It doesn’t happen often, more like a bi-annual public freak-out. Living in the most populous of the five boroughs poses day to day stresses that I’ve learned to successfully adapt to, but caring for and protecting my child amongst the chaos has elevated my anxiety to a whole new level. I weave the stroller through mobs of human beings on a busy sidewalk, maneuver myself and mini sidekick amongst passengers packed like sardines on the train (brief cases hitting my kid in the head), wait in ridiculously long lines for everything, and brave the elements on foot pushing a stroller year round for everything that we need. I have embraced the aforementioned as urban life; the rich experience of living in a big city. I tell myself it makes me tolerant in other environments and ultimately will enrich my son’s development in the same way. Seems plausible. Unfortunately, I reach a breaking point and it isn’t pretty. Yesterday was that day! Living in Manhattan and Brooklyn quickly educated me to the unwritten city rule that the walk sign doesn’t necessarily mean a pedestrian may safely walk across the street. No, a walk sign here means that cars will drive right into pedestrians. Remain on the defense and also think fast. I constantly have to weigh the risks crossing the street, do I keep walking and risk being hit or stop and allow the aggressor in vehicle to drive through my walk signal? I need more than my two hands to count how many times I have “almost” been hit by a vehicle charging it’s way into a crosswalk with a walk sign (once a taxi bumping my leg when I was 8 months pregnant). I grow tired of this crap. Not only is it dangerous, but pedestrians have the right to walk safely across the street when signaled to do so. PERIOD! This very thing happened yesterday as I was pushing Elijah along Court Street towards the gym. The cross signal changed in our favor, we made our way past the curb, and a station wagon came barreling towards us. Completely losing my shit, I kicked the car shielding my son in stroller with my body, waved my fist wildly, and screamed “It says walk asshole!”. The elderly lady next to me whose life I also saved, looked at me in pure disgust and everyone else crossing seemed shocked, and even appalled at my raving lunacy. It took me a couple of seconds to come back to my right, clear mind. And I do feel ashamed. Elijah doesn’t see this type of aggression at home from me nor his father. Yes, he hears profanities, and honestly, I have been conscious to improve my foul mouth since he was swimming blissfully in my womb. My point is, we have a peaceful home void of any fighting or even yelling. Is my son affected by my semi-annual Mommy Rage? Most likely, yes. These are rare bouts of insanity, and a byproduct of living in a fast paced, densely populated, and sometimes hostile environment. I often wonder if I lived in cookie cutter suburbia, driving my SVU in and out of my garage, never bothered by other humans, what kind ”Zen Mother” I could be. But the fantasy ends abruptly by the thought of killing myself in the boring burbs, so I hope to never know.
I really hate to keep bashing on Manhattan through comparisons of my experiences living in both boroughs, but ultimately Brooklyn is superior. And when it comes to restaurants, I prefer dining in Brooklyn. The spaces are more interesting, the new chefs put out their best, and the service is more personal (as if they actually care for you to return again). We love to eat out and Elijah is as excited about culinary adventures as we are. We prefer having our little fireball with us even when other people invite us out to dine with them. Colleagues of my partner are often taken aback (sometimes mortified) when we stroll through the front door to meet them with a half of a person in tow. The look is similar to those horrified faces of passengers on the airplane when you walk past them with a baby, some who even vocalize and gasp “Oh God”! I always assure them that he is a professional. Elijah is a “koodie”, a kid foodie. The term was birthed in a Chicago Magazine article writing about the spawn of mature foodies, which were snobby kid foodies called “koodies”. I love it! Although we are not food snobs but simply enjoy interesting, delicious food in inviting spaces, we are referred to as foodies by some of our west coast friends and family. I am also known to be that “nutritional nut” Mommy, a label I am also extremely proud of. I believe that what I put into my son’s small, growing body will affect his development now and also serve as a platform for the way he eats food for the rest of his life. It is very important to me, almost a religion. When I was pregnant I read books about how I would feed my baby after breastfeeding. There was one book that struck a cord, “Hungry Monkey“. It made sense to help develop my child’s palette, so from a very young age, I was bringing my small baby food mill to restaurants, and Elijah was eating miso cod with eggplant freshly pureed in the form of baby food. But dining in Manhattan was a total drag. We would get the proverbial eye roll when pushing our stroller into a chic restaurant downtown. Sometimes, actually many times in the West Village, the hostess would rudely scoff and say “I am sorry but we do not have highchairs”. Not feeling welcome in restaurants pretty much kills my dining experience altogether and I was thoroughly unimpressed and uninterested with most of the Upper Westside dining options. I wanted to be down with the cool kids exploring the latest hot new restaurants, but those establishments are not child friendly. So when we moved to Brooklyn, I was pleasantly surprised that little people were not discriminated against in fine dining restaurants. Hipster spots included. The former Dreslin Restaurant in Williamsburg was on the top of every New York dining list (difficult to get into any night of the week), and when we sat down our waiter brought Elijah crayons and paper. Just the other evening our family of three met our realtor and her boyfriend at James in Prospect Heights. The space was small, cool and intimate. In lower Manhattan this chic space would not have been kid friendly, so walking in I assumed no highchairs and a chilly welcome. The greeting was opposite. The service was outstanding, some of the best I have experienced since moving to New York. Elijah enjoyed a Kobe beef burger, some of our scallops and fava bean crostini with mint. About two hours later and face covered with peanut butter gelato, he flamed out and we left. It was a spectacular, memorable dinner, one we would not have felt comfortable enjoying in Manhattan. I am thrilled that experiences like these will be part of my son’s childhood, all because Brooklyn’s dining scene is koodie Friendly.
I don’t own a car and enjoy not having to drive in the city. In New York, the subway is efficient and easy and we use it daily. Although I could complain about etiquette, filthy conditions, the odor in the elevators, I won’t. Actually, I have gotten use to passengers picking their noses, then grabbing the poles with the same booger laden fingers, inhaling McDonalds and urine all in the same breath, and also grown men who aloofly refuse to step aside for our stroller to exit the car (and on a busy commute, I have missed my stop because the doors close). All of this is grubby, nasty animalistic behavior has become part of taking the subway; however, I will never become comfortable with my growing anxiety about my child’s and my physical safety in the subway and riding on the train. The guy who rides the C train on the UWS and rattles his can yelling “spare an apple spare an orange” appears absolutely harmless and yet he stumbled and fell into my baby carriage when Elijah was only a few months old. Okay, I was mostly horrified that whatever bodily fluids secreting from this man were now on my small infant whose immune system was compromised at this point, but also, he could have injured my baby. I was and always am mentally and physically on guard on the subway. I won’t take the train if I am tired as I have to play defense for my life and for my child’s life. In that instance over 2 years ago, I pushed the man and pulled the stroller back. Close call, phew…. So this is my life on the subway system. Aside from people begging for money, whom once and a while I feel compelled to donate to, mentally ill human beings roam the bowels of the subways. When walking to the platform a week ago, I had a crazed lunatic with bright bulging red eyes and sweat dripping from his brow waving his hands wildly at me and screaming “Fuck you bitch, you ain’t nothing, look away stupid whore bitch” and spitting while he screamed vulgarities at me, all while pushing my 2 year old to the platform. Absolutely horrifying! As I am making my way to the train platform where trains travel at fastest 55 mph, I am contemplating “do I head back in his direction away from the platform or continue on”? We could be pushed. So I started a slow jog towards a large group of young men who may be able to physically fend the man off if he continued after us. A woman who had been next to me encouraged me to “not look back honey, don’t make eye contact and continue quickly”. We were fine. The man went somewhere else with his mad rant and I could hear the curses still echoing through the subway. This sort of situation isn’t the norm, but it happens and I have experienced more than my fair share of encounters with mentally unstable human beings on the subway. My point is, I never feel safe on the subway. I feel trapped and I am. I am trapped beneath the earth with masses of human beings and no way to escape if one of them is in a psychotic rage. I can only hope and pray upon the kindness of other healthy human beings, and for that thought alone, I have extreme anxiety.
We have only lived on the edge of Park Slope for a couple of months now. I love our uber cool neighbors and eclectic community. Coming from the pristinely “white” and clean Brooklyn Heights, I was ready for a more colorful and vibrant setting not to mention friendlier, more interesting neighbors. This street has far exceeded my hopes or expectations for culture and warmth. Within the first weeks of our arrival the tenants in our building (now our friends) invited us over, we were asked to pick vegetables in the community garden by a fellow mommy neighbor, and have already established relationships on a first name basis with local shop owners. Settling in could not have been easier, except that our physical street smells horrid. A whiff of urine and feces is present at all times and almost overwhelming on a humid day, which has been almost every day for a month now. I only breathe out of my mouth walking down our street. Does one get accustom to in-haling these atrocious scents? One day will I step outside my door and not even notice? I can only hope so. But, my son could care less and appears happier with the new street than he ever was in our perfectly landscaped, immaculately clean historic alley in Brooklyn Heights. Elijah is a social butterfly and people talk to us every time we stroll down the street. Whether it is the sweet old lady in her nightgown sweeping the area around her stoop (and really making no significant difference in the litter scattered on the sidewalk), the younger dad from down the street walking his dog, or the gregarious owner of the beer hall only a few doors down, everyone has a smile and a warm greeting for us. It is the kind of culture I have craved since moving to Manhattan and left only feeling painfully hollow for years of no sense of a community. I finally feel centered, grounded, and a part of something that I relate to. Even at the young age of two, I believe my son is also thriving in his new community. So I have to ask myself, does the temporary shock to my sense of smell every day really matter? No, not at all. I never appreciated how clean and perfect Brooklyn Heights smelled, I only felt lonely and isolated among a community that felt private, cold and elitist.
Embracing the stank is trivial and won’t affect me, however feeling a strong connection to a place and the people will become part of my identity.