Gypsy's Musings

Why I’m Raising My Son in NYC

My son with his most recent "girlfriend."

My son with his most recent “girlfriend.”

So, against his express wishes, I am going to rebut the always funny Thrillist’s Dave Infante, who today came up with a lengthy diatribe against raising kids in New York City. Although Dave currently has no children, he makes some valid points that even some of my fellow parents have made regarding raising kids—especially boys, or even sports-minded girls—in this “sprawling cesspool of failure and falafel,” as he so eloquently puts it.

Rather than going point by point, I will simply state that living in NYC—especially as a transplant myself—leaves me hugely ambivalent. I cannot fathom being here in 10 years, although anything is possible. The noise, the filth, the lack of meaningful and lasting relationships… these are all conditions that will inevitably drive me from here as I age. Add in the fact that by the time I’m collecting Social Security, a studio in East New York will probably set me back $3,000/month, and the odds of me “retiring” (writers don’t retire) are slim indeed.

What keeps me here, then, you might ask? Well, it would probably shock Dave to hear it: my kids.

First, a bit of background:

When I moved to NYC seven years ago, my daughter was entering 8th grade (important if you know anything about the DOE’s draconian admissions system) and my son was only four years old. I received advice both good (move as soon as possible to get into the high school admissions pool; select an address in an excellent school district) and bad (you cannot get into a competitive high school without tutoring because everyone tutors here from birth onward; live in Astoria) about how to get by in NYC.

While I don’t want to speak for Dave, I suspect we both come from a serious position of privilege (white, middle class, able-bodied, cis, etc.). Even the notion that you can choose where to raise your kids is from a point of privilege. This is important to note, because chances are overwhelming that my son will continue to benefit from the inherent privilege he was born into (and—socioeconomics aside—he will undoubtedly continue to be both white and male with educated family surrounding him; my daughter already has benefited from privilege).

So, here are some of the reasons why my kids keep me in NYC:

