The 2013 U.S. Open Tennis Tournament has finally come to an end, which means that the season is winding down and the players’ schedules lighten up. For the dads on the ATP tour, this means some added family time. Top ranked players James Blake of the United States, Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, and Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland share how they manage being a dad while playing, their most memorable moments with their kids on the tour, and their favorite things to do in New York during the grand slam. Turns out, even the tennis players who travel the world up to 42 weeks of the year value the same parts of parenting as you.
James Blake, dad to Riley, 1
What has your most memorable moment been with your daughter, Riley, on the tour?
JB: It’s every day. Every day is something new, it’s so much fun. The first time she walked was the day before I left for Atlanta and I couldn’t be happier that I was still home. I watched her walk across the basement floor and once she realized she could walk…just nonstop. I don’t think she’s stopped walking since then. It’s been a month and a half and I don’t think she’s stopped walking or running. And she’s started to mimic. So when I say “night night” she says “night night” back. Every day is so much fun.
What do you most look forward to doing with her now that you have officially retired from the game to spend more time with your family?
JB: I’m looking forward to being around and not even thinking about missing another milestone. I’m lucky to have that luxury, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Lleyton Hewitt, dad to Mia, 7, Cruz, 4 and Ava, 2
What was your funniest or most memorable moment with your kids on tour?
LH: Some of the best moments are when I’m taking them on court after I’ve had a good win—that’s obviously pretty special. I’m fortunate enough that I have kids who are young enough in age that I can still be playing on the tour and they can understand what dad’s doing on tour. Travling a lot, your priorities change, obviously. It’s not so much about my schedule as much as it is about their schedule and what’s best for them.
Stanislas Wawrinka, dad to Alexia, 3
What’s your most special moment you’ve had when your daughter travels with you?
SW: The first time she came to see my warm-up match in Basel last year was great. She was really happy. It’s more important that when she’s on the tour, she’s really happy to be at Daddy’s work. I like to play with her at night and when I have days off.
Has she been to New York? What do you like to do with her around the city?
SW: Yes, last year she was here. She went to Central Park a lot. For a kid it’s not easy in New York—it’s a big city. It was not easy for us because I leave early in the morning and come back late. When I had a day off I went to Central Park with her to ride the horse carriage and she loved it! She said, “I want to do it with Daddy and Mommy!” It was a great memory.
Image: James Blake by Herbert Kratky/ Shutterstock.com
Newtown Weighs Future Of Sandy Hook Elementary After School Shooting
Newtown residents are divided on what to do with the school building where 26 people were killed, with some favoring demolition and construction of a memorial and others encouraging renovations. (via Huffington Post)
Longer School Year: Will It Help Or Hurt U.S. Students?
Did your kids moan that winter break was way too short as you got them ready for the first day back in school? They might get their wish of more holiday time off under proposals catching on around the country to lengthen the school year. (via Huffington Post)
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Fewer kids were injured during early morning and after school hours once new traffic lights, pedestrian signals and speed bumps were put around New York City schools, according to a new study. (via Reuters)
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Digital Health for Kids, Seniors and Workout Buffs
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Since my daughter is obsessed with theatre, I’m always looking for good deals on tickets—and Kids’ Night on Broadway in New York City is a bargain. This annual event (which runs from February 25 to March 3) allows you to get a free kids’ ticket with the purchase of an adult seat. It essentially amounts to half-price tickets, which are hard to come by for popular, rarely discounted shows like Wicked and The Lion King. Other good choices for 6- to 10-year-olds include Newsies, Mary Poppins, and Annie. Tickets go on pre-sale today for members of the Broadway Fan Club (it’s free to join) and, on Monday, the tickets will be open to the public. (If you don’t snag seats today, additional tickets will be available next week.) Another plus: During Kids’ Night shows, mini theatre-goers get to meet some of the actors and take part in activities. If you don’t live in the New York area, still check out the website for Kids’ Night events nationwide throughout 2013.
My family and I just spent 2 nights on the Disney Magic which, for the first time, is offering weekend cruises out of New York City this summer. You depart Friday afternoon, you sail the Atlantic for a day or so, and you’re walking off the boat by 9am Sunday. If you don’t think it sounds like enough time, my 6- and 3-year-old daughters would agree with you–but it felt perfect to me and my husband. This is a Disney experience, after all, which means you can pack a ton of fun into your one full day at sea. These are the five things I loved the most.
