Washington Heights, NY on a cold Thursday/Carrot Top Pastries
There used to be a time when cold, snowy weekdays would inspire NYCity Mama, before she was a mama, to call in sick to work, and curl up in her warm bed and sleep. Ah, yes. The day would be filled with bad t.v., some easily microwavable dishes, long showers, and tons of sleep. It was enough to recharge Mama for the rest of the Winter, and keep her smiling when it seemed everyone else was just done with it all.
Those days are long gone, for now Mama has three reasons to be up, early at that, and be busy. There are some days that she will find creative ways to entertain her youngest boys inside. They would read, paint, color, do puzzles, make pancakes, play in a tub full of bubbles, watch tv, play Hide N’ Seek and on, on, and on. But there are others, like today, when being inside just isn’t enough and there isn’t weather cold enough to keep them entertained, quietly “enough”, inside.
So after reassurance from her husband via email that “it really wasn’t that cold outside”, Mama planned out a list of activities that were guaranteed to keep her boys busy, happy, and eventually tire them out. She began with the 30 minute (or more) process of getting the boys dressed and ready to venture out into the cold.
It was snowing, and the wind was strong enough to make Mama think that her husband was mistaken about the coldness. But the boys are eager and excited about the snow falling on them, covering their coats and the streets. The colder weather quickly inspires Mama to change her plans to head downtown for entertainment and instead stay in her neighborhood so they can easily and quickly get home if needed.
Hanging out in her Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights is something Mama often does during the week. She has lived here before and knows the area like the back of her hand, and though it is one of those areas that is quickly changing in NYC, and has been for some years now, it still remains heavily populated by immigrants from the Dominican Republic. She decides to not go to Fort Tryon Park, as she often does, but instead to further down in her neighborhood and show the kids some different sites.
Here in “The Heights”, and especially on weather like this, it is easy to avoid public transportation and give in to the insistent honking of the gypsy cabs eager to pick up rides. But Mama had decided that she was going to take the bus because she really wanted to kill time, but also because she wanted to give her boys as much “excitement” as possible. Mama’s 3 year old is mastering the art of listening. His behavior has improved so much in the past six months that it has become a lot easier to go out with two toddlers. Her 2 year old however, has embraced the terrible two stage and acts out quite a bit, using the word no freely and often, challenging his mother and testing his boundaries to the fullest. So, when they get on the bus, after a short wait, her 3 year old sits down quickly and quietly, but her 2 year old refuses to sit and tries to get up.
Mama’s efforts to keep him seated are made harder by the well intentioned, yet distracting older ladies on the bus. Elderly Dominican women are incredibly matriarchal. So even as Mama is trying to discipline her son, telling him to sit, the lady next to her is saying, “Ay, pero dejalo. Que bello.” (Oh, but just leave him. How cute). In the past it was enough to get Mama boiled up, but now she has mastered the ability to ignore them and pretend they are not there, though her boys have not. After a few efforts to try to keep him seated fail, Mama singles for the next stop and they get off.
Mama decides to go to one of her local public libraries for mid morning Toddler Storytime. Her 3 year old loves story time at the library. Last time they went to one, he sat through each story quietly, participating when asked and dancing with the other kids on cue. Mama hadn’t expected this of him, and was very pleased to see that he enjoyed it so much. They arrive to the library to find only one other child waiting for the activities to begin.
In a way this was a relief for Mama, because even though her 3 year old can easily sit through a reading of two or three books, her 2 year old becomes easily bored and likes walking around picking out books to look. Having only one other child there meant Mama could walk away and watch the younger child, while the other quietly sat through a reading of “Three Little Kittens” and “Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?”, luckily also two favorites.
Because there were less than a handful of kids there today, story time did not include singing and dancing this time, but Mama’s boys didn’t mind. They both headed to the picture book section, picked out books, and with Mama’s help grabbed a chair and started looking through them.
After about forty minutes at the library, the 2 year old started to get very restless, so Mama decided it was time to move on. They all got wrapped up again, said goodbye to the very sweet story teller and the other little boy and his nanny, and headed outside.
Since it was already lunch time, though no one seemed to be terribly hungry, Mama thought it might be nice to stop and get something sweet to eat and some warm milk for the kids. They headed to one of her favorite local pastry shops on 165th St. and Broadway.
Carrot Top Pastries has been a favorite of Mama’s for years. It was introduced to her by an old friend years ago when she first moved in to the area, on a bet that they could beat her mother’s carrot cake, which she swore was the best in the World. After one bite, she realized she was wrong (sorry Mom). Carrot Top’s carrot cake is so moist and so rich, it is by far the best Mama’s ever tasted, with it’s perfect balance of cream cheese frosting and nuts, it’s definitely worth the trip uptown for a slice. And for those concerned about eating healthier, another favorite of Mama’s is the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad.
The enter Carrot Top with the lunch crowd and it’s a bit busy, but the two ladies at the counter are quick to take orders and payments so the line moves very fast. Mama orders a regular slice of carrot cake (a special is a three layered slice) and takes a seat in the side room to share it with the boys.
“Do you like it?”, she asks her 2 year old. He simply nods his head not wanting to open his mouth and risk a morsel of his snack to fall out.
As they finish their snack, Mama notices that the boys are “happy” again, so they clean their table, wrap themselves up once more, and head outside.
They walk past Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, where Mama used to work as a public relations representative, and where her first son was born. They pass the beautiful and historic Audubon Ballroom, where the late Malcolm X was gunned down almost 44 years ago, and where now you’ll find the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial Education Center.
And they pass The Armory Track and Field Center, where track meets are held all year long and where Mama’s 11 year old used to participate in the City Sports for Kids program offered through the New York Road Runners Foundation, and where she plans on signing her boys up as soon as they are of age.
They make their way down the quiet street of Haven Blvd. and arrive to the local J. Hood Wright playground. Unfortunately, the play area is too icy to play on so the boys pass the time climbing the snowy rocks, and playing in the snow.
This is one of largest, and nicest playgrounds in the neighborhood. It has a huge play area designed after the magnificent George Washington Bridge overlooking it. In the summer, like in most NYC playgrounds, this area has an active sprinkler, but also a nice size dog park, picnic area, and chess area.
After awhile, the boys start complaining that they are cold, and want to go home. “I want to go home Mama!”, says the 3 year old. “Mome!”, insists the 2 year old. “Ok, ok,” responds Mama, “We’ll go home and have some lunch and get warm, ok?” “Ok!”, they respond simultaneously.
They start heading back home, past the bodegas, and the businesses playing merengue. Past the Spanish restaurant signs, and the street vendors selling fruits and vegetables (even in this weather!).
They arrive home, tired and cold. And after taking their boots and layer after layer of winter wear off, the boys go to wash their hands while Mama warms up some left over sancocho before they happily go for a cozy nap on their parents’ bed.