Little girl in Big Apple

December 20, 2004|By Cynthia Tucker

ATLANTA -- I should have known better.

For all the money I spent to make sure she enjoyed her first trip to New York City, her favorite thing was the revolving door at the hotel.

Not The Nutcracker performed by the New York City Ballet. Never mind that it was George Balanchine's classic choreography or that the staging was awesome or that the ticket prices were stratospheric. It rated only fourth on her list. (And I think that was just to spare my feelings.) Still, she had a good time. So did I.

I had wanted to share the magic of Christmastime in the Big Apple with my mom and my 6-year-old niece, Irene, so we visited the city the first weekend in December. Irene saw the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center ("the giantest tree I ever saw!"), rode the subway, bought mittens from a street vendor and learned from a cab driver that Manhattan has 17 bridges and four tunnels.

Those are the things she mentioned most often about her trip. That and the revolving door. The Nutcracker rarely came up. Still, she had a good time. So did I.

Small children, thank heaven, have not yet learned to appreciate only that which is most expensive. So Irene didn't know better than to attach great value to the adventures and pleasures that, by New York City standards, were inexpensive -- balloons from a street mime, hot chocolate from a deli, elevators and escalators anywhere.

She ran the sidewalks of Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood with a close friend's 5-year-old son. She saw the dinosaur fossils at the American Museum of Natural History, discovering that part of the building is underground. (That came as a revelation since she lives in the low-lying city of New Orleans, where even caskets are not placed underground.)

She had a good time. So did I.

I had force-marched Mom and Irene through hotel check-in and a quick change so we could make the ballet a couple of hours after we arrived.

And I discovered I wasn't the only adult driven to foist sophistication onto the children in our lives. The audience was full of restless kids, even toddlers, many of whom fidgeted, wailed and fell asleep (mercifully) long before the ballet ended.

Like those other adults, I was undeterred. We were staying, by golly. I even insisted Irene endure a long line to get her picture taken with one of the adolescent snowflakes in the ballet company. The photo was included in the exorbitant ticket price, and we weren't leaving without it. Irene's boredom showed in her pose.

She had much more fun piloting the elevator to our room on the fifth floor of the hotel. That and pushing the revolving door over and over again. I'm so glad I didn't buy tickets to a Broadway show.

In Battery Park, she was as interested in the mimes dressed up as Lady Liberty as in the real statue. She tried to make sense of a war memorial to dead sailors. ("What happened to them?") She bought pens with light-up Statues of Liberty.

Somehow, the trip reminded me of the times I've given elaborate toys to small children, only to watch them having more fun playing with the box it came in. There must be a lesson in there somewhere.

But I haven't given up on The Nutcracker. We'll see it again one of these days -- perhaps next Christmas. Maybe she'll eventually come to like it. Or maybe she won't.

What matters is that she had a good time, and so did I.

We were building memories. So what if she only remembers the revolving door?

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun.

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