On a crystalline summer
morning in Vermont last year, when my wife and I were
driving our daughter to camp, we stopped at a flea market
in one of those idyllic New England towns you generally
find only on postcards. Then 13, Emily sat down to talk
to a high-school girl selling handmade jewelry while
we strolled around the picture-perfect village green,
entertaining the usual wistful fantasies about cashing
in our frenetic urban lives for pastoral bliss in some
peaceful hamlet like this.
After a while, Emily returned, shaking her head. “I
would kill myself if I had to grow up in a place like
this,” she said. “The girl I was talking
to moved here from Los Angeles a couple of years ago,
and she hates it so much she can’t wait to get
out of here. She says there’s absolutely nothing
to do.” And then, in one of those radiant moments
that make it all seem worthwhile, she flashed a dazzling
smile and said, “I’m so grateful you’ve
brought us up in the city. We have such a great life.”
When city-dwellers embark on child-rearing, their own
parents tend to raise their eyebrows and ask how soon
they’re moving to the suburbs. For some of us,
the answer is a resolute “never.” “But
why?” my mother-in-law asked plaintively, back
when we made our stand.
“Larchmont is so lovely—and it’s
going to cost you a fortune to stay in the city!”
Well, she was right about that. Given the hassles and
expenses of raising a family in New York, it sometimes
seems insane even to those of us who are deeply committed
to our urban lives. Why, indeed? Let me count the ways:
Our children started going to Broadway musicals before
they were 3. By the time they were in preschool, they
were attending symphony concerts at Lincoln Center and
studying piano with an internationally recognized pianist—who
happened to have been a student of the maestro who lived
next door to us.
Emily and her brother, Nick, have grown up not with
an abstract notion of excellence but with the experience
of it every day. When Emily decided to take a musical-theater
course in singing and dancing, her instructors were
working professionals, as is the trumpet teacher who
races up from the orchestra pit of his Wednesday matinee
every week to give Nick his lesson.
Equally important, our kids live in a rainbow world
of mixed marriages in seemingly every possible racial,
ethnic, national, economic, and religious combination.
In elementary school, when our daughter was assigned
to interview people from different cultures about myths
and superstitions in their native lands, she didn’t
have to stray far from our Upper West Side block to
debrief people from Guyana, West Africa, Pakistan, Jamaica,
India, Hungary, Japan, China, and Trinidad, all of whom
she knew on a first-name basis. One of our son’s
best pals is the Olympic-champion Ping-Pong player from
Nigeria who runs a table-tennis parlor in our neighborhood.
And what would be the point
of living in New York if such diversity didn’t
find its way to the dinner table? Emily and Nick have
grown up on dim sum in Chinatown, pasta in Little Italy,
steak at Carmine’s and the Strip House, barbecue
at Virgil’s, takeout from the Thai and Vietnamese
and Korean restaurants in our neighborhood, and Chinese
at Shun Lee. Then there’s falafel from Amir’s,
soul food from Jimmy’s Uptown in Harlem, South
American grilled meats at Pampa, quesadillas at Mamá
Mexico, moussaka at Symposium, and sushi at Ruby Foo’s.
When my son and I get monthly haircuts on the Upper
East Side, we start our morning nearby at Payard Patisserie,
where the hot chocolate and croissants are Nick’s
idea of a grand breakfast. For our children, one of
the biggest shocks traveling away from home is how other
Americans eat. “This stuff is so boring!”
Emily exclaimed in alarm when she first figured it out.
While our kids’ suburban
friends spend a lot of time being chauffeured around
by teeth-gritting parents, Emily and Nick got MetroCards
and a map of Manhattan and took off, free to shuttle
between Bloomingdale’s on the East Side and Sephora
on the West Side (that would be Emily) or Petland’s
collection of tropical fish and Radio Shack to catch
up on the latest digital gewgaws (that would be Nick).
This morning, when I asked Em about her plans for the
coming weekend, she said, “Everyone’s going
to the ‘Goddess’ exhibition at the Met.
I can’t wait to see it. We’ll probably go
out for sushi afterward.” Beats the heck out of
driving them to another Saturday at the mall.
Nick shoots hoops and Emily plays tennis in Riverside
Park, which we’ve come to think of as our front
yard (which, in fact, it is—and I don’t
have to mow it). The cherry blossoms in the spring rival
their more famous siblings in Washington, and the river
just beyond is forever mesmerizing. I could go on, but
you get the idea. Yes, it costs a lot to live here.
Yeah, there’s a lot of traffic. Often it’s
noisy—we’re clearly not the only ones to
have figured out that New York is the place to be. Are
we lucky to be here? Just ask Emily and Nick. They’ll
give you an earful..