Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Raising Kids in NYC Part Two -- By Laura Houston

Last week I talked about the things that make Manhattan a great place to raise children. This week I want to talk about the things I find difficult for both children and parents. These points are based solely on what I believe to be good for kids. My kids. Not everyone’s kids.

1. The filth. It’s everywhere. Ubiquitous amounts of dog pooh and pee all over the sidewalks that collects on your shoes and the wheels of your stroller, the garbage that piles up after a snow storm, cigarette butts and gum and food and overflowing trash cans at every intersection. And trying to keep your kids from touching it or licking it is next to impossible. The other day I saw a kid licking the windows of the subway while his mom obliviously ate a big container of noodles. It was all I could do not to spray that kid’s tongue with my hand sanitizer pen.

2. The expense. Preschool? $19,000? Really? For one kid? For three hours a day? That’s more than I paid for graduate school. For $38,000 a year my boys better come out of that preschool farting mathematic equations and burping sonnets. I swear.

3. The weather. Oh. God. It’s almost April and it’s still only 25 degrees outside. The winters here are brutal. The city creates wind tunnels, and we happen to live in one. Some days I have to hold on to the stroller so tightly my shoulders hurt. Coming home the boys cry because of the stinging bite of the wind. I would look forward to the summers, but last July and August it was so brutally hot that when I picked them up out of the stroller they were nothing but wet, limp rags, and they didn’t want to play. I have no idea what the Dutch were thinking when they settled on this island.

4. The materialism. Yes. I know. It’s hard to believe one of the wealthiest cities in America could fall into the trap of possessions. The toddlers here wear designer sunglasses, shoes, coats and hats. So do the model-thin mothers who fend off age with secret creams and secret doctors. Everywhere you turn in Manhattan you see wealth and privilege. Please don’t tell me to move to Brooklyn or the Bronx or Queens. The hunger for wealth is still there. Hell, it’s all the way out to Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut and Westchester County. You have to move a long way from the city to avoid it.

5. The noise. What? Yeah. The noise. No. No. Not the boys. The noise. I SAID THE NOISE. I take it you can’t you hear me above the fire trucks, the ambulances, the police sirens, the honking of frustrated drivers, the traffic, and the airplanes overhead. Or the subway roaring past. Or the train that goes under the building behind us. This city is deafening. I worry what it does to my boys’ ears. I know what it does to my sanity and my sleep.

6. The inability to escape. Getting out of the city is challenging if you don’t have a car. And we don’t want to pay $500 a month to store our car. Instead we have to load up the stroller, catch a cab to the bus station, take a bus to Jersey, and two hours later spill out into Aunt Donna’s yard to load up the minivan. Then we get to drive through traffic. If you have no car at all, you can go by rail and stay close to the station, but make sure you leave your weekend early or you get stuck with all of the other thousands of people coming back to the city on Sunday night.

7. Not being able to see the sky. Buildings, buildings everywhere and only a sliver of sky in sight. True. You can see the moon between buildings when you cross at an intersection. A storm may be rolling in, but you wouldn’t know until it started raining because of the skyscrapers. After living here for almost 18 months, I have yet to see a sunrise in New York. I used to see them every day from my kitchen window. To see a sunset, I have to pack up the boys and the stroller, take an elevator down, wrestle the stroller out the door, across the street, down the sidewalk, under the Henry Hudson Parkway, down the ramp and to the park on the river. True. It is quite lovely, but more often than not I miss the sunset because of all of the schlepping necessary to capture the moment.

8. The lack of nature. This is another one that doesn’t need explaining. Central Park is great if you don’t mind sharing your peace with 400,000 other people and their dogs and their music and their kids.

Perhaps you think I am complaining. I know. I am. It is a privilege to live here. It is an experience I believe every American should have. Come see New York. Try to survive here. Get a feel for the city. Learn its impressive history. It will enlighten you. It will change you. It will make you grateful for that damn grass you have to mow every summer.

So do me a favor, if summer ever comes, please do this for me: some evening when you get home from work, remove your shoes, step out into the cool softness of the grass, wiggle your toes, and say, “ah.” Let your children roll around on your lawn without fear of them being stuck with a needle, or rolling on a broken piece of glass. Watch the sun go down, the moon rise, and the stars come out. That’s a simple and true happiness. That’s what I want for my boys. And you can’t find it in New York City.


Blogger Cara Meyers said...

Ahh...the negatives of the City. You forgot (or haven't experienced - I hope it's the latter) being on a subway car, in July, with no air conditioning, so packed you are bent over a railing so that the 5 people behind you can hold on to the one strap above your head, and have the subway car come to a dead halt in the middle of who-knows-where. The subway car has to shut down due to track problems ahead, thus the lights too. And you are stuck in this position for almost 50 minutes. Can you say, "I love NY!" Not!! Thank goodness this experience only happened once to me. I take cabs in the summer months now.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Laura Houston said...

I have a love/hate thing with this city. Although I do love the subways. I love the mass transportation. And the educational opportunities here are rich. Amazing. I never thought I would get to live here. And I want to do it for a few years. Not sure where to go next. Some place new. I grew up in the Midwest. There are some nice things about it, but I have no desire to return. I once heard a comedian say the Midwest is where dreams go to die. It made me laugh. It's sort of true. It's easy to get stuck there. And then you have no idea what happened to your life.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Jackie Shannon Hollis said...

Ahh, the biggest one for me would be the sky, I miss it even here in Portland, the wide open expanses that I grew up with. I can't imagine what it must be like there.

Oregon misses you, Laura.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Robin Gorman Newman said...

I have always wanted to live in nyc, and opposite of you, Laura, I will not be raising my son there but might one day become an empty nester Manhatanite....though my son wants my husband and I to live in the basement of this house when he takes it over as an adult. LOL. That might actually work out well, since we'd get to escape NYC in the heat of the summer and enjoy the community pool here that I adore. Time will tell......

Until you decide to move one day, enjoy the energy and options the city offers, there is truly no place like it, filth, noise, crowds and all.

7:36 AM  
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These are among the reasons why it's difficult to live in New York. The harsh environment may not be child-friendly.

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