1. The staff. For anyone who complains that customer service is dead (like I often do), take a Disney Cruise and have your faith restored. I know this is the cornerstone of the Disney philosophy, to treat every guest like a celebrity. But I didn’t expect it to start in the passenger terminal, as we waited to get through security and board the ship. Every single employee stationed throughout the terminal, and there were dozens, greeted us with a smile. Caught up in the Magic of it all, I found myself believing they were as excited about our weekend as we were. Our favorite staffers were Giuseppe and Keneisha, our servers at each of our three sit-down meals. Their magic tricks left my girls mesmerized, and me and my husband stumped.
2. The rooms.Our stateroom came with a verandah, which felt downright luxurious, especially when my husband and I kicked back there with drinks on Saturday afternoon as the sun shone brightly. Julia and Lila were blown away when we returned from dinner on Friday night to find that our couch had been converted into a bed for Lila, and the wall now featured a top bunk for Julia. (I know it was just a lucky guess, but I was still impressed that the person who made up the beds managed to match them to the correct stuffed animals.) The ship gets major points for completely soundproof rooms; we didn’t hear a peep from anyone on either side of us, or above or below us, or even walking past our room. Drifting off to sleep on Friday night, I would have thought I was at home, not on an 11-level ship with some 2,700 fellow passengers.
The view of our room from the verandah
The girls, chilling on the verandah before we left the NYC harbor
Voila! Bunk beds!
3. The spa. When my precious daughters awoke, giddy and giggling, at approximately 5:13 a.m., I told myself, “Girl, you just have to make it to 9:00 a.m.” That was my scheduled hot-stone massage at the Vista Spa. It was incredibly soothing and restorative, and I grabbed back at least a half hour of sleep. Word to the wise: When you shower after your treatment, pick the stall on the right. That one has a rainfall shower head with the best water pressure EVER. (I’m a water-pressure snob, so this is high praise.) It took everything I had to turn it off and end the bliss.
4. The Oceaneer Club. AKA “The kids’ club,” as in “Wait–you can just drop them off at the kids’ club?” or “Let’s bring them to the kids’ club” or “Come on, girls, you’re going to the kids’ club!” This is what a Disney Cruise has over the Disney Parks–free age-appropriate, imaginative childcare for kids ages 3-12 that starts at 9:00 a.m. and goes until midnight (I’m assuming it’s mostly the older kids who are still there at this point!). For little ones younger than 3, you can pay a small hourly fee and bring them to the nursery–but that fills up quickly, so you may want to reserve a spot before your cruise. There’s also an activity center for kids 11-14, and another for the 14- to 17-year-old set.
Security is taken very seriously, as you can imagine: Your child wears an electronic bracelet that gets scanned upon arrival and departure; your child can only leave when you show your I.D. and give a password; if your child needs you, you’ll get a text or call on the boat-issued cell phone. I’d show you a picture, but photos aren’t allowed, for safety and privacy reasons. While the children are there, they can play games, use the computer lab, do all kinds of arts & crafts, and meet Disney characters who stop by for surprise visits. I couldn’t have been happier when we dropped the girls off the first time and saw that the very first order of business was for them to each get a squirt of soap in their hands and to head straight to the bathroom, where a staffer would make sure they washed up before playing. (That reminds me: The Magic is germaphobe-friendly, with wipes stationed outside every single food and beverage facility. Yippee!) I should add that there are also equally awesome “open house” kids’ activities in which parents are required to participate, if you don’t want to leave your child (or more likely, your child doesn’t want to leave you).
5. The way you feel when it’s all over. Need I say more?
Recently, I spent two days with a special out-of-town guest, taking her sightseeing around New York City. We navigated Manhattan with ease, taking on diverse areas such as Gramercy Park, Flatiron District, Midtown East, Times Square, and the Upper East Side. My guest, part of the Flat Stanley Project, never made a fuss or complained — being made of markers and laminated paper.
For parents who are unfamiliar with The Flat Stanley Project, it was started in 1995 by Dale Hubert, a teacher in Ontario, Canada, and was inspired by the Flat Stanley children’s books series by Jeff Brown. The project involves children making paper cutouts of themselves (their personalized versions of Flat Stanley) and then mailing them to friends and family around the world. The goal is to encourage literacy as kids write about Stanley’s adventures through his visits, and to promote pen pal exchanges. Over 6,000 schools in 88 countries have participated in the project, and even famous folks such as President Obama and actor Clint Eastwood have been photographed with a Flat Stanley.
