08/07/2012 07:07 am ET Updated Oct 07, 2012

Teens Take Manhattan

Wondering what to do with teenagers in New York City? So was I. As a single mother of boys, a vacation is more than an excuse to eat too much and do too little. It's an opportunity to get out of the comfort zone, create lasting memories and stimulate that which is mysteriously lost between parent and adolescent: conversation.

In my typical Virgo style I set out to take Manhattan by storm, by geographic zone, on time and on a budget. Preparing for our four-hour flight home, we reclined our seats, lowered our tray tables and compiled our list of "Top Five Fun Things to Do (with Teens) in New York City."

Iconic New York is a no-brainer and for the touristy things nothing beats the flexibility and diversity of a CityPass. The three-museum, three-attraction combo we chose gave us a nice blend of culture and world-class tourist. Seeing the views from theTop-of-the-Rock in the daytime and the Empire State Building at night gave some geographical context, while Circle Line's speedboat tour, The Beast, brought thrills, spills and the skyline in a New York minute.

The Met, MOMA and American Museum of Natural History brought... well, art and mummies. With extended hours at the Metropolitan, we had a chance to sleep in before taking in their vast collection. My eldest is drawn to the moderns, I to the Europeans and the youngest prefers the paintings of the renaissance, making for plenty of time trading (I see your Madonna and Child and raise you a Rothko). If the rooms of furniture were lost on the younger, he bore with me in exchange for an hour in the armory. We took a break for a late lunch at the Lexington Candy Shop and returned to spend the evening hours with the magnificent Egyptians. The MOMA gave the boys face time with the art and artists they know from poster art, coffee cups and mouse pads, but opened the door to the less obvious and more obscure, which made the Chelsea art gallery visits more significant. At the Natural History, let yourself go beyond the "Night at the Museum" appeal and let the Hayden Planetarium take you on a "Journey to the Stars"; three thumbs up.

As a family of theater-goers, consensus was that unless we could see Book of Mormon for less than a semester of college, Broadway was out. We agreed on the offbeat and ventured down to the East Village for a night of neon fun. Though you may have seen the Blue Man Group in Vegas, on tour or on a cruise ship; nothing beats the intimate experience at the Astor Place Theatre. The roots and rhythms of this kaleidoscopic narrative run deep with influences that range from tribal to techno, from silent film to performance art. Fast-paced and funny, Blue Man Group is a global party with thought provoking undertones. No not "thought-provoking" in the Clybourne Park/Other Desert Cities vein, but enough to fill our post-show walk through Greenwich Village with lively conversation and plenty of recap moments. Nice when you get the boys talking!

Wax Appeal
Our giggle-fest romp through Madame Tussauds was great for the campy photo-ops. I hadn't been to a wax museum since I was their age and had forgotten how cool they can be. The array of notables brought some teachable moments, introducing them to Dorothy Parker, Jackie O and Malcolm X. Our follow-up spin through Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not started out fine and quirky, but even my 13 year old lost interest halfway through.

High Line
After 10 days of exploring neighborhoods and wandering the back alleys of Manhattan, the rattle of the trains, the serenade of the city and its citizens, our late afternoon amble on the High Line hit a sweet spot. This urban oasis opened in 2009 and is built upon the bones of an historic, and once condemned, elevated freight rail line known as the West Side Highway. Located on 10th and 11th Avenues, this lush pedestrian park runs from 34th Street to Ganesvoort Street in the Meatpacking District. When I asked the boys why the High Line made the cut, they answered like true New Yorkers. "It was just cool to be above the crowds, in the buildings and in nature. I love that it's even there."

Recent History
Dragging the boys to Wall Street in the mid-day sun was not one of my brighter moments, but the clouds rolled in with a breeze off the Hudson as we entered the serenity of the 9/11 Memorial. I lived in the shadow of the World Trade Center back in the day; my sons were 3 and 7 when the planes took it down, but we shared a silent hour together with our thoughts as we ran our hands over every name inscribed in the bronze parapets (Gabe's idea). The experience is stunning; not really somber but definitely overwhelming. As the water crashes heavily into the pool, falling again into the abyss, all I could think was that this never should have happened. The boys remained contemplative as we journeyed south to the Staten Island Ferry for a bit of perspective. A summer storm washed the Statue of Liberty as we passed and lightening danced off the skyline adding a poetic depth that only happens in New York.

There was plenty more to fill out the week. As history buff and real estate agent, I found the
Tenement Museum a fascinating look at American life and the area around Delancey and Orchard, though much hipper than the dangerous days of my youth, still bears strains of its history. We had lunch and a few whispered words at Grand Central Station, and a mid-day stop at the United Nations en route to the Lowe East Side and finished the evening with dinner and gelato in Little Italy. Sunday in the Park included a bike ride, a carousel ride, a row boat ride on the lake, a picnic in Strawberry Fields and lots of eye candy. An easy dinner at the Shake Shack was a great reward for all the calories burned.

As the trip progressed, I made adjustments and recognized the need for balance: down time with the activities, lesser known spots with high-traffic tourist spots and after the first night... avoid Times Square whenever possible.