People ask me what it was like growing up in New York City, which is where I was raised and am raising my daughters. I’m still growing up here, at age 46, every damn day. And like most people who have lived in the same place most of their lives, I don’t have the perspective to answer that question very well.
I usually say something about being able to flee my home early and often when it became too dysfunctional is what saved me from being an even more miserable adolescent than I had been. Had I been trapped in a box in a quiet cul de sac, I imagine, dependent on my parents to drive me somewhere else, I think I would have done nothing but eat and throw up and be depressed.
Instead, I ate and threw up and was depressed some of the time, but also ran around this outrageous town with it’s cross-dressing club kids and street artists and the music blaring from every ground floor apartment with my amazing friends who were from all over the universe and stayed at their homes and had them at mine. This allowed us all to see that our family’s way (thank GOD) wasn’t the only way.
Because of that–really, thanks to public transportation and a particular brand of loving but loose ’80s parenting and everything that this city arrays before you like an all you can eat buffet of crazy–my friends and I were able to create a support system and a school outside of school that gave us tremendous room to be ourselves. All things considered, NYC was a great place to grow up, given that growing up is really hard wherever you are.
But who knows? There are pros and cons to any place. I’m here, raising my daughters here, because it’s home, where my imperfect family is, where I feel best equipped to teach my kids how to take care of themselves. None of my native New Yorker friends came here from somewhere else as adults to prove anything or to get away from what they feel was a too-conformist upbringing or to be the best in their industry, as so many do, so we tend not to be prone to excess. Native New Yorker parents–and please, friends, chime in if I’m not speaking for you here–are just moms and dads like everywhere else who want our children to be safe and smart and kind and happy.
Still, it’s trippy to see your young ones living the 2.0 version of your New York childhood on these same streets, especially since the city is much safer than it was in the Koch administration, and because us parents are much more up our kids butts than mine, at least, were back then. I walked three blocks home from the school bus alone in the third grade, crossing over to avoid the crack house on the corner of 97th and Columbus which is now bespoke condos facing a Whole Foods. My mom tells me I insisted, accusing her of being overprotective. I don’t let my kids cross the street without me and they’re in the 5th grade. They’re too giddy, spaced out, and, well, childlike, in my view.
Thing is, while a safer city in which they don’t have to be quite as street smart allowed them to be that way, that’s only a good thing if they don’t get hit by a car.
Which is why I am not one of those people who long for the city’s seedy past, when Times Square was truly the festering, filthy, stinking armpit of the universe (as opposed to the shaved, deodorized and hyper-corporate armpit it is now). New York was often an unpleasant, scary place that smelled like pee. But a lot was easier, both for us as children and for our parents. Things were cheaper, schooling was less complicated, and according to my mom, anyway, parenting was less of an achievement-oriented occupation, here and in the ‘burbs.
Not for nothing, for all the “wildness” of life in the big city as a small person, the only place I remember smoking pot was as a kid was in Livingston, NJ, when I visited my camp friends. I envied their rec rooms, but they complained they were bored out of their gourds. And yet, most of them, too, turned out fine. Go figure.
Photo downloaded from Christine Macaluso-Russo–many thanks.