Motherhood In Manhattan

by Jen on November 18, 2012

They say if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere.  I’ve never tried to live in Baghdad or Pakistan, but I would say that when it comes to living domestically, that statement is probably true.

As a New Yorker, things are hard.  And awesome.  And grueling.  And beautiful.  And ugly.  And convenient.

And a total pain in the ass.

To start, I’m not even supposed to refer to myself as a “New Yorker”.  I’m not yet worthy.  It’s a title New Yorkers believe you earn.  It is said that you are not a “real” New Yorker until you’ve survived the concrete jungle for ten years or better, and I’ve yet to complete my first year.  (Although my first 11 months have been incredible, and make me feel like I could sign up for a lifetime of urban dwelling.)

Commuting is a beast.  In many ways, the subway is my greatest friend.  It’s relatively reliable.  It’s quick, easy, and cultured.  It is a shelter from crummy weather.  It’s an escape from sitting in traffic.  And it’s a sensory delight.  But there are days… boy, there are days… There are days when the trains are backed up or delayed.  There are days when you stand on the platform while three trains go by and no matter how hard you suck in, you just can’t fit on.  There are days when there is a police investigation taking place at a station three stops ahead of you, causing you to sit on the tracks for an eternity.  There are days when it rains and all the commuters are wet and sweaty and create an underground steam vessel that’ll make you insane.  There are days when you feel trapped in a hell of body odor, and bad attitudes, and motion sickness.  There. Are. Days.

And the bus?  Can be great.  Sure, it’s not as reliable as the subway, but it has its advantages.  Some days you might be lucky enough to find an empty seat, where you can sit in peace and answer e-mails on your phone and text your friends and admire the city from a window.  Yes, you might sit in traffic for a bit, but does that matter when you’ve got headphones blasting your favorite songs and a cell phone equipped with unlimited games of Boggle???  Nosireeebobsky.  Unless….

Unless you can’t get a seat and you are nearly cheek to cheek with a stranger who left all her manners at the bus stop.  Unless you have several bags to balance on your arm while trying not to topple over every time the bus driver slams on his brakes to avoid clipping a death-defying bicyclist.   Unless the bus is filled with passengers with suitcases and baby strollers and golf bags and rolling grocery carts that take up twenty-seven times more room than one person “should”.  On those days, I want to cry.

So when the city’s metro system gets me down, I say “screw it” and opt for the rich man’s means of transportation.  Heyloooooo taxi!  Does it make sense to pay $13 to get to work when I already pay $104 a month to have unlimited access to the bus and subway systems?  Nope.  (Especially not to my George who has concrete in his wallet.)  But whatevs.  When a girl is at the edge of her sanity, she’s got to do what she’s got to do.  What’s better than doorstep delivery anyway?!?!?  I step outside of my building.  I raise my hand, and sometimes, as if summoned by the heavens, a shiny yellow savior slows to a stop, invites me in, and delivers me to my desired destination within minutes.

But that is only sometimes.

Other times, I stand on a curb for what seems like an hour, hailing and hailing and hailing, and never getting one single bite.  With as many cabs as there are in New York City, I always assumed one would show up the instant my arm went higher than my shoulder.  WRONG.  And if it’s raining?  You better just head for the subway.  Trust me, the cabs are already occupied.  Annnnnnd then…. If you are lucky enough to get one, you will most likely get the driver with a foul odor and a death wish.

My point?  The perks of living in New York City come with challenges.  The beauty and culture and options of the city FAR outweigh the negatives in my virgin New York opinion, yet there are days I wanna curl up and hide.

All this happens without being pregnant or having children.

So, as you can imagine, the thought of tackling the subway with an eight month pregnant belly in tow intimidates the snot out of me.  And that is mild compared to what it will be like to navigate a child and a diaper bag and a stroller down (sometimes) three flights of stairs to the trains.  I’m not kidding, when I watched our friend Penny heave her son and briefcase and diaper bag and stroller down just ONE flight of impossibly crowded stairs, I thought she might actually be Hercules!  There she was, this tiny woman who’d perfected the art of balancing nearly 50 pounds of awkward “stuff” on her own while not a single soul offered to help.  In fact, when George and I offered, she turned us down as her method was fluid like dance choreography.