My friend’s young daughter sent me her Flat Stanley (from Georgia!) and my inner host and shutterbug went all-out visiting Big Apple landmarks (Empire State Building, Times Square, Rockefeller Center), historical sites (Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, Fifth Avenue Public Library), and some children’s paradises (Toys “R” Us, FAO Schwartz, American Girl Place). It was really fun soaking up familiar sights I wouldn’t normally visit as a New Yorker, and I’m ready for my next Flat Stanley visitor.
Parents, learn more about how to get your school involved in this global literacy project at FlatStanley.com, and make sure to download the (free) Flat Stanley app from iTunes.
Befriending a guard outside FAO Schwartz
Resting at the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park
Between my trip to Sesame Street over the summer and some recent events here in New York City, I have to say it’s been quite a year. I was recently invited to bring my 6-year-old daughter Julia for a private tour of Radio City Music Hall, followed by a dance lesson with The Radio City Rockettes. (Are you serious!?) When we arrived, we were greeted by Rockettes Kate and Lindsey, who joined us for our tour led by our delightful guide, Joyce. She’s been doing this for 11 years, so she has the knowledge of a true Radio City veteran–but with the enthusiasm of a newbie. Joyce led us into the Grand Foyer and gave us the backstory on the Art Deco theme and the breathtaking crystal Christmas tree, which must be seen to be appreciated:
Then we entered the music hall itself and learned that the layout and decor was reminiscent of a 1930s luxury liner, which is what entrepreneur and Radio City creator Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel was traveling on when he was searching for design inspiration. Even though the hall feels huge, I was surprised to learn that it seats more than 6,000–but then again, it does have the distinction of being the largest indoor theater in the world. We sat in the orchestra and then all the way up in the third mezzanine so Joyce could prove the point that there really are no bad seats. (Doesn’t hurt that the main stage is a full city block wide.)
We moved on to Roxy’s private apartment. He never lived there, but he did lots of entertaining. Fun fact: In the dining room, the ceiling was built in a way that encouraged optimum acoustics no matter how softly one whispered around the round dining table. The table itself is pretty cool, too; instead of leaves, it has a removable outer ring to make the table smaller. After a brief movie about the inner workings of the building–which Julia later described as her favorite part of the day (wha?)–we said goodbye to Joyce and headed to the rehearsal hall for the dance lesson.
And this is where Kate and Lindsey, who have been Rockettes for four and three years respectively, took over. They were the perfect ambassadors to teach us about the history and legacy of the most famous dance line of all. More than once (or five times) as they spoke, Julia would reach out and touch their Swarovski crystal-covered costume and bracelets–she was seriously dazzled. They were really excited to tell us about the new features of this year’s Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which include 3D scenes, never-seen-before numbers, and a clever premise where the Rockettes battle the Humbugs who are out to mess with the Christmas spirit.
The dance lesson began and I lurked in the background, snapping away. Kate and Lindsey showed Julia a basic routine (actually, it wasn’t that basic for a 6-year-old) and went over it many, many times. This was fantastic for Julia. She says she wants to be a singer when she grows up–and a teacher and as of two weeks ago, a firefighter as well. If this kid wants to be a performer, I can’t think of a better way to show her the dedication and work it requires than through this dance lesson. For more than 30 minutes, Kate and Lindsey went over it time and again, adding steps and nuances along the way. I could tell Julia was getting tired but every time one of the Rockettes asked if she wanted to try it again, she nodded enthusiastically. Here’s a clip from early on in the lesson:
Not bad, right?
When the lesson ended, the Rockettes presented Julia with a bag of Radio City- and Rockettes-themed treats. Once she discovered the chocolate bars, we lost her–she never regained her focus. So when Katie and Lindsey asked if we had any questions, only I had one: Could we see those “eye-high kicks” they’re so famous for? They graciously replied that we couldn’t, because they weren’t properly warmed up. (Duh! I should have known that even a Rockette can’t fling her shin up to her forehead on demand.)
Then, to top off the whole experience, Julia and I, along with my husband and 3-year-old daughter, went to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular itself last week. It would have been an incredible night regardless, but we felt even more special to have heard the behind-the-scenes stories and to recognize some of the steps in the show–and most fun of all, to look for our new friends Kate (ninth from left!) and Lindsey (third from center!) every time those Rockettes lined up in their truly spectacular formation.