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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Allen: Travel with kids is worth it

Visiting New York City with children in tow is tough but has benefits

By Cynthia M. Allen
Published: September 18, 2023, 6:01am

When my husband suggested that the kids and I accompany him on a work trip to New York City, I am fairly certain that I laughed out loud.

As an East Coaster, born and bred, I was eager to see the city that had become like an old friend. But the notion of introducing New York City to my young family and vice versa did not sound enjoyable. It sounded daunting.

Several weeks later, though, I found myself (and our children) on a plane. The three-plus hour flight gave me plenty of time to seriously question my recent life decisions which, I had resolved, were almost certainly ill-fated.

Traveling with kids is always fraught. There are frequent potty breaks, a constant need for snacks, and all manner of contingencies to plan for. One should expect repeated complaints, anticipate at least one daily meltdown per child, and be prepared at all times to scrap the planned itinerary and opt for something less ambitious. Those exigencies, while given, are magnified when the children are all still quite small and when the destination is a big, crowded and expensive city.

The news stories coming out of New York of late — viral videos of subway melees, random acts of violence, and a state of emergency declared on account of a crush of migrants — didn’t inspire confidence, either. I don’t even watch Fox News, but riding the subway with kids gave me pause.

Oh well. Too late for regrets. We were there and we couldn’t walk everywhere.

The first few steps outside of Penn Station were filled with trepidation, as the sights, sounds and odors of Manhattan greeted us. “Why is that woman almost naked?” asked my oldest, gawking at a “clothing” ad as tall as our house. “It’s loud! And it smells!” declared my middle child as we passed a sewer, then a recreational marijuana dispensary. “Mama, hold me! I can’t walk anymore!” declared my youngest after three blocks, as if on cue.

New York is like any big city when it comes to vices. Seeing public urination, drug use and public nudity in the span of one city block is normal, and we got all three out of the way early on.

I could sense my kids’ senses were on overload. But we made it to our hotel before anyone experienced total collapse.

My kids, who seldom travel anywhere other than to visit family, believe that the hotel room itself is the primary feature of any trip. I worried our view of the building next door would be all of the city we’d see.

But the promise of ice cream sundaes and frozen hot chocolate after vigil Mass in Manhattan’s iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral was motivation enough to walk more than I ever thought they could manage.

We rose early the next day to indulge in far-too-expensive pancakes and to climb every giant boulder in Central Park.

The Statue of Liberty was the only thing my kids had requested to see, so the next morning we ventured to catch a glimpse of Lady Liberty on the Staten Island ferry. The subway ride there, to my surprise, was pleasant. People smiled at us and no one complained when my kids, who thought standing was cooler than sitting, fell into them when the train lurched forward.

As we passed the Freedom Tower, I tried to describe the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

When we spotted the Brooklyn Bridge, I told them how it was an amazing feat of engineering for its time.

I asked my kids to listen for all the different languages spoken by passersby. We quickly lost count of how many we heard.

We spent almost four hours perusing the galleries of the American Museum of Natural History, seemingly endless rooms of insects and fossils and meteorites.

I answered lots of questions — about things and people we saw.

As a home-schooler and a conservative, there are things I prefer to introduce to my children when developmentally and spiritually appropriate. That’s hard to do in a place where nothing is off-limits and everything is on display.

To my surprise, the trip sparked some meaningful conversations. And in a few short days, we saw and experienced more than I anticipated. My worst fears about traveling to the city had not come to pass. My kids walked away with a sense of awe for what they’ve seen — and a greater appreciation for life back home.

When we boarded the bus to the airport, we were all exhausted but there were no regrets. After all, if you can make it in New York with kids, you can make it anywhere.