I spent 4 days in New York City with my teenage son. Spending time together in my favorite city was a dream come true.

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I spent 4 days in New York City with my teenage son. Spending time together in my favorite city was a dream come true.
Alex Potemkin/Getty Images
  • I was able to take my younger son on a solo trip to New York for the first time.
  • We were able to do everything we wanted and only got lost once — inside the Met.
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On a perfect 60-degree day in early April, I found myself in Washington Square Park with my teenage son. Around us New York City pulsated. Artists sold paintings at tables, skateboarders showed off new tricks, and college students lounged in the grass. The soundtrack in my mind sang, "Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now."

For various reasons, my husband and older son were back home in Minnesota while we enjoyed a one-on-one spring break.

Because this was my son's first time in New York City, we worked hard to see many of the big tourist attractions. In the course of four days, we wandered through the sites in Midtown, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, took a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, visited the 9-11 Memorial, walked the High Line, wandered through Central Park and the Met, saw a Broadway show, and visited the top of the Empire State Building. If reading that list makes you tired, it should! We covered more than 130,000 steps. And we only got lost once — inside the Met.

We planned ahead for what we wanted to do

Because I knew my son would love to see a taping of a late show, I started to check the tickets website daily, starting about two months before our trip. I eventually scored tickets for the Tonight Show, the Daily Show, the Late Show, and Late Night with Seth Meyers. Because all of the shows were taped at around the same time, we had to choose one. We ended up at the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and it did not disappoint. That night we both received numerous texts from friends who saw us on TV, and the entire fan experience was delightful.

We also knew we wanted to see at least one Broadway show, but we were flexible on the show itself. I had entered us in numerous drawings for Broadway lottery tickets, but alas, we didn't win. We did some research and decided to wait in a short line at the TKTS booth in Lincoln Center. While we waited in line at Lincoln Center, I chatted with the employee and other ticket buyers to get intel on the best show to see with a teenage boy. We both really wanted to see "Hadestown" or "& Juliet," but tickets weren't available. "Shucked" was billed as silly humor, and because I grew up on a farm in Iowa, I couldn't resist a musical about corn. Our seats were fantastic, and we both laughed ridiculously throughout. It was a success.

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Red Rooster was also on the "must" list to celebrate a combination of our family's roots. Chef Marcus Samuelson was born in Ethiopia — the birthplace of my son — and raised in Sweden — the birthplace of my ancestors. I booked reservations several weeks before our trip because I didn't want to miss this opportunity. We loved walking through Harlem, and we both agreed my chicken and waffles and his chicken sandwich were some of the best we've ever had.

We didn't plan for the rest

My son and I are both terrible at making decisions. Ask him on any given day what he'd like to do, and he'll say, "Whatever's best for the family." I'm also a classic Enneagram Type 2, known for putting others' needs in front of my own in a sometimes unhealthy passive-aggressive way. I was terrified these traits would give us analysis paralysis, resulting in a trip trapped in a hotel room asking each other, "What do you want to do?" while the other answered, "I don't care. What do YOU want to do?"

Luckily, we both rose to the occasion.

Because we were there for several days, we chose our activities based on the weather and our mood. We had a list of what we wanted to accomplish, and with the help of my cousin, a resident of the Upper West Side, we grouped everything geographically to make the most of time and distance.

For most attractions, we had luck booking tickets on our phones when we arrived. We scored last-minute tickets for the Statue of Liberty ferry by logging in at just the right moment. Similarly, we avoided waiting in long ticket lines at the Met and the Empire State Building by purchasing online when we arrived.

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Introducing my son to one of my favorite cities was, of course, a dream come true. We covered dozens of miles on foot, explored by the subway, ate quintessential New York Foods — pizza, bagels, and pastrami — and discovered nooks and neighborhoods we both fell in love with.

Most of all, though, we spent time together, something that is fleeting as my son enters his senior year of high school.

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