Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Brooklyn for Babies 101

Axel, 2013

When you're 30, er, 30-something, and live in a city with children, you spend a lot of time wondering if you are crazy and thinking / talking / debating the merits of raising a family in an urban setting versus "out there" (a.k.a the suburbs or some hypothetical smaller city.)

It comes up in conversation constantly, and every so often a friend or acquaintance departs for some distant place where they will have multiple living spaces and grown up things like stairs, gutters, and lawns to rake, making you question your loyalties for a moment.

Needless to say, I am a big booster for bringing up babies in Brooklyn, and while I won't say we'll never leave, I often feel that way. So here's why I think the city, and Williamsburg in particular, is an amazing place for little ones and their parents. Yes, real estate and childcare are expensive. I'll probably always fantasize about having just one extra room in our apartment. But all things told, Brooklyn has been pretty great to us so far.

1) Will's 17 minute commute. 
I picked a nearby suburb in Westchester (one of those places where people brag "The train to Grand Central only takes 30 minutes, if you get an express!" and calculated that his commute would take an hour and 11 minutes, not accounting for traffic or train delays. Living where we live means Will gets to spend an extra 108 minutes a day with us, at the gym, seeing friends, working, take your pick. That's 540 extra minutes a week, or 9 hours. If we lived "out there", he'd spend around 45 hours a month commuting. And given that we already feel there are too few hours in the day, I think that just might stretch us beyond our limits.

2) The community of local parents. 
When I was pregnant with Axel, I joined the Brooklyn Baby Hui, an online message board for local parents. Last time I checked, there were 4933 members, the majority of them living in the immediate area. My sub-group, for babies born in the spring and summer of 2013, has 159 members. That's 159 potential little friends for Axel, and 159 sets of parents who we have a good amount in common with, living nearby. Before having a baby, I read a lot about mothers who feel isolated with a newborn, but in the early months with Axel, my days were busy with low key meetups just a few blocks from home. Every day, my inbox is full of local parents trading tips, planning events, or offering useful baby gear for sale, and when I wander around the neighborhood, I can barely walk a block without running into parents we know.

3) Walkability. 
Though we have a car in the city, I am not much of a fan of driving. And I love how Williamsburg feels like a little village, with just about everything we could need from groceries, to good coffee, to books, to wine, to playgrounds, to clothing shops, within a few steps from home. When you live in the city, you live in a smaller space, so you spend much of your days outside. This means Axel is really used to his stroller, and an outing doesn't seem like much of a production (thanks to stroller naps, it also doesn't mess with his sleep.) The fact that everything is so close to home means that outings are also pretty low stakes. If I forget to re-stock his diapers, I'm 5 minutes from home; if he's having a meltdown, we can always turn around and try again in a half an hour. Because we don't have to bundle him into the car, get to wherever it is we're going, find parking and so on, getting out and about never feels like a challenge.

4) There's plenty to keep the adults entertained. 
Yes, your lifestyle and your priorities change when you have children. But in some ways, our life isn't all that different than it was before, because there are plenty of cool places nearby where Axel is welcome, and that make us feel like we're still somewhat plugged into city life. Whether it's lazy afternoons at Spritzenhaus, breakfasts at Egg, or drinks at a sidewalk cafe on a summer afternoon, it's pretty easy to incorporate children into your adult life here. And most everywhere has a high chair. I think the result of this is that city kids get used to being in adult spaces, and kind of learn to adapt and behave accordingly. Sure, we go to the playground a ton too, but there aren't many places in Brooklyn that are no go zones for kids. There's even a little play kitchen and children's area at the local organic wine shop (go figure.) We get to go out with Axel and feel like human beings, without hearing "It's a Small World" on loop.

5) There are tons of lovely independent children's shops. 
When we need to buy an umbrella stroller, or upgrade to a double stroller, or stock up on bibs or bottles, we head to Wee Babe, a small store where the people are really knowledgable and helpful. They keep your warranties on record, will happily order something for you if it's not in stock, and you get to escape the angst that comes with navigating a big box store. And there are tons of other great children's shops in the area, like Caribou Baby, Allegria, Wonderwolf, Mini Jake, Willy's Toy Box, Smoochie Baby, Sweet William, and Flying Squirrel. Of course, we can always rely on Amazon Prime, but I like supporting local businesses and knowing that if I lose some key piece of baby equipment, it's no big deal to run out and replace it.

6) There are children's classes aplenty. 
It's almost mind-boggling how many organized activities for children there are locally. If you want to be a soccer mom, you can take your kids to Super Soccer Stars at Bushwick Inlet Park. There are dozens of music classes, art classes, movement classes, and things like Sesame Street screenings at Videology. So far our favorite has been Aqua Beba, for swimming, but Axel loves his free (or very inexpensive) drop in classes at places like the Knitting Factory, the local libraries, and the McCarren Park Playcenter, which mean there are last minute things to do even if you are loathe to commit to a class series or spend money on esoteric enrichment activities.

7) Etc. 
Bodegas are open 24-hours a day, so if you ever run out of milk, formula, or diapers, you're in luck. * There are cool things like chocolate factories, farmer's markets, and musicians playing on street corners, so a stroller ride around the block can easily become a family adventure. * It's a diverse community; Axel has friends whose parents are successful artists, designers, financiers, filmmakers, gallerists, restaurant owners, diplomats, and more. I love thinking that when he grows up, he'll know that the sky's the limit. * The East River Ferry, which is an incredibly kid friendly way to get around. * The backdrop of one of our favorite playgrounds is the Manhattan skyline. * There are tons of pre-natal resources, from yoga classes to childbirth classes (not to mention all the incredible local doulas.) * Delivery! When you're too exhausted to cook, you can order from some really excellent spots, like Qi for Thai, Best Pizza, or pretty much any time of food you could be craving.

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