It’s become a cliche that moms don’t prioritize themselves enough, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It’s difficult to hear your own thoughts, needs and desires when someone else’s needs keep needling into your brain, demanding milk, socks and Zerby Derby. As with triage, the most urgent desires get attended to first and lesser urges, namely your own, get relegated and relegated until they begin to atrophy.
A weekend away may seem a drastic measure for those grown unaccustomed to free time and free will, but maybe, for the good of the family, a chunk of free time is more important than therapy, antidepressants and a pint of ice cream. A chunk of true free time to walk, talk and drink coffee can only be yours if you insist on it. Parenting can be claustrophobic. A break can be the antidote.
A weekend in the Big Apple may not be everyone’s idea of relaxation, but in terms of mind stimulation, the city can be bracing in unexpected ways. Like a defibrillator for your brain. Sometimes a little culture can remind you of the pleasures of adulthood. The revelry of art, food and knowledge can balance cases of dirty diapers.
Autumn is a terrific time to visit the East Coast, and it just so happens that the battery-charging New Yorker Festival, which I have been angling to attend for fifteen years, cooperates by putting on three days chock-full of events in October. Of course, there are always a plethora of terrific cultural options in the city.
The New Yorker Festival proved to be just the excuse I needed, as well as the bait to lure my best friend Miracle away from her family in the Bay Area, for a long weekend of exploration on foot. I promptly signed up for a Southwest Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program credit card and managed to land us one and a half free tickets within three months. While I have no reason to plug any particular credit card, I have to say, it made the whole idea affordable for the both of us. I’m not sure we would have gone otherwise and I believe other credit card companies, like Sapphire, also offer amazing deals that can make travel attainable for those of us without a whole lot of excess income to splurge on flights of fancy.
Our first day was spent wandering Brooklyn. For those with the ability to be footloose, exploring a city without much of an itinerary can be extremely rewarding. We got off the subway with the vague idea to check out Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Park Slope. I kept thinking of the film A Room with a View, when Eleonor Lavish (Judi Dench) throws out Charlotte Bartlett’s (Maggie Smith) Baedecker (travel guide) in Florence, insisting, “We will simply drift.”
And drift we did. From east to west and back again. We stumbled on Peter Pan Doughnuts, on Manhattan Avenue, which opened in the fifties, and split an enormous old-fashioned, glazed and crunchy. At $1.25 this doughnut was a bargain and started us on a course of pure gluttony, which threatened to overcome us at just about every moment of our journey.
Another great find in Greenpoint was Milk and Roses Bistro, an achingly charming café with book-lined shelves and an outdoor greenhouse that made a perfect rest stop for a cup of Joe. The gardens, in their perfectly tousled way, felt effortless yet studied. We had trouble choosing where to sit down, as every corner presented its own allure, from sun to shade to a leafy bower.
Along the way to a late breakfast — I know, I know, we have done plenty of eating already — we trafficked in and out of vintage, vintage-y and vintage-inspired shops peddling lamps made of milk glass, brightly colored, Bauhaus-looking kids clothing, nubby sweaters and upcycled bicycles, somehow the better for wear.
When we reached trendy Williamsburg, hunger descended. Allswell on Bedford would my dream haunt if I was a local. The menu skews trendy, but with tremendous heart and a delicate hand with comfort food. As a result, smoked white fish and ricotta toast go down as easily as a grilled cheese. The hash wasn’t bad either.
Journeying back to Manhattan the next day, we attended the famed New Yorker Festival to watch cartoonist Roz Chast chat with cartoonist Bob Mankoff. For those who are fans, just hearing the two New Yorker pros gossip about office politics was thrilling. Roz Chast discussed her latest graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (shortlisted for the National Book Award), regaling the audience with stories both poignant and funny. Both Chast and Mankoff were a pure delight. Isn’t it a relief when the people you admire turn out to be admirable?
Of course, food beckoned, and after getting turned away at Shopsin’s at the Essex Street Market after waiting on line, we sallied forth to Chinatown. BTW, getting turned away from Shopsin’s is a true New York experience and everyone should try it at least once – eating there is also great, so it’s worth the trouble. Without much of a plan in place, my intrepid cohort, Miracle, flagged down a Chinese-American mailman and asked for a recommendation. He was exceedingly helpful and friendly – as most New Yorkers seem to be – and directed us to a place on Canal. While the food was just so-so, the thrill of experiencing another pocket of the island was worth the mushy har gow and lackluster cha siu bao.
With dinner at a friend’s house in place, Zabar’s was the next stop, “a gourmet epicurean emporium” on the Upper West Side, for a contribution to the meal. This market is so iconically Jewish New York that it even served as a location in Woody Allen’s Manhattan. While sadly, nearby H & H Bagels has gone the way of progress, Zabar’s appears to be flourishing. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, make sure to stop in and buy a mug or assemble the makings of a phenomenal picnic. Shopping at Zabar’s makes you feel like a local.
Sunday found us full of beans with so much to do and so little time. We ate at the better-than-we-expected Shake Shack – the line truly snaked out the door – walked the verdant and art-filled High Line and saw a Broadway production of Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth at the jewel box that is the Cort Theater – with a façade inspired by Versailles. The night ended with two more gustatory stops in the West Village: Bar Bolonat, a small-plates bistro with Israeli influences (don’t miss out on the lamb belly), and Hamilton’s, a just-opened soda fountain that serves delicious throwbacks treats, like Cherry Root Phosphate and Ginger Fizz.
The last day – sigh! – was only a half day and most of it was spent strolling Central Park and admiring the dazzling plumage of the trees. We also managed to catch an Egon Schiele show at the Neue Galerie. This small museum showcases Austrian and German fine art, displaying paintings and sculptures alongside decorative arts. The Neue Gallerie’s building, once the home of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III, was built in 1914 by Carrere & Hastings. For an added treat, visit Café Sabarsky downstairs and nosh on a Gulaschsuppe mit Erdapfeln (goulash soup with potatoes).
And so it goes, the end came. After a weekend away, my brain switched to reset, the daily grind a little less grinding and my family all intact, I resolved to make New York a yearly respite from my routine. The unadulterated adult pleasures of absorbing the world free of fetters reminded me of who I am, cleaved from my familial responsibilities. I’m not just a mom, just a wife, just an employee, but also a discrete person. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded.