People talk a lot about the great benefits and conveniences of living in a big city. At least New Yorkers tout the glories of New York City all the time. I lived there for 40 years. When I was a young adult and young Mom, I came face to face with the decidedly inconvenient and often scary aspects of New York life.
As a young married, we spent most weekends (except in the winter) at our house in CT. This was very common. Most people we knew left the city almost every weekend. So we needed to have a car in the city. That caused serious problems. Garages were (and still are) very expensive. So for many years, we had to park our car on the street. This is not easy, to put it mildly.
There is a ritualistic parking dance that city car owners go through every week called “Alternate Side Of The Street Parking”. It’s complicated. But it boils down to this. If you are lucky enough to get a side street parking space near your apartment, to preserve it, you have to do the following: Move the car to the other side of the street at a very specific time on a specific day. Then you have to sit in the car for an hour until it becomes legal to park there again. You have to do this once or twice a week. And don’t get me started on what happens if you actually used your car during the week. That made things even more complicated.
I followed this time-honored tradition for years. All of them miserable. In rain, snow, sleet or hail, in sickness and in health. If I had a sick kid at home, they had to come with me. When I was nursing, I often had to take the baby and nurse in the car. In plain view of anyone passing by.
It was a nightmare. I had to plan my entire schedule around the parking rules in my neighborhood. And they could vary just a few blocks away from home where I often had to park. As soon as my husband started earning a little more money, I insisted that the first thing we did was get a garage. So I never had to deal with Alternate Side Of The Street Parking after I had a second child. Thank God.
However, the second child created her own logistical nightmare for me. Her Pre-K school was only about three miles from our apartment. But in NYC, that can be a pilgrimage. It was all the way across town and very inconvenient to get to. The school didn’t allow kids that young to take a school bus by themselves. So I had to take her to school and pick her up for an entire school year.
This involved walking six blocks with a four-year old, in all kinds of weather, to get the cross town bus. After we got off the cross town bus, we had to walk another block and take a downtown bus that took us to the school. The whole procedure took 45 minutes. Then I had to take the 45 minute trip home and repeat the process four hours later! I don’t know which one of us hated this torture more.
Eventually we threw in the towel and started taking taxis – when we could find them (you usually couldn’t in the rain or snow, when you needed them the most). This had it’s own problem – a whopping price tag of $30 a day or $150 a week in 1989 dollars. The choice was sanity and bankruptcy or solvency and having my daughter become a nursery school dropout.
Another negative aspect of NYC life in the 1980’s, was crime. My mother lived in the city for almost 80 years and never once encountered any sort of street crime. We were not so lucky. When we parked cars on the street, they were broken into regularly and the radios were stolen, along with anything else the burglars could find. This happened even in an upscale, Upper East Side residential neighborhood.
Signs people put in their car windows to discourage burglars
My husband and I were also mugged at gunpoint late on night, around the corner from our building. We gave the guy all our cash and he ran off. But he turned around and yelled out, “Sorry to do this to you, folks!” So at least we had a polite and apologetic mugger. Still scary.
The scariest incident happened to our au pair, Heike, when she was out with our two-year old and seven-year old children. Heike was a wonderful German girl who lived with us for two years. She was drop dead gorgeous. And big. Not heavy. In fact she had a beauty queen’s body. But she was 5’10’’ tall and not slight. She was also very tough. No one messed with Heike (except for her alcoholic boyfriend, but that’s another story.)
Heike with David and Sarah
One day, Heike came home with the children through the back or service door. She reached the door and a man jumped out at them and tried to grab my two-year old from Heike’s arms. Heike kicked him in the nuts and started to scream. The man ran off immediately. I was so shaken! I was also so grateful to Heike for so aggressively and bravely protecting my kids. That’s what you pay a babysitter to do.
In the late 1980’s. homeless people on the streets were a big problem. We kept seeing them when we walked around our neighborhood. My almost ten-year old son was beginning to ask questions and get disturbed by the sight of people sleeping in doorways or in cardboard boxes. I asked my husband how I should handle the situation with my son. He said to tell him to keep walking and ignore them.
That’s when I knew for sure that city life was not for me any more. Or for my family. There was no way I would live somewhere where I had to inure my children to human suffering. I would never tell my son to just walk away and not care about people living in such dire circumstances. A few years later we moved out of the city into the woods of CT. And I have never looked back. For me, big city life turned out to be less than the glamorous, convenient utopia that I had been brought up to believe it would be.