My oldest son had a day off school last week. While his two best friends headed off to Six Flags Great Adventure to ride extreme roller coasters, my son decided to sit the trip out because he just isn’t a fan of extreme roller coasters. While I was proud of him for being true to himself and making the decision to stay behind, even if it meant his two best friends having an adventure without him, I was also a little uneasy about what the day would end up looking like for the two of us. The forecast called for a rainy day and he essentially woke up with the words “I’m bored” rolling off his tongue.
I tried to tempt him with a trip to the movies or a museum, (I was thinking the Met. A mom can dream, right?) but he wasn’t having any of it. As much as he didn’t want to be riding roller coasters, he still wanted to be hanging out with friends. And when you are a nine year old boy who wants to be hanging out with friends, hanging out with mom just doesn’t cut it.
After some time spent searching the internet for adolescent boy-friendly rainy day activities in NYC, I cringed with the knowledge of what I had to do to get a smile on his face. It was going to involve a few hours in Times Square.
Normally, I avoid Times Square like the plague. When you live in New York, there is nothing pleasant about spending time in Times Square (other than if you are taking in a Broadway show). I get why tourists love it and get excited about it. It’s big and flashy and it’s on TV all the time, so when they come, they feel like they are in the center of American life and culture. But it’s really only the center of the make-believe American life and culture that has been created by the stores and brands and companies who so deftly advertise their wares throughout the square. There’s nothing real about Times Square, except for the headache you have by the time you finally leave it.
But sometimes, when you are a mom, you have to throw yourself head-first into the headache inducer for the benefit of your child. Today was one of those days. So I resigned myself to what was to come, took a deep breath, and said to my son, “You know, we have a few birthday presents to buy. Why don’t we take the subway down to Times Square? We can grab lunch, hit Toys ‘R Us and head over to Midtown Comics.” I knew by the grin he was trying to suppress, I had hit a home run.
When we emerged from the underground eco-system that is the NYC subway, a fast-casual sushi place, Wasabi, caught my eye and enticed my rumbling stomach. Unfortunately, it didn’t catch my son’s eye and he said, “No way, mom. Let’s keep looking.” Fortunately, we didn’t have to look long, as one of my son’s favorite snack places, Paris Baguette, was right next door. While not a great choice for his gluten-free mama, the proximity to Wasabi made a grand compromise possible. We stopped into Paris Baguette for his favorite, a ham, cheese and tomato sandwich on a pretzel roll with a side of fruit salad to go.
Then it was my turn. I had never seen or heard of Wasabi, but some quick research told me it was the relatively new, first US outpost of a UK based sushi and bento chain. With a menu of sushi, salads (both pre-made and a salad bar), hot foods (bento, curries and noodles) and soups (noodle and miso), I was impressed with the variety and I loved that the sushi was sold individually by the piece so I could mix and match to my heart’s desire.
I satisfied my cravings with a bowl of miso soup, four pieces of avocado hosomaki (avocado roll) and my first ever experience with a seaweed salad onigiri (rice triangle tied with nori). Yum. And it only set me back seven dollars, which in Times Square is somewhat of a miracle. Sushi Samba it wasn’t, but it was the right place for the right moment. Note to self: it’s time to finally try out that Pinterest recipe for making onigiri at home.
After filling our bellies, we made our way over to Midtown Comics, the largest comic book store in the US. Not being into comics, I wasn’t really sure what lie ahead, but figured it would probably be something like a scene out of the Big Bang Theory. I kind of expected to walk into a room full of Sheldon Coopers.
While that did not come to fruition, I was surprised by the number of men in business suits perusing the racks over what I assumed was their lunch break. The store was huge, with racks of comics lining the walls. The center racks were filled with book collections. In this area, my son found the entire Diary of a Wimpy Kid series in hardcover, and of course convinced me to make book one the start of his personal collection.
From the traditional comics, he settled on Looney Toons for himself and Spiderman for his little brother. On the second floor we found games and collectibles. I was tempted to pick up some classic GI Joe stuff for my older brother, but ended up settling on a Wonder Woman journal for myself. I mean, really, what mom doesn’t need a Wonder Woman journal?
A word of advice from one comic newbie to another. Make sure to thoroughly explore the contents of the comics selected by your nine year old son, no matter how innocent the cover looks. Before choosing the Looney Toons, he picked out a rather sweet and innocuous looking comic about two dogs. Thankfully, I started flipping through it while waiting in line and realized tucked in the center pages of the sweet dog story was a rabid, flesh eating bulldog, a variety of curse words, and at least one woman with ample naked breasts in bondage (I was starting to develop a suspicion about why all the men in business suits were there). Letting that one get through the checkout would have been a massive parenting fail.
With our comic store wares in hand, we made our way through the crowds up to Toys ‘R Us. On our way up, we found ourselves in the sight line of a camera projecting onto the big screens in the middle of Times Square, so, with some prodding, I got my son to stop and we waved at ourselves and made funny faces for a bit before moving on. It was around this time that my son told me that all my picture taking and camera waving was getting a little embarrassing. “You look like a tourist, mom,” he said with a shudder. “Stop taking pictures.” Clearly the fumes and sensory overload of Times Square were getting to me. I promised from then on to be on my best New Yorker behavior.
Now, the Toys ‘R Us in Times Square, what can I say about it? It’s every child’s dream and every parent’s worst nightmare. It’s four levels of unabashed consumerism and more toys, candy, video games, bikes, etc. in one spot than a person could fathom. Everywhere you turn someone is offering to let you try out the latest craze, whether a giant bouncing ball or a radio controlled helicopter, or asking if you would like your picture taken with Geoffrey the Giraffe or some other superhero character (not on your own camera, of course, but available for purchase at the end of your trip). There’s a giant, lifelike, mechanical T-Rex roaring at you as you marvel over the massive Chrysler and Empire State Buildings constructed entirely of Legos and browse what is probably the largest selection of the ubiquitous blocks outside the stand-alone stores in places like Disney. For the younger set, the giant Ferris wheel in the middle of store is always a hit, and of course you can’t forget the small video game arcade on the top floor.
For a kid who doesn’t typically like noisy, crowded, sensory-rich places, my son always surprisingly seems to enjoy his trips to Toys ‘R Us. I think it’s because he can touch and interact with so many things and dream about what he would do with each one of the toys whose outline he gently traces with his fingertip while passing by. It’s fun to watch him wander, wheels spinning and turning and creating inside his head. So fun, that for a few moments I forget it is not just he and I in the store, but that we are sharing the space with hundreds of strangers.
After taking in every nook and cranny of the spectacle and finally deciding on two birthday presents, we emerged from the chaos to catch a subway train back home. And you know what? When all was said and done, we had a great trip. The rainy conditions kept the usual Times Square insanity to tolerable levels, we found a couple of good, quick lunch options to satisfy each of our tastes (not the easiest feat), we accomplished our birthday gift shopping, we wore ourselves out, and I didn’t hear any more “I’m bored” for the rest of the day. Of course we had to spend a solid hour back home decompressing before we were ready to face the world (and his younger brother) again, but it was worth it because this mom and her nine year old son got to spend a few hours alone, together, learning a little bit more about the person each one of us is becoming.