It takes N.Y.C. to raise a child

BY VICTORIA GRANTHAMVictoria Grantham new headshot life downtown  |  I was in the elevator with my husband when a guy who looked vaguely familiar walked in with a baby. I started playing peekaboo with the boy and cooing. “How old?” I asked. “Nine months,” he replied. “Oh we have a 24-month-old!” I exclaimed as if this was an incredible coincidence. I felt slightly sheepish for saying it, but to my relief he came back with an enthused, “That’s great!”  Then, more sedately, brow furrowed, he continued, “they say it’ll get harder, or it’ll get easier, the baby will get more consistent, or he’ll constantly change… it’s confusing.” “Uck, I know,” I said. “Babies. We’re just along for the ride. No point in trying to crack the code.”

When we got to the lobby he introduced himself and his son. We shook hands. “Have you lived here long?” he asked. “About 14 years,” I said. “You?” “Nine,” he laughed. We were all taken aback by the fact that our paths had overlapped for nearly a decade, but we’d never ever actually met.

Still, I wasn’t surprised because the same thing had happened five years before. Our neighbors down the hall, a couple who we’d exchanged pleasantries with occasionally for years, had one child, then another. They seemed kind and friendly. I knew the woman had been an elementary school teacher and I know someone made delicious smelling Indian food because it often wafted from their apartment, but we didn’t know them. Then one day by the elevator she said, “I dreamt you had a baby.” I’m not one for palm readers and tarot cards, but I was intrigued. My husband Jay and I had just started trying to conceive, but she had no way of knowing this. I told Jay the story and he later asked her about the dream baby’s gender. “It was a boy,” she said.

Ten months later we had a boy and the neighbors we’d lived a dozen feet from, but barely knew became good friends practically overnight. When we brought our firstborn home from the hospital and he made a strange gasping for air sound we ran to them at 11 p.m. in a panic. We trusted them because they seemed like solid parents and with two toddlers they officially had tons more experience than we did — and let’s face it: we were desperate and they were close by. (It turned out the gasping was nothing— maybe hiccups.) After that we traded parenting tales, sought advice, arranged playdates and occasionally engineered doubles dates.

I’ve lived in New York for nearly 20 years. I’ve always been attracted to how exciting, convenient and walkable the city is, but until I had kids I never appreciated how much of a supportive village it can be. With our amazing neighbors a borderline commune type of situation has evolved. In addition to lending each other sugar and eggs, we often pass the kids from one place to another and pitch in for each other whenever we can.

On a broader scale, the HRP Mamas group —  made up of thousands of mothers in Lower Manhattan— has served as a source of information, new friends with kids my kids’ exact ages, playgroups and in the rough or confusing times, a place to get support and sage advice. I think its success has to do with how it’s run, but also with sheer population density— with that many moms living in such close proximity you’re pretty much bound to find a likeminded friend, someone who has a solution to your problem, or a buyer for the baby item your kid has outgrown. Until my kids arrived on scene I liked the concept of knowing my neighbors, but it didn’t feel like something truly necessary or urgent. Now it’s a lifeline.

My peers in the suburbs marvel over the sacrifices we make in terms of space. Recently, over lunch at work, a colleague told me how she’d never be able to live in an apartment because she wouldn’t be able to give up her privacy. I countered that I’d have a hard time moving out of an apartment because I’d be afraid of gaining privacy— and losing connection —  the connections that suddenly materialize —  as if out of nowhere    and then just as suddenly become so critical as we navigate the winding and unpredictable path of parenthood together.   

Victoria Grantham, a writer and communications professional, is raising her family in Tribeca.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *