So much can change in a year. Ben celebrated his eight-month birthday a few days ago—a sizeable milestone—but what really brought home how quickly time flies were the holidays. Last Christmas, Shon and I were eating tamales and hanging out poolside in Panajachel. This Christmas, we toasted the holiday with a seven fishes dinner (paella, salt-cod fritters, and prosciutto-wrapped scallops!), a real, live tree, and a real, live baby, too.
Ben was 2014’s big deal, though our return to New York was pretty huge, too. Now, instead of being the pasty-white, too-tall foreigners in a teeny-tiny Guatemalan town, we’re part of the stroller-pushing, Bjorn-touting Brooklyn crowd (which, it turns out, is pretty pasty, too).
I enjoyed our two-year adventure in Central America, but I’m thankful for the changes that got us where we are today. Ben is amazing. New York is amazing. And raising Ben in New York has been pretty amazing, too. Not that I didn’t think it would be, but it has surpassed even my greatest expectations. Sure, living shoulder to shoulder with eight million other people has its challenges, and I occasionally wish we had more square footage, but for the most part, I love raising Ben in New York. And so, in honor of his eight-month birthday, here are eight reasons why:
1. You’re surrounded by other moms. One of my biggest new mom fears was that I would feel alone. Parenting articles I read often highlighted how isolated new moms feel, and I wondered how I would fill long days with a newborn while Shon and the rest of the world worked. Without thinking much of it, I joined a group for neighborhood moms with babies around Ben’s age. I’m so thankful I did. My “Fort Greene Summer 2014 Babies” group comprises more than 50 women, many of whom I now see on a regular basis. This diverse bunch of (mostly) new moms has proven to be an invaluable resource. Over playdates at the park, in our apartments, and at the local beer garden, on ice cream runs and lunch dates, at sing-alongs and story times, we’ve consulted with and supported one another as we navigate sleep training, teething, childcare, and so much more. It’s been the perfect antidote to loneliness.
2. You’re surrounded by a fascinating mix of other people, too. Folks from around the world call New York home sweet home, and I love that on a single walk to the park or trip to Target, Ben may hear Italian, Spanish, or Mandarin spoken. He sees Muslim women wearing hijabs and Hasidic Jews with their long side curls. Obviously, he’s still too young to understand all that’s around him, but my hope is exposure to so many different types of people will make foreign cultures and the idea of foreign lands seem less foreign to him.
3. You can do a different walk everyday. New York is designed for walking, and from Ben’s very first week at home, we’ve set out to explore the city’s endless nooks and crannies on foot. We’ve covered all of brownstone Brooklyn. (We live in Fort Greene, but Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, and Prospect Heights are just short strolls away.) We change our route to suite our mood, our destination based on errands that need to be run. A hop on the subway (see below) opens up thousands more miles of sidewalk for the taking. My favorite subways stops for walks include Grand St. for sampling cheap Chinatown dumplings and Columbus Circle for a ramble through Central Park.
4. The subway rocks. I heart the New York City subway, even with a baby. Got a stroller? Dozens of stations have elevators that will take you from street to platform with relative ease. These elevators smell, I will say that, but they are almost always in good working order. If you’re worried an elevator might be out, the MTA maintains a web page that’s regularly updated to reflect any service outages, so you can plan ahead. That said, a station without an elevator isn’t a big deal, as someone will inevitably offer to help carry your stroller up any steps. (I usually decline these offers as our stroller is lightweight, even with Ben inside.) The kindness of strangers extends to the train, too, where riders often offer up their seat when they see a baby in tow. (One exception: morning and evening rush hour, when everyone’s crammed in. But these travel times should be avoided, anyway.) The very best part about the subway is that Ben LOVES the ride! The people-watching keeps him entertained, and the train’s rocking motion, despite the racket, often lulls him to sleep.
5. In some ways, the city actually is kind of cheap. Hear me out on this one. A recent report named Manhattan the most expensive place to raise children. Brooklyn came in fourth. New York is pricy, but the items you buy for your children don’t have to be. Many neighborhoods have listserves on which local parents (thousands) post all sorts of baby and kid stuff for sale. Oftentimes, items are barely used, since children grow out of things so fast. We paid nothing for a like-new exersaucer that Ben adores (see photos above). Parents use these sites to share recommendations and tips, too. Some of the biggest parent groups in brownstone Brooklyn include Park Slope Parents, Fort Greene Babies, and Bococa Parents (the latter covers Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens).
6. There’s a ton of organized entertainment on offer. Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else take charge of play time, and I’ve discovered there are So. Many. events on offer daily throughout the city. Ben and I have taken music and yoga classes. Shon and Ben just signed up for a semester of Music Together. Looking for a one-off experience? There are lots of drop-in opportunities, too, like $5 singalongs and free library-hosted story times. The list goes on and on. Heck, there’s an entire magazine devoted to kids’ entertainment in NYC.
7. There are bodegas in your backyard. Well, not really. But almost. One frigid morning last week, I was wearing Ben in the Bjorn and making a cheesecake when I realized we were out of eggs. I zipped us into one of Shon’s coats, plopped a hat on Ben’s head, and less than 10 minutes later, we were finishing up our cake, thanks to our local bodega. A bodega, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a small, locally run convenience store that’s typically stocked with everything from beer to baby wipes. The city is jam-packed with bodegas, which makes running last minutes errands easy. Out of diapers, coffee, toilet paper, or milk? (After Ben’s arrival, it seems like we’re always out of something.) It’s the bodega to the rescue.
8. Beer gardens. There are more and more popping up all over the city, and it turns out, they’re as baby friendly as they are adult friendly. We have two near us, and my favorite, Black Forest, is loud enough to muffle baby squawking but not too loud to bother baby ears. It’s spacious and bright (and indoors) and boasts huge wooden tables and benches that can accommodate sprawling groups of moms, dads, and babies, plus all the accoutrements: toys, pacifiers, swaddle blankets. The sausage is good, the beer is better. Ben sticks to milk. The other beer garden in our neighborhood even hosts a “Babies & Bier” play session every Tuesday and Thursday.