Most of what my children know about New York City comes from television and movies.
These images are tempered by rose-colored glasses that expose them only to the most positive images of the Big Apple. You don't see the trash bags piled 10-feet high in the street after a snowy winter that prevented garbage trucks from getting into many neighborhoods. You don't see the homeless, the down-trodden and the mentally ill people asking for help on almost every street corner. You don't see the police officers in riot gear with long guns protecting popular tourist areas. And you definitely don't feel the biting wind that cuts you to the bone as you wait in a crowd to cross a gridlocked city street.
“Mom, it’s so cold, I’m freezing,” my older daughter, who only brought a jean jacket and a leather jacket to New York City, tells me over and over as we navigate city streets in what passes for “springtime” in the northeast.
Growing up in Philadelphia, I went to New York many times at a young age for site-seeing field trips and, as I got older, for shopping and entertainment. But little girls from North Carolina don't have the same opportunity to experience what many people believe is the greatest city in the world. After months of listening to their begging, I finally gave in to their pleas and planned a trip north for their spring break.
I took my daughters on a whirlwind tour of the city, barely scratching the surface in the few days we had bookended by weekends full of volleyball and dance back home in North Carolina. It definitely wasn't enough time for my younger daughter who had never been to New York, or even for my older daughter who had been briefly on two short prior trips (one when she was too young to remember, one for 48 hours for a basketball game).
The goal was not to do everything, but to give them a taste of the city, from the sites to the food to the shopping and entertainment. But perhaps the most important thing I wanted them to experience was the culture of New York City. It's not something that can be adequately captured in a television show - the energy, the hustle and bustle, the contrasts.
In my opinion, it's the extremes that define the tapestry of the city. They range from the big buildings looming over you to the small cafés where people meet to share an exquisite meal and a moment in time, from the lunching ladies on 5th Avenue in their stilettos, capes, and big sunglasses carrying designer purses, to the hipsters in Soho with green hair, combat boots, and facial pierces carrying hippie back-packs.
It's the crushing midday crowd on the sidewalk or rush hour subway to the quiet late-night or early-morning streetscape fully illuminated in all of its edgy beauty, but empty except for the occasional clanging delivery truck, tired dog walker or dedicated jogger.
It's a hotel bar full of all of the contrasts at one time - the business people, the hipsters, the young and hopeful, the old and wistful - all listening, and in some cases, not listening, to the young French piano player trying to make it in show business.
It's the co-existence of these extremes that make New York City what it is - a complex cast of characters and clashing cultures that even as a writer is almost impossible to truly define. It’s delirious and maddening all at the same time, exhausting and refreshing, enlightening and sometimes depressing. But one thing New York City is not ever is boring.
“I love their style,” my younger daughter says of the young hip women mostly clad from head-to-toe in black as we maneuver our way down a crowded sidewalk. “But why are there so many people here at one time?”
So, now they know. It is not like the television shows or the movies, it is actually something much greater than that, something closer to a wild animal that is safer to watch from 10 feet away, but yet deep down inside all of us long to get just a little bit closer. We just scratched the surface with this visit. Now that they have had a delicious taste of it, I will bring my daughters back to New York City, no doubt, again and again as they get older. And they will get to decide what makes New York City great for them ...
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.