about it, and how much fun they had together. She was very happy for me.
I’ll always remember this trip. I think Lily will too. And if she doesn’t, well, there’s always this blog post to remind her of it.