With the last few years bringing such natural disasters as Hurricane Sandy and monumental snowstorms to NYC, my kids are barely flinch at weather hardships. As fourth generation New Yorkers being raised in one of the most diverse cities on the planet, they are learning to be inclusive, tenacious, and street smart. When I was in sixth grade, before a class trip, my teacher informed us to put on our “subway face” — the look that says, “I totally belong here and don’t even think about messing with me.” I am happily passing down that knowledge to my children.
But it’s not all about being tough. Living in New York means being exposed to tons of different cultures, beliefs, and social styles. My kids’ environments — in the classroom, on the sidewalk, in their karate class — are never homogenous. We are all different, which only serves to show them how, as human beings, we all need the same things. Everyone deserves love, respect, and patience.
It’s a hard city to live in: The noise, lack of green space, and overcrowded schools weigh heavily on my mind, prompting the occasional scroll through the real estate listings for the surrounding suburbs. But our family is here and it’s not only helped me by having my parents across the street to help with childcare, the pros outweigh the cons of urban living… for now. And while we're happily here, there are certain life skills my kids have learned from being New Yorkers that I know they'll take with them no matter where we (or they) end up going in the future.
Our park is never not crowded in decent weather. Kids will call out other kids who bogart playground equipment and you don’t want to be jerk who cuts the slide line.
Understanding Personal Space
There is so little of this in NYC. You learn at a pretty young age how to stay in your personal bubble as you travel in masses through the streets.
I hope every kid learns this, but it’s a no-brainer when you live among a zillion different cultures.
Riding An Escalator
Face forward and hold on to the railing. Stand to the right, walk on the left, and feel free to roll your eyes at anyone who can’t get with this program.
Standing Up For Yourself
With so many people in this city, kids here experience more human interactions than children in smaller communities. Some of it’s positive, and some of it can be dangerous. I had my Walkman stolen on the city bus as a teenager and that kind of vulnerability is really scary. So yeah, I’m teaching my kids about having a “subway face” and to stash their trinkets (and eventual electronics) in their pockets and not tempt thievery.
Trying New Things
The great thing about NYC is having options about what to eat, see, or do. And while my daughter is in a three-year hummus rut for her school lunches, we get the opportunity on weekends to expose her to a variety of tastes and textures as we explore the eclectic eating establishments around our diverse neighborhood.
Using Inside Voices
Apartment dwelling means neighbors hear everything. My NYC kids are pretty well-trained to curb the screaming, stomping, slamming, jumping, and thumping. Yes, they do all those things, but they have a lot more angry people to deal with than just their parents when they disturb the peace.
OK, most motor-typical kids have this skill down. But I'm not just talking about the ability to walk — I’m talking about walking everywhere. We don’t own a car, so we rely on public transportation. It’s at least a 10-minute walk to some museums from the subway, and once they graduated from the stroller, my kids had to use their legs. At barely five-foot-one, I was not carrying them.
Keeping Their Hands, And Other Body Parts, To Themselves
And off the floor of the F train. The city’s a dirty place.
Looking Both Ways Before Crossing The Street
We are just getting our third grader into this practice. Living in a neighborhood bordered by a major avenue and cross-hatched with bus routes, it’s imperative our kids are aggressively looking out for their own safety. I’ll teach them about the art of jaywalking when they’re 12.
For a bus. For the light to change. For the teacher to call on you because there are 31 other kids in the room. It’s “hurry up and wait” in this town. So my little New Yorkers are getting a master class in patience.
Everything goes here. In the course of an hour, my kids can witness street performers, proselytizers, film shoots, a tie-dyed poodle in a basket of a tandem bike, rudeness, kindness, love, anger, and indifference. Everyone is exactly who they are, and I love that we live in a place where it is mostly safe to be whomever and whatever you choose. It's not all acceptance and rainbows all the time, and I’m sure they will be on the receiving end of negativity for some choice they will make as they get older. I can't protect them from that. But by raising them in New York, I'm helping to arm them with the tools they'll need to navigate tough spots. And to embrace their uniqueness.