The man in uniform took the kids'
ice creams before they even had time to pull the wrappers
off. He placed them in a plastic tray on a short conveyor
belt. Matthew and Cameron stood bemused in the line, just
as millions of immigrant children must have done when the
nearby Ellis Island immigration centre was operational,
waiting for their permission to enter the land of the free.
Our children had been patient through hours of queuing for
tickets, queuing for an ice cream, queuing for a place on
the boat, queuing to get through security. But the loss
of the prized ice lollies at midday in a New York heatwave
was a trial too far for our three and four year old.
"Want my lolly back," whimpered Cameron as he was forced
through a security gate and his ice cream was sent off through
the x ray machine. Fair enough, it was a rocket lolly, but
this missile on a stick would melt in about three minutes
time, and didn't pose much of a threat to national security.
I mumbled a quiet protest.
"Yeh but look at it this way," Stuart said, as we stepped
away from the x ray machine, put on our watches, our belts,
and dropped all the loose change back into our pockets.
"The Statue of Liberty, it's got to be a potential terrorist
target; it's such a symbol of all that is America, of freedom
and enlightenment. What anti Western terrorist wouldn't
"With a red white and blue rocket lolly?" I asked, strawberry
popsicle dripping onto my chin.
The kids launched their rocket
lollies once the Statue of Liverty appeared on the horizon
From the start of the trip we promised
the kids we would end at the Statue of Liberty, the place
it all began for so many immigrant Americans. Apparently
40% of Americans can trace their ancestry back to relatives
who passed the Statue of Liberty when they first arrived
in the land of hope in early 20th century New York. But
while so many throughout history arrived at Ellis Island
with dreams of getting into The United States, we were planning
to leave the country. Our departure wasn't entirely straightforward
either. I was thirty three weeks pregnant, and over the
limit to fly on our round the world ticket unless I had
a doctor's note certifying my fitness to fly and promising
I wouldn't go into labour on the plane.
"There's the Statue of Liverty, there it is, there it is
Daddy," Cameron jumped up and down, dropping half of his
rocket lolly onto his sandals. Unlike many of the iconic
buildings and statues we had come face to face with on our
big trip, Liberty (or Liverty as she had come to be known
by the boys) more than lived up to her media hype. She was
magnificent, her pale green copper body and flowing robes
towering into a startling blue sky.
"See her finger? That's bigger than Daddy." I said to Matthew.
He had his interpretive tour headphones clamped to his ears
and wasn't listening.
"Why?" asked Cameron. "Why is his finger bigger than Daddy's?"
"Not bigger than Daddy's finger, bigger than the whole of
Daddy. And that book she's carrying is the equivalent of
an eight storey building." The children raced across the
grass on Liberty Island while Stuart and I tried to take
in the significance of the moment. We had finished our ten
month, round the world adventure. And we had finished it
here, at this magnificent symbol of liberty and enlightenment.
We had done it; despite pregnancy, tantrums, heat, traffic
and all the demands of travelling with toddlers. We had
done it together, as a family.
Liberty and enlightenment.... it summed up our year
"Well, getting here was a lot easier
for us than it was for them," said Stuart, pointing at some
of the photos and belongings of those who had come to America
to start a new life over the years. We tried to recreate
the experience of Ellis Island immigration in a simple way
for the children.
"Thousands of people each day would come through this door
and have a medical examination. If there was anything wrong
with them, the initials of the disease or illness were written
onto their backs in chalk," Stuart explained. "So Mum would
have a big P written on her back.
"P for Piglet?" asked Cam.
"P for Pregnant." said Matthew, quickly catching on.
"Pregnancy isn't a disease you know," I laughed.
"Well done Matt, that's right, P for Pregnant."
"So Daddy would have SF for smelly feet. And I'd have an
F for Farts."
"Would I have G for grass?" said Cameron, obviously thinking
back to all our I spy games in the car over the last eight
"No," said Matthew. "You'd definitely be an SF, like Daddy.
You have the smelliest feet in America."
Cameron, beamed, delighted with his new title. "I taked
off my sandals and we smelt them. Shall we do that now in
On our way back through the City
we stumbled across Ground Zero. A pit the size of a football
pitch, it was an awesome open space in a ridiculously overcrowded
landscape. We stood silently with many others, reading the
interpretive displays, imagining the scene and its frightening
aftermath. I swallowed a lump in my throat.
"What is it mama? What are the pictures?" Matthew demanded
to know. Less than a year old when the tragedy happened,
he was too young to have been aware of it. I tried to explain
it in simple terms; how two planes flew into two of the
tallest buildings in the world. Even while I was explaining
I began to wonder if it was such a good idea to tell this
story just six hours before we got on a flight back to England.
I needn't have worried.
"Wow," said Matthew looking up at the pictures and examining
each one. "Wow," said Cameron, momentarily absorbed by this
new information. "Can we have another ice cream now?"
One last look at the lights before we head for home
It was time to check in for our
journey home, and we crossed New York for one last time
on the subway. At the airport the boys shook off their tiredness
and joyously greeted the stationary planes.
"Hurray. There's our Air New Zealand Flight. Isn't it? Isn't
it Mummy? That plane there?"
"No Cam, and we're travelling on a Virgin plane."
"Yes, that's right, Virgin Cove, with blankets and headphones
and backpacks and everything," said Cam, running up and
down the airport shuttle train, peering out of the windows.
I looked out over JFK, with its' mass of aircraft and industry,
and longed to be in the air. Over the year Family on a Bike
had transformed itself into family on a plane, in a yacht,
in a car, on a luge, on a train, and on foot. We had safely
taken our three and four year olds around the world, conceived
another on the way, become media stars, made contact with
like minded families, and experienced everything from deep
wilderness to urban chaos. Our bodies had had their fill
of junk food, our minds were brimming with new experiences,
and our wallets…well they were completely empty. It was
time to go home.