  1. Diversity. While my daughter has learned what diversity is, my son is living a life full of diversity. My daughter attended an expensive private girls’ school for elementary; my son spent half his elementary years at a Title 1 school with 100 percent of the kids on subsidized lunch. Roughly 30 percent of the ever-gentrifying school was white. My daughter grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh where 98 percent of the town was white (and probably mostly Christian; there were no synagogues). My son has moved to progressively more black/latino neighborhoods, as I try to get out in front of the gentrification in an attempt to afford the rent (more on this below).
  2. Education. If you can work the system—whether that means by paying your way or because you are bright enough to pass those awful entrance exams—you can get a free public school education that is among the best in the nation. My son was just admitted into one of the more competitive middle schools (again, sans tutoring), so I cannot see moving in the next three years at least until we know how he fares in the high school admissions process.
  3. Money. By far the worst thing about living in NYC is the expense. It’s not unheard of for 75 percent of disposable income to go to housing. While I manage to cling to my middle class life, it’s only with the help of extended family that I do so. My daughter has learned more about personal finances in this city than she ever would have had we remained in our comfortable suburban life, where a two-week, $10,000 vacation each year was pretty typical. As for my son, well, he quickly transitioned from dreaming of being a hockey goalie to wanting to be the next Tim Howard; while the World Cup certainly was an influence, he also understood that there was zero chance of me buying him hockey equipment that he will outgrow midway through the season. New shin gards? Yup. I can afford that. In short, my kids are learning a lesson early on that I never did: Money doesn’t grow on trees, and it’s far easier to live within one’s means than to pay down debt accrued through ill-thought spending.
  4. Reputation. You know how the song goes: If you can make it there… A funny thing happened on my daughter’s way to college. Many of the girls from that elite private school (keep in mind that 13 years, including Kindergarten, would set a family back a quarter of a million dollars) didn’t get into their top schools. In fact, none of them was accepted into the Ivy Leagues. My daughter’s graduating classmates from her NYC public school were admitted to many Ivys (including Harvard, Yale, Princeton) plus elite schools such as Stanford. While I have no data to back me up, I am certain that all things being equal, colleges love kids from NYC. They know these kids will handle the transition with ease and can work independently as well as collectively. Room a practicing Muslim with an Orthodox Jew? No problem, if they’re both from NYC. And the same goes for jobs; if you can hold on to a job here, it’s much easier to get a job elsewhere, when/if the time comes to expand your horizons.
  5. Work. While you can ply your trade pretty much anywhere, my daughter wouldn’t be on television or the big screen if we hadn’t moved here when we did. She might have finally arrived a couple years ago, probably training at Julliard, hoping for her “big break” that even now might not come, despite a full six years of being a working actor. There’s a lot of work here in NYC; not all of it pays the bills (hello, beer writer here!), but you won’t have the problem of finding an outlet for your creativity if you so desire.
  6. Food. Not only is there an amazing network of greenmarkets in NYC, there are hundreds of (often affordable) ethnic restaurants to which you can expose your kids. You don’t need to go to Italy to get the best Italian food in the world (hint, it’s not on Mulberry Street; it’s on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx). Whatever cuisine you’re looking for, it’s here. And it’s delicious.
  7. Free shit. Okay, so, yes, going to a Broadway show will set me back a week’s pay, but there are free and low-cost productions offered daily, especially during the summer months. People may complain about the crowds at Macy’s 4th of July fireworks, but those fireworks are amazing! Even joining the hoards around the Rock Christmas tree (also referenced by Dave) can put the spirit into the most ardent Grinch around. There’s music and free boat rides and tons of cheap options for the masses to enjoy in NYC.
  8. Culture. Do I even have to mention this? If you have a student ID, you can get into any museum in the city for free. Yes, even the Museum of Natural History (although they will attempt to extort admission fees from you). There’s a Chinese Garden on Staten Island (free ferry, free walk to the place). There’s public art all over the city. Pop up concerts. And let’s not forget the buskers, some of whom are truly talented artists. Whatever you can afford, there are options here that most people in middle America only get to see… when they come to NYC on holiday.
  9. Appreciation for “god’s” handiwork. While I don’t get to travel all that much, when we do get out of Metropolis, it is invariably to somewhere with natural wonders. I don’t need the Pyramids of Giza or the Sistine Chapel; I’ve got the Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in my backyard. I’ve always been a nature lover, but I didn’t truly appreciate the non-man-made wonders of the world before moving to the concrete jungle.
  10. Carbon footprint. Every time someone tells me I should move out of the city, the first thing that deters me is the realization that I will have to buy a car. It’s funny how Dave talks about the horrors of commuting into the city and his desire for his kids to know what a gas station is. My kids know what a gas station is: It’s that place that will cost you a week’s grocery money just to get you filled up so that your vehicle can be vandalized and ticketed. Or seized by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. I walk, take public transit, and travel on Amtrak more often than any other mode when I do get out of town. My kids get it that climate change is a thing (just ask us about being “stranded” in Williamsburg during Hurricane Sandy). They’re conscious, which is not the same thing as being hardened.
  11. Maturity. Yeah, kids grow up too fast, but NYC kids are mature in the best way. Dave talks about strollers and screaming kids at fancy brunches. In truth, that’s only the tourists’ kids making your head throb (okay, maybe not in Park Slope!). Honestly, though, most NYC kids learn to behave from a very young age; by the time they’re ready for middle school, they can navigate the MTA solo (these are 11-year-olds, for heaven’s sake!!!). They aren’t afraid of crazy people (on every corner), but they aren’t jaded either. They’re very pragmatic at a very young age.

Which brings me to Dave’s over-arching theme. He talks about NYC as this place that hardens you. Yes, it does, but being a parent is all about teaching your kids to be the best people they can be. My son is sweet and empathetic and loving of all people. He is figuring out who he is day by day, because he’s exposed to everything. As a mom, sometimes it’s difficult to get out of his way (like the day he wanted to wear a dress to school, or when he asked me if I was going to date my poly best bud). I do feel like he’s “unprotected” in many ways. However, I never wanted to raise kids in a sheltered environment; it’s dishonest. I do try to make him more empathetic by setting a good example; some days I do that better than others.

Yes, NYC is brutally unfair, but so is life. Kids who grow up here see this, and they know that their choices have consequences. But that doesn’t mean they have to be negative about life in general. I think that NYC is a parent unto herself: The influence this city has had and will have on my kids is as profound as any mark I will leave on them. Just like the parent who has to resort to tough love, NYC will always be there to remind my children to be the very best they can be, to adapt to an ever-changing world, and to appreciate their privilege in a city where they are still at an advantage despite being a minority.

 

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