I lived in New York City for 9 years, from 2002 to 2011. I’d wanted to live there for years before that, and it was a realization of a dream for me to pack up and move there when I was 23. So leaving was a bit tough, and going back is always a bit fraught. But a few things about this weekend reminded me that while I love New York, there are also reasons we left.
We did an overnight trip to the city this weekend, and packed a lot in. We drove from our home in Pennsylvania to the Bronx Zoo in less than 2 hours. The kids dressed up for Boo in the Zoo, and we collected candy in addition to seeing gorillas, tigers, elephants and the new Dinosaur safari exhibit. We got a drink with my brother and his girlfriend, then went to a birthday dinner for a good friend from college in the lovely downstairs tasting room of Philip Marie in the West Village. Sunday morning we ate in a diner, and visited the Central Park Zoo with one of my husband’s friends from high school.
The weather was beautiful, and even some unexpected things cooperated: we scored street parking one block from our hotel with minimal hunting. The city was its bustling and gorgeous self.
But hauling three children around New York is just incredibly stressful. So much of the city is not set up for families with lots of children. I like to walk, but walking with three kids means constantly carrying one who’s tired, or trying to get three to walk at the same speed, or keeping one from dashing across the street, or even crossing with the light, but being kind of invisible to people making right hand turns. (Yes, people use strollers, and we have too, but double strollers are a beast on city sidewalks — and even the double-decker ones are a pain getting into cabs, stores, and restaurants). Restaurants are small, so kid noisiness and squirminess is then inflicted on other patrons. Revolving doors are perilous yet tempting for little people. Small hotel rooms are a squeeze for five (and moreso when our hotel gave away our 2 double-bed room, and then claimed they were upgrading us with a king sized bed — which meant we wound up with 2 kids sleeping in a small roll-away bed crammed into the corner).
When I’m in New York by myself, I miss it terribly. When I’m there with the kids, I feel a bit on edge. Back at my suburban house, we let the kids run around in the backyard as the sun went down and my husband and I watched the football game he’d taped — something we wouldn’t be able to do at the parks and playgrounds in the city. Which are great. We had an amazing playground right across the street from us at our old apartment building — but these public spaces do require you to be right there if you have young children.
What I love about where we live now is that I feel I have some of both worlds. We wound up answering this question a few times at the birthday dinner — how we came to live outside of Philadelphia. Did we have family there? No. Did we move there for work? Not really. My husband I can both live just about anywhere (albeit close to an international airport). Some people in that situation might want to live in somewhere physically stunning, but those places are often expensive, and we’re kind of cheap. Where we live, we have the house with a basement and a yard, and decent public schools. We can drive 15 minutes into Philadelphia for the usual big city stuff, or we can drive 2 hours into New York for all that has to offer. And I take the train in often enough on my own that I feel somewhat still a part of the place.
Of course, I can’t get sushi delivered at my house now, which is a bit of an adjustment — and not a city experience (my friend’s daughter, at age 2, plays calling for sushi on her little toy phone). But I also like being able to drive to a cheap grocery store and load lots of groceries into my car — which I can park in my garage. I can go pick up the sushi if need be, or drive 20 minutes into Philly for Morimoto where, since it’s Philly, I can actually get a reservation.
Are you a city person, a suburb person, or perhaps a rural person, or something else?
18 thoughts on “New York, New York”
I live in Brooklyn with two little ones, and oh my goodness I long for a backyard. They can be had here, but at a price my husband and I cannot afford. I think I’d like life in a small town, like New Paltz, say, but my husband wants to maintain a studio here in the city, so here we are. At least we’re close to the park and botanic garden.
@Rachael – having a yard is nice. Though when you look at the data, people make much less use of their personal outdoor space than they think they well. I’ve written before of an LA study that found children spending less than 6 minutes per day playing in their yards. And this is LA, where it’s never snowy! The big payoff for us is increased indoor space — my kids spend a ton of time in the basement. I suppose, for a price, we could have had a playroom in NYC. It would have been a big price though, and that’s where things get complicated.
And the school thing.
Hi Laura, I moved to Grand Bahama from New England about 25 years ago. My 3 sons were born and raised here – which was a conscious choice to stay after my marriage ended. I’m glad that I raised my sons here – relaxed pace, low crime, nature all around us, etc.
However, it would’ve been nice if we had been able to travel more. We love Boston! I would’ve loved to be able to expose them to more cultural experiences than what is available here.
I think you’ve got the best situation being close enough to the city to enjoy it often but far enough away to have a quiet and spacious home life.
While I mostly grew up and spent my 20s in a suburb/or sprawling southern big city, I consider city living a huge part of my identity now. We really love walking, even with the double stroller and the inevitable piggy back rides. We spend lots of time at playgrounds and I think we do a decent job taking advantage of things in the city, even after having kids. We are lucky that we were able to afford a relatively spacious house with a really good amount of outdoor space, so we CAN have the kids run around/play back there while we do our thing (what keeps that from happening more is the kids temperaments/ages more than lack of larger backyard). Of course, we don’t live in a great school district, so we’ll likely be joining you in suburbia in the next few years, so I’m taking full advantage of city life while I can!
I do regret never having lived in NYC as a young adult. Never would consider it now.
@Ana – yep, the school thing is probably the major draw of suburbia. NYC has a few good public schools, and I know a few people who’ve managed to figure out a spot in the system where they are happy. And I know others going the private school route, which seems mind-bogglingly expensive for 3 children. All is not perfect in our district (where you may be joining us?) but there are many good things and I like being able to send my kid to school 1 mile from my house. And you can’t beat that all enrollment involved was showing his birth certificate and immunization record.
