When my friends heard that I would be taking Diana, just 4, and Liv, 18 months, to New York City on my own this August, they looked horrified and told me I was a crazy person (especially when I managed to convince them that this was actually a trip we were doing as a trio for pleasure).
Now that we've returned (with minor physical scars and some more major emotional ones), I don't want to admit they're right. But they sort-of are.
I had a smug moment of hubris as we were landing from our seven-hour-plus flight from London to NYC (Liv had only slept for one hour; D not a minute) when I thought we had survived the worst of it and I was ready to have the best time ever in my hometown with my girls.
That was before Liv threw up all over me during landing (we taxied around for another 45 minutes so I couldn't even remove my seatbelt to get cleaned up).
That was also before Diana got her fingers stuck in the AirTrain lift at the airport (she was dancing around excitedly; I was wrestling a suitcase out the doors), which opened to a panicked group of travellers.
The police came, chaos ensued, everyone sobbed. D decided that she'd quite like to sleep now, of all times.
I still reeked of vomit.
We dropped our bags and high-tailed it to the emergency room of NYU hospital in Manhattan (we made it into the city at least), where the only thing I felt relaxed about was the fact our family insurance policy covered us abroad (D could barely move her fingers, couldn't make a fist and had to undergo X-rays for possible broken bones in her hand).
Until the next day when my husband told me the insurance covers us everywhere except for the US.
We're still awaiting the bill - D only had sprained fingers, thankfully - but we did get given two stuffed teddies in doctors' scrubs which I assume must be worth £500 apiece to help ease the financial burden of what's about to hit us.*
When we did eventually go to sleep that first night, it was close to 6am UK time, so we'd been up for 24 hours. Not exactly the dream way to kick off our trip.
I'd also learned my lesson from my last trip to NY which is that buggies and buses don't mix (you have to fold them up; similarly, I wasn't about to drag one up and down the steps of the subway on my own) so I didn't bring one: Liv was in the Ergo carrier and D walked (and had a nifty backpack-cum-booster seat, the Trunki BoostAPak, for when we needed taxis).
I was happy with all of this until Liv developed a sort-of addiction to the carrier, which I learned the hard way later in the week when I borrowed a double side-by-side stroller from a friend (my husband's dream baby-toting device) and Liv refused to sit in it, demanded to be carried ("Baby!" she would shriek at me, which roughly translates to "Cradle me so I feel the heaviest possible for your flimsy biceps, you pathetic sap!") and screamed, flailed, sobbed and wriggled each time I tried to put her in the vicinity of the pushchair.
Have I mentioned Liv is about 30 pounds, a year-and-a-half-old and probably too big to be toted around on my torso at this point?
Psychological issues and finger sprains aside, we did (mostly) have a lovely time, although I think I was ambitious as to what we would actually be able to do (scouring vintage shops, strolling along the Highline, going to art galleries and seeing people post 5:30pm were all things that failed to happen (successfully) on this trip.
After a few days where our biggest accomplishments consisted of making it down a few blocks of Manhattan sidewalks (Literally. One day we "explored" 86th and 3rd avenue. It took us all day. We were staying on 86th and East End and took a crosstown bus to get there and back!), we started to move around a bit. We did parks and playgrounds, stalked bulldogs in dog runs and the girls jumped on the giant piano at FAO Schwarz.
We even did some culture, quickly: racing through the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney, and swallowed down two semi-formal meals, eating an early lunch at Fred's at Barneys and a cake-laden one at Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie for lunch. The best thing about NY is that even when barely mobile, you can still enjoy the food, so we worked our way through lots of bagels (with lox cream cheese!), diner meals, sushi and Italian-American pasta dishes...
We also spent time with my loving, amazing, wonderful friends - some of whom are having their own wonderful parenting adventures across the ocean - and it cemented my knowledge that chaotic and ridiculous as I am (and my girls by default), NY will always be a home of sorts for us, even though we are Londoners.
D loved the trip - especially the part about getting her hand stuck in the lift, which she gleefully asks me to recount to every single person we see - but if you ask her what she did in NY, she'll say: "I went to the candy shop."
Because when you're newly four, no oversized Jeff Koons Play-Doh sculpture or even the giant Statue of Liberty Lego at Fao Schwarz can compare with going to Dylan's Candy Bar, being bought an enormous rainbow lollipop and eating a small tub of blue cotton candy ice cream.
After all, despite the irritability and the hospital visit, we were on holiday. We needed some treats...
*In somewhat happy news, the bill for the X-ray turned out to be $30...