We’ll Take Manhattan  
  Yes, the city is expensive and ornery. But would we trade any part of Broadway for Bronxville, or Riverside Drive for Roslyn? No, thanks.  

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..

From the Fall 2003 edition of the New York Family Guide