Well, not exactly your district…just the local burbs in general…we both still work in the city and easy transport/commute is a priority
I love wealthy (and walkable) suburbs. Santa Monica. Mountain View. Winnetka (though I hate snow). Cambridge (though again with the snow and also bad schools now that I have kids), particularly Harvard Square.
I don’t live in one. But I can order sushi to be delivered to my home.
@N&M – yes, the wealthy walkable suburb is nice. Some very cute “downtowns” places. We have some of that — I can walk to the library, post office, grocery store, kid’s nursery school etc. I just don’t because I have a car…
Because you have a car and can find parking!
I am a Philadelphia suburb lifer; grew up in an inner suburb, educated in the city and now am raising my kids in a slightly further out suburb. Great place to live for all the reasons you mention. Don’t forget our proximity to mountains and beach, DC, and an abundance of beautiful state and national parks (and a stunning park run by the county in my case) and more education choices than you will find almost anywhere else.
I am learning to be a rural person. For 19 year s I lived in a large Canadian city. My husband and I had the dream to live in the country so last year we took the plunge and moved. I do miss things about the city (which is 45 minutes away). I miss the take out. I miss deciding I want to see a movie and being at the theatre in 10 minutes. However, I gain so much by being in the country, the clean air, the quiet, nature, that it is worthwhile. I do think as long as I have my dogs, my hubby and my computer, I could find myself at home anywhere!
Love this post!
I’m in South Africa but whenever we travel to a GINORMOUS city (London, NYC) I always marvel “how on earth do people with KIDS live here?” The subways would do my head in.
Then I ran into a colleague this afternoon and since I’d seen NYC pics on his Facebook profile, asked about travel with his 2 and 4 year old. He said “it was the WORST holiday EVER” LOL After the ease of living and holidaying in South Africa, he said it really was a nightmare containing the boys in an apartment for 3 weeks, walking everywhere, even with a stroller, and at that frantic pace. I think it’s going to be a few more years before they think of doing that again 🙂
We’re somewhere in between- we live in a city, but in smaller city (San Diego) and in a neighborhood where we have a backyard. We don’t have quite as much cool stuff within walking distance, but we’re able to get to neat city things (museums, funkier neighborhoods, etc) without too much effort. We haven’t taken the kids to NYC or even LA yet, but we did spend a week in Auckland on our recent New Zealand trip, and the kids did great. It is also a midsize city, though, so maybe that’s the key? But we stayed right downtown and mostly walked or took the bus wherever we wanted to go.
you took your kids on a flight to NZ—I think you could handle some time in a NYC hotel just fine…
I totally get what you are saying even though my kids are no longer tiny (21 and 18). We moved 2.5 years ago further north from Sydney’s CBD. It was a sea-change if you like and apart from being a 500 metres walk from a glorious beach we are now also 10-12 minutes walk to what is essentially a village. I absolutely love that if I’m feeling unwell I can get in the car 3 minutes before an appointment and park right outside the surgery. I can make an emergency dash to the supermarket to pick up essentials if I have run low for dinner – be there and back in 15 minutes. It helps that the supermarket is modest in size not one as big as a football field so things are close together. If we choose to go to the cinema – again we can walk or drive and park right outside. I literally smile every time at the convenience of all those things and I think it should be a huge factor when people think about where they are going to live. Meanwhile if the traffic is good we might be lucky to get into the centre of Sydney in 50 minutes. We are very lucky. I think your choice of location sounds blissful even though I also hanker for New York.
all the best, Helen
@Helen – I would love to be that close to the beach! Although we can get there now in about 80 minutes if the traffic isn’t bad. So it’s a very doable day trip. I did love the bustle of New York City, just walking the streets and seeing the people and the signs and the windows of the shops. I love the idea of walking downstairs to a coffee shop. But again, I have one about 0.5 miles from my house, so it’s not like I couldn’t make it work if I wanted to.
Suburban all the way. I grew up in the suburbs of NYC and always thought I’d move into the city when I was older. When I got married, we decided to settle in Philly. We used to live in South Philly before we had kids but moved to the suburbs when I was pregnant with my first. It’s fantastic having a yard. My oldest can run around while the little one takes naps inside. And our school district is great. We’re still close to Philly and anything we need is literally a five minute drive away. Can’t beat it.
I love the city, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
I love in Goose Creek, which is about 20-30 minutes from Charleston, SC (a big-ish city).
I do love Charleston, as I have been living here for ten years, It is a fun city. TO VISIT. That last sentence is key…
Charleston is marvelous in that it is close to beaches, has fabulous places to eat, has a lot of history, etc. However, parking is costly and its too easy to get tickets. Traffic is pretty bad. To add to that, gas, real estate, etc are just too expensive (to me, at least) to justify living in the downtown Charleston area.
So I live in Goose Creek, which is outside of Charleston County but still very close. The parking is much simpler. Property taxes are not extremely high, and there are some serious deals on real estate.
However, I do miss having non-chain restaurants close by (very few in my neighborhood, which means we have to drive if we want something unique). I’m not sure about the schools, although if you win a lottery, you have a chance for your kids to get into some very good ones. And sometimes the driving required to do fun things can be a pain…
Overall, I am happy with my suburban lifestyle, but I miss the big city immensely sometimes.