Y’all?  I’m clumsy and kind of exhausted with one bag and a latte!

And then, if I take the bus, I’ll be that person taking up twenty-seven times more space than I “should” by lugging my stroller aboard.

And then, if I cab it, I have to hail a cab, snatch my baby from the stroller, close the stroller with whatever free hand, finger, or elbow I can muster, toss it in the trunk, and then worry about my child being carseatless (or carseat baseless) while I cross my fingers my cabbie isn’t one of those thrill seeking types.

I found out I was pregnant the first time only two months after moving to the city.  I was terrified.  Thrilled, but terrified.  I remember telling everyone I knew that I only knew how to parent with a three bedroom house and an SUV (and even then, I didn’t “know” how to parent).  I had no idea how to parent in New York City, where babies live in kitchens or nooks or closets and take public transportation to their well-baby check-ups.

We considered leaving.  We considered throwing in the towel and moving back to the safety of suburbia, but decided that we could do it.  We agreed it would be a challenge, but in the end, it would be worth it, and awesome, and maybe slightly insane.

And then after we miscarried, I gained some confidence in my ability to navigate the city and am far better prepared this time around.

I met a woman on the bus the other day.  (It was one of those rare, pleasant bus experiences.)  She was the wife of a Pulmonologist at Mount Sinai, and we discussed the magic of the city for 30 bumpy blocks.  She’s a lifer.  A REAL New Yorker.  Been here for an eternity.  She raised four children in the city (who are now raising their children in the city), and when I told her I was expecting in March, her eyes went dreamy and she put her hand on my arm.

“There is no better place in the world to raise your children than New York City.”

I could tell she meant it.

“Really?  But isn’t it harder than it has to be?” I asked.

She smiled, “You won’t even notice it.  You’ll be so in love with watching your baby take in the sights that it won’t even feel like extra work.”

She told me that her daughter’s nap time was spent at Bryant Park under a tree nearly every day of her first year of life.

“I never read more books than I did that year.” She reminisced.

She told me about the cultural privileges that only a child of the city could enjoy.  She told me her kids were never sick because they were exposed to the “city grit” early and their immune systems were strong as steel.

I was happy to have met her.  But regardless, I imagined her life to be a bit different from mine.  Her husband, a Pulmonologist, probably brought in the big bucks meaning her children had “real” bedrooms versus cribs in the closests.  She probably had a nanny (or two?) and probably came from old New York money and never actually had to lug strollers on to a bus.  She probably lived in a fancy elevator building with a door man who helped her with her packages and shopping bags, leaving her hands free to cradle her babies and unlock doors to her spacious penthouse apartment with a view of the majestic buildings I strain to see from the sidewalk.

Stereotype much???

Okay, so I doubt this woman lived the precise Charlotte York image I painted in my head, but still, her version of parenting in the city was a romanticized history that took place over thirty years ago.  I’m sure she had her moments of wanting to pack it in and move to the ‘burbs.
George and I don’t plan to live here forever.  For now, the thought of not having a back yard for my four year old to escape to (or burn off the energy that grates on my nerves at the end of one of those loooooong days)  makes me itch.  Maybe we will be here for a couple more years, or maybe we’ll never leave, but either way, I’m aware things are going to be different from what I’d ever pictured.

So, we decided to find a happy medium.  After a million conversations and creations of “pro & con” lists, we are saying goodbye to Manhattan and moving to Queens.  Forest Hills, specifically.  It’s a 20 minute express train commute to the heart of the city and still maintains many of the “city” qualities we’ve come to rely upon.  There is a Starbucks within a stone’s throw of… everywhere.  There is a subway stop a block from our apartment.  There is culture and buzz and action and noise and grit.  And the best part?  There is a TWO bedroom apartment just waiting to be our little boy’s first home (aside from my belly, of course).

We are set to move in completely next week, and even though I will miss a few of the massive headaches I’ve grown to love, having some extra space that we can *hopefully* afford feels pretty liberating.  I wouldn’t say our apartment is “affordable” by normal world standards, but it’s doable by NYC standards, and we hope I won’t need to return to work immediately after having the baby.  Fingers crossed.

Today we began the first phase of moving.  I hate that part.  I like starting over fresh and new, but moving?  Suuuuuuuuuuuuucks.  Hard core.  I am beyond grateful for our awesome cousin and uncles who helped make it as painless as possible.  I didn’t have to lift a thing.  I shall be pregnant the next time we move if it means I get off this easy.

And the best part about moving?  Now I get to order baby furniture!!!

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrea November 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Woot woot! Congrats on the new digs. As a lifer, who has since left, I'm sorry you're not a New Yawker yet. It truly does take a long time. I won't say it's ten years, but it's definitely more than one. Look at your pictures, you're still taking them with a newcomer's eye. And I love it, for sure, but you see what I mean? ;>

And yay for the 2BR. Awesome. When I first moved to Queens I had a HUGE 1BR. With a kitchen that only one person could fit in. But I lived alone so that was OK. I'm excited for you and I think you'll love it. And if you stay they have pretty decent elementary schools, I've heard. Congrats again. ANd yes for pregnant moving! We did that here and it rocked. But be careful with the unpacking. It led me to be instructed BY my doctor to stop unpacking stuff and sit on my bottom. And so I did. Or I tried …

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2 Lynne November 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Order the furniture….. Yeah!!!!!

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3 Alison November 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Yay on a new, bigger place! Moving does suck. So does unpacking. But doing the baby's room? Will be so awesome.

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4 Heidi Frazer November 18, 2012 at 7:46 pm

You sure have that worked out! I'm happy for you–a new beginning! Sounds awesome.

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5 euregirlsandboys November 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Sounds like a great middle ground – good luck with the move! We've just decided we could never do it and will stay in this house FOREVER :)

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6 Kimberly November 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm

i want to rub your belly…in a non creepy way of course.
I have never been to New York and I don't know if I could make it there without lots of booze and ativan. Those crowds scare me. I'm certain that I would curl into the fetal position in Times Square.
I'm glad that you got the place!!! Yay!!!

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7 Shalinn November 21, 2012 at 9:28 am

Jen! Just stumbled on your blog. Congratulations on your pregnancy – I pray you get to hold and love on your baby boy soon! (or to be specific, whenever he's "supposed" to arrive!) As a person that obviously grew up in same environment you did but is now living in a large city, I can totally understand your qualms about being a mother in the city. My husband and I are getting ready to move away from Bangkok here in a few weeks (back to the U.S.), but as much as we love city life, I totally question whether or not that's "best" for whenever we decide to have kids. I'll be interested to hear how you like it. Happy moving!

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8 Terri November 21, 2012 at 11:34 pm

Not sure I'm ready to hear my former students making such grown up decisions! Sometimes it seems as though you should still be about 21!! I'm so happy for you two – three – and excited by your compromise. Sounds as though you'll have the best of all worlds. Enjoy the decorating; bet you're ready to jump in with both feet. :-)

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9 Rose November 22, 2012 at 2:09 am

Jen and George, how exciting this next chapter of your lives is going to be, and still in NYC!! Will we get to go on another trip to IKEA with you for the baby furniture??! That was something, the last trip there! :) )
So happy for you that everything is at last going along beautifully. Am watching your posts with great excitement.
PS: I think that photo of you and George is v.e.r.y. New Yorkee!

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10 Runnermom-jen November 25, 2012 at 10:21 pm

I hope your move went well!! I love seeing your pics on Instagram…helps keep me in the loop when I fall soooooo very far behind in blogging.
xo

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