I am a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan long before the Upper West Side was fashionable and rich. These days, I live in Washington Heights with my husband (also a native New Yorker), and our 2 and a half year old daughter. I recently came across an article titled “Why I’ll Never Have Kids in New York City” written by Eudie Pak. (read it: here or here.) As a parent choosing to raise her own child in New York City I was initially interested in Pak’s ideas on the subject. Then I read the article.
Her first premise is how excruciating it must be to carry children in strollers up and down subway steps. What Pak doesn’t consider is the incredible freedom that public transportation gives you in New York City. Many people grow up in the suburbs, small towns, or the country. These people are shackled to their cars. Everything is far away. Every place is a long drive bookended (for parents) by stuffing your children in and out of car seats. I will gladly take the subway stairs over the hassle of driving a car everywhere. NYC transportation is also incredibly freeing for those under the legal driving limit. As a teenager I wasn’t dependent on parents or older siblings to drive me everywhere. I didn’t have to count the days until I was old enough to get my driving permit because I could already get everywhere on my own with a token or, (these days) a metrocard.
Pak is also offended by those hardworking mothers trying to wrangle their young children on a subway car. After 39 years of living in New York City I have yet to see the scene she describes as commonplace: “…the little tykes hijack the train, running from one end of the subway car to the other, while temporarily making pit stops to swing on the poles as they almost knock your teeth out. Like deja vu, embittered mom senses she's been in this situation before but her rage overtakes all rationality. Spitting out pieces of soft pretzel as her Winstons fall out of her purse, she screams bloody murder (e.g. "Shut the hell up and sit cho a$$ down before I break them legs!"), indicating she's lived a damn hard life. In response the kids often blink with immunity and proceed to cackle at her threats, while holding an open bottle of Mountain Dew as remnants of potato chips and candy fall out of their mouths.” All Pak needs to complete this unflattering image of the mother is to have her pick up her pack of Winstons, light up, and blow the carcinogens directly into her children’s faces. I have found it far more likely to be bothered by a group of raucous teenagers (without adult supervision) than to be angered by tired toddlers and their loving mothers, or fathers for that matter. I don’t think any parent – in New York City or anywhere else – would want to be characterized as “barfing out obscenities” at their children. Riding NYC public transportation is not that stressful for anyone.
Pak then goes on to describe the endlessly annoying upper class children who complain about organic food and yoga while being pushed around in double-wide strollers by foreign nannies. She chastises these rich families with bratty children and foreign nannies. “Just imagine all the emotional displacement going on between the rich parents, their ugly baby, and the nanny who's spending all her time with junior in order to send back moolah to her own young kids, who are thousands of miles away craving her love and affection.”
Whether or not her criticisms are justified her critiques only cover a very small subset of children and families in New York City. What about low income and middle income families? New York City is an expensive place to live but it isn’t entirely populated by the 1%. There a many of us who take our children to wonderful free events hosted by local libraries, or to the city parks. By hopping on a train we can take them to world class museums, cultural institutions, and zoos - every day if we want to. We meet other parents in the playground and form playgroups. In Washington Heights a local parent formed a Yahoo group that makes our large community suddenly smaller. Parents swap clothes, used toys, cribs, high chairs, and parenting advice. They post about local events and classes for kids. They discuss what local schools are the best to apply to and how to navigate the newly instituted UPK system. In short – we aren’t all absent parents who have emotionally abandoned out children – regardless of your economic class. We are all doing it how we think best and trying our hardest to raise healthy, happy, balanced children.
Pak’s final critique is over the often competitive process of finding the best school for your children in New York City. First, Pak erroneously links New York City public schools to the system of paying lots of money on test prep, tutoring, and practice interviews. Parents eager to spend money to get their children into the “best” schools are likely prepping their children for the ERB which many elite private schools use. Those same elite schools cost upwards of 30-40k a year which makes them hilariously out of reach for most New York families. It’s another dig at those parents in the 1% which may or may not be true but certainly is not representative of most New York families.
I went to New York City Public schools from Kindergarten through high-school with a brief need-based scholarship stint at a private school from 2nd-4th grade. I attended my local zoned school for K-1st grade then applied to and was accepted at a local magnet school for 5th through 8th grade. Yes, they considered my grades, and I was interviewed by a teacher. It wasn’t an automatic ‘in’ to the school of my choice but luckily there are thousands of other schools with different specialties to apply to. I went to LaGuardia High School for Art, and yes they considered my grades and my art portfolio. No one I knew could afford test prep for the Science and Math High Schools and yet magically – most of us still got accepted. Today there are a lot of schools in my district I would like to send my daughter to and most of them are lottery based. Like this system or not, my daughter has about even chances of getting in with everyone else. And if she doesn’t get in? There are literally thousands of other schools to choose from.
New York City is not a small town with one local elementary school and one local high school that everybody goes to. It is a city of millions with thousands if not hundreds of thousands of children that need to go to school. Sure, the NYC school system is a bit of a madhouse to navigate but I wouldn’t trade the experience of growing up here (for me or my child) for anything else. I grew up going to school with children of every conceivable race, religion, country of origin, and economic class. That is what makes urban communities, and New York in particular and amazing place to live AND to raise children.