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11 can't-miss shows for your next New York visit

By Michael D. Gutenplan

Ah, spring. From kids on break to lovers taking a romantic weekend on the winding streets of Greenwich Village, New York is alive with tourists. Many won’t leave without at least one New York theater experience.

Because so many shows are available and prices can be so high, a good recommendation can make the difference between a fabulous evening and an uncomfortable two-hour nap.

It you’re a first-timer, you probably will prefer a more traditional Broadway experience. Many shows come and go but a handful seem to run forever, and with good reason. “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Chicago,” “Rent” and the Disney shows “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast” are the new gold standards on Broadway, and they’re all solid starter shows.

Each is uniquely different and offers the novice theatergoer a chance to experience Broadway at its best. You’ll get amazing scenery, memorable music, exciting drama and world-class dance in a package with all the glamour and glitz you came to see.

The perks of motherhood

In 'The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter,' Katherine Ellison sets out to prove that moms really may know best. Read an excerpt

Juggling carpools, soccer games and homework can drive you crazy. But what if being a mother actually makes you smarter? That’s exactly what new research into this little explored topic has shown, says Katherine Ellison, the author of the new book 'The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter.' She was invited on “Today” to discuss her book, just in time for Mother’s Day. Read an excerpt.

A few weeks after my first son was born, I had a troubling dream. It was September 1995, and I was on leave from my job as a foreign correspondent in Rio de Janeiro. In my nightmare, space aliens had landed in Brazil's capital, Brasilia, but I stayed home, unable to decide whether the story was worth pursuing. The dream was the perfect showcase for my fear that I'd traded in my brain for my new baby.

It was just that fear that had kept me, and so many of my peers, from having babies at all, right up until we'd almost lost the chance to choose. The problem was that I'd come to depend upon my brain for so many good things, including my livelihood, my self-esteem, and my freedom to marry for love. And I knew that becoming a mother made me subject to a modern affliction called Mommy Brain — which, like a 'senior moment' is a cheery synonym for abrupt mental decline. The phrase summons the image of a ditsy pregnant woman who weeps at Kleenex commercials, or of a frazzled mom with nothing in her head but carpool schedules and grocery lists. ('If you've left the crayons to melt in the car / And forgotten just where the car keys are / There's a perfectly good way to explain: / You see, you've come down with 'Mommy Brain,' reads a poem by one self-alleged victim.)

Along with varicose veins and thickened waistlines, diminished cerebral capacity would appear to be a risk inherent in women's reproductive fate. That's certainly how many nonparents perceive pregnant women and new mothers. When researchers showed audiences videotapes of a woman in various workplace situations — the same woman, the same work, but in some scenes wearing a prosthesis so that she'd appear pregnant — the 'pregnant' woman was rated less competent and less qualified for promotion. We mothers also perpetuate this bias. 'Mommy Brain!' is our frequent alibi when we say something dumb. 'Part of your brain exits with the placenta!' one friend advised me early on.

The pessimistic chorus wasn't always this loud. The phrase 'Mommy Brain,' which is of relatively recent vintage, followed the historic flood of women into the workplace beginning in the 1960s. This change brought new scrutiny from others — and a new self-consciousness for mothers. Today nearly three-fourths of mothers with children aged one or older are at work outside the home, frequently in jobs requiring mental sharpness, making many of us more vigilant than ever before about fluctuations in our mental acuity. And not only do our jobs require more brain power; rearing children today amidst information overload and furious debates over nearly every aspect of parenting takes more smarts than ever.


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