This would have been a great way to spend a Saturday - sledding, snow play, hot chocolate, movies in our jammies - if we hadn't already made other plans to travel into NYC.
Actually, we were headed to the Lincoln Harbor area in Jersey. My cousin and his wife recently relocated their family, and we were off to a housewarming/family reunion to celebrate this move. They have three kids who stairstep ages beautifully with mine (their oldest is 5 1/2, Madison is 4 1/2, their next is 3 turning 4, Reagan is 2 turning 3 and their little one just turned 2) but shockingly, the kids hadn't met each other. We were very excited that these second cousins, now living much closer to each other, would have the chance to be friends. We were so excited to go.
Then the snow hit.
Now we are New Englanders who aren't deterred by a few inches of snow. The issue was the timing and the route. As the weathermen waffled, we waffled. We didn't want to endure a messy drive, but we didn't want to miss the visit.
So as we looked our the window and stepped on the driveway and tracked the bands on our phones, Adam stopped short and said "did you know kids under 5 ride free on the train?"
I did not. Whenever Adam and I go into the city alone, we take the train. We're so close to a major station, and between tolls and parking and traffic...we'd just rather ride into Grand Central and go from there. However, we haven't taken the girls into the city, ever. And we definitely hadn't taken them on the train. For two people who live where we live, the train makes sense. For a family with two little kids and all the stuff those kids require....and the expense of four tickets...well...
But suddenly a plan was forming. We could take an express train that would get us into the city in 90 minutes. We could take a cab over to the ferry, take a short ride over to Jersey (also free for the kids), and walk to the apartment. Door to door, including parking and transitioning would take three hours. Driving would take two, and we just didn't know what the roads had in store for us.
We made the decision to do this planes, trains and automobiles (with boats replacing the planes) at about 9:15, knowing we had to leave the house around 10 to make it happen.
Adam and I have actually found that we do the best with new experiences when we don't overthink them. We didn't have time to stress about how the girls would handle it, we didn't have time to stress about what to pack, and we definitely didn't have time to build them up about city travel. We just had to go. And it was the perfect way to do it.
Snacks for the train. Each girl had dried apples, a bag of pretzels, a bag of crackers, and a lollipop (hey, it was a treat).
A backpack of activities. We packed the iPads (I can't say enough good things about the durability of this case) and their headphones, books the girls could read independently (Reagan is obsessed with Look and Find books) and books we could read to them (Madison and I are reading through both a Roald Dahl boxset and finishing up the Little House books), and coloring books with crayons (I'm normally a Crayola snob, but the Melissa and Doug crayons are perfect for travel since they don't roll).
Just in case clothes. Reagan is not quite "on the go" potty trained yet, so we had some extra pants and pull ups. We also had the girls wear their winter boots and coats for walking in the city, and we brought along their beloved ballet flats to change into.
All of this, along with our tablets, phones, wallets, and chargers (and a bottle of champagne to celebrate the new home) went into my giant mom purse, one backpack and Adam's small shoulder bag. We dressed ourselves, dressed the girls and flew out of the house. Bought tickets at the station (and confirming that the girls did indeed ride free) and boarded the train with a few minutes to spare. The only regret I had was that the time it took us to get down our driveway and the time we spent circling the parking garage meant that I didn't get my Dunkin Donuts stop for coffee.
The girls we so great on the train. They were excited for the adventure, and for the first fifteen minutes we didn't even open the backpack because they were looking out the windows. We were lucky to get two rows of three facing each other, and Adam sat with all the bags while I sat with the girls, so it was easy to pass things back and forth.They read. They colored. They broke out the iPads after about an hour. They ate every single snack I packed. They were happy and quiet. Adam and I were actually able to relax ourselves, and I managed to read a whole magazine.
Our only tiny hiccup was when Reagan informed me that she peed in her Pull-Up and we had to do a change in the bathroom. Naturally Madison came with us and I had one kid perched on the seat and one getting changed while standing up on the floor all while being bumped and jostled.
We made it to Grand Central and I carried Reagan through the station while Madison and Adam walked together. The girls were fascinated by the station.
Outside, we grabbed a cab and it took a few minutes to travel to the ferry. We drove through Times Square and they exclaimed over every single billboard and marquee. Despite the heavy cloud cover, they were excited to get on the boat, and it was a quick trip across, and under a ten minute walk to the apartment.
And we were so glad we made it. Madison and her five year old cousin were a little hesitant for the first hour, but by the time we left, they were great friends and trying to plan playdates. Madison put on dances for everyone and anyone who would watch. And this building had a playroom that left all the kids happy and tired.
Reversing the trip was minimally harder, only because we stayed longer than expected and the girls were tired, but still wound up. We thought they might sleep on the train, so we didn't replenish the snacks, which wasn't our smartest move. And most importantly, we hadn't chosen the car with the bathroom. Madison refused to walk through the cars while the train was moving, so Adam had to carry her. Future note: always choose the car with the bathroom.
Overall, we didn't just survive the travel, but it was a major success. It proved that NYC trips are very, very doable for our family. We didn't overthink, and we didn't overplan, and because of that, we realized that it wasn't as hard as we'd made it out to be in our minds. Sure, our original plan to drive would have been cheaper and taken an hour less (it did turn out that the roads were fine). But we wouldn't have gotten that "city" experience that showed us the girls can handle it and really enjoy themselves.
Of course, there are some things we'd change in the future, now that we know better.
1. For this short, traveling through trip, I carried Reagan, and that was fine. She's a peanut and we weren't walking that much. But if we'd done any additional walking, I would have wanted either a carrier or our super small umbrella stroller.
2. Sleeping on the train, for our kids, is not going to happen. We thought that an 8:30 train would be a no brainer for sleep, but we were really, really, wrong. The lights are blazing, the train is bumping, it's noisy...they were not going to fall asleep. We tried to encourage them by storing the iPads above our heads and just reading, by not having a flow of snacks...all that did was make them cranky. We needed to either get on an earlier train or just accept they'd be up late, but either way, we needed to replicate our morning success, and we didn't. Lesson learned.
3. Leave time at the station to use the bathrooms (again), stock up on snacks and coffee. Adam and I are "get there fast" commuters when it comes to travel. If we make it to the station at 8:24 and we already have our tickets, we're going directly to the platform and getting on that 8:30 train. We had plenty of time to use the bathrooms and pick up snacks, but since we'd done that before the ferry and didn't think we needed them, we chose not to risk it. Probably not our smartest move.
But that's it. Other than that, our fly by the seat of our pants, think quick and throw some stuff in a bag plan was a huge success. We had a great first train, first ferry, first taxi, first NYC trip day, we got to reconnect with family, and the girls made new friends. A huge win. And we can't wait to do it again.