If another person asks me what it’s like to raise a child in NYC, I think I just might scream. Ha! The question is born out of, genuine and innocent curiosity. I understand. It’s a loaded question that calls into question your parenting almost. It’s a bit accusatory, from people who don’t know anything about New York City. But mostly it is rooted in the mystery of New York City that seems unfriendly to children.
I'm partially moved by the question, because I don’t know. I just don’t know what it’s “like.” It’s a bit indescribable I guess. The short answer is, raising a child in New York City is as complex, yet as simple, as I am sure it is in other parts of the country. It depends on how much money you have, what you have access to, and what you value.
For me, because of where I am in my life, it is awesome. I love New York and so I wouldn’t want to, at this stage in my life, raise my child anywhere else in the world. I intentionally moved to New York City to raise my child. I moved specifically from a big house, with lots of green grass, far off in the suburbs, because it just didn’t fit my lifestyle needs at the time.
The change was so much fun. Raising a child in New York has been so much fun. It’s nothing like Time Square. It’s nothing like New Jack City. It’s a little like the Cosby Show.
At first, I lived in Brooklyn. Park Slope to be exact. It is gentrification on steroids. It is completely void, with the exception of a handful of small bodegas, any semblance that this was once a predominately Latino community. It is one of the safest neighborhoods in America. It is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in New York City. It is where hipsters go to have children. It is your kale-chip eating, green juice drinking, Obama tote bag carrying, latte liberal community. The streets are lined with grass-fed burger shops, boutiques, stationary stores, and yoga studios. The brownstones cost millions. The cops are always nice and helpful. Birkenstocks are roaming free and gray hair abound the heads of the parents of toddlers. The parks are always well preserved. The playgrounds are always safe and full of children. You’re never more than a block away from an organic coffee shop, a bakery, or a sushi spot. The bagels are always hand rolled and the postman always says hello. Dogs roam without leashes and mothers roam the streets with yoga mats. You’re never a block away from running into a Burberry trench coat and every Saturday you can expect a brunch crew to overtake you on the sidewalk. It is the Mayberry of Brooklyn.
Raising a child in Park Slope, Brooklyn I imagine is not typical of any other experience in the world. My daughter attends a school, which quite literally grounds the community. And while I disagree fervently with some of the political stances of the school parents, it is undeniably one of the best elementary schools in the City. We walk two blocks to school everyday, giving us a few minutes to hold hands and bond over what happened the day before. We walk to the local grocery store a few blocks away, using a cart to push our larger items. We drop off our laundry in the evenings and pick it up the next day, folded. We go for ice cream a block away. We have sushi, or Thai, or Indian, or Italian, or whatever we want, because it’s on or near our block. We go to the farmer’s market on Sundays at the middle school. And on Saturdays, when not going to ballet classes, we walk across the Brooklyn bridge, or drive to the Hamptons, or watch a play on Broadway, or watch the sun melt the snow from our dimly light backroom. We get our grocery delivered to us. We sit on rooftops and eat BBQ. We stare at gelato. We catch the bus and the train at Atlantic-Barclays Terminal where the Brooklyn Nets play.
And then there is the challenge of raising a child in the City. The most notable thing is obviously the cost. Everything that exists with superlatives cost a lot. There is creating a lifestyle that has no limitations which can cause shock when the child is no longer in that environment. For example, when my daughter goes to Michigan she’s always confused as to why there is only one sushi place in Genesee County that you have to drive to (driving, for New Yorkers, raises the stakes) when she has two sushi places on her block. Then there’s the comfort and the normalcy of being surrounded by lots of people. Going to another non-major city and your child thinks the city is deserted because there aren’t people on top of people. Then there’s the stepping in dog poop on the way to school. Then there are the misadventures of living through snow. Then there’s raising a child who is desensitized to mice. Then there’s the obvious challenge with living in small spaces with lots of people. Then there's being inundated with things to do every weekend so much so that it's overwhelming. Then, there's being so used to noise all the time, that your child is afraid of squirrels or crickets. Then there's the culture of walking everywhere all the time, which creates active children but makes for awkward conversations when you head to the midwest and your child just wants to walk around unwalkable cities. These things scare the average American visiting New York but feel very normal to New Yorkers.
But even those aren’t things that would ever make me leave.
It is absolutely nothing like raising a child in Michigan. It is absolutely nothing like raising a child in the suburbs of Washington, DC. It is also not necessarily better, having raised my own child in both of those places prior, but it definitely isn’t worse. Practically speaking, raising her in New York City, for us, is right. We often remind her that what has become normal for her, was nonexistent for us growing up both geographically and economically. I think that is what we were seeking when we chose New York City, and specifically Park Slope, Brooklyn to be where she would spend her elementary years.
What I want for my child is a childhood rich with experiences and reduced on things. I want for her, an economically and racially diverse childhood where seeing two daddies is not abnormal but inclusive. I want her to live outside and not spend her evenings watching television or stuck on an ipad. I want her at the park or walking down the street. I don’t want my daughter to imagine Alvin Ailey dancers or wait for them to go on tour, I want her to be at their studios. I want her to have instant access to the very best food, stores, and activities one can only find in a place like New York City.
It was more important to me to raise my child in a place like that than a place full of familiar faces. And so it can be isolating, raising a child in New York City as a transplant with little family. But so far, it has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.