I am the result of two people who strongly identify as New Yorkers, which had a huge impact on my upbringing. I’m an only child, which is not that uncommon in Manhattan and is everywhere else in the world. I had older parents. These were born and raised New Yorkers who chose to stay in New York City even though there’s less quality of life, or it’s not super convenient or easy. It’s not easy to live in New York City, particularly with kids.
I grew up in Manhattan, mostly in Greenwich Village. I was born on the Upper East Side, moved down to Noho, lived on Broadway above a pretty well-known McDonalds near NYU, then my parents took me out of the city when I was about three. We tried the suburbs for five years, which was not a great fit for my family. My father is an artist and my mother was a creative advertising and marketing executive. We came back at the end of elementary school. Once we moved back to New York my parents started renting. We had always owned. We ended up living in a floor-through of a brownstone on 10th between Fifth and Sixth, and somebody bought the entire brownstone and there were five families living in it.
I just didn’t want to leave the block and told my parents we had a one-block radius.I had a meltdown. For anyone familiar with New York, 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth is a spectacular block. It’s pretty well known for the row houses, and for a series of brownstones that are quite exquisite and iconic. My mom kept explaining to me it was impossible that we were gonna find another apartment on 10th between Fifth and Sixth with only a few months. But we did! My parents and I moved to that block in 1995, and my parents are still there.
I think that true New Yorkers will tell you that there’s an importance placed on location as opposed to the amenities of the apartment itself. We didn’t really need a big apartment because we were on 10th between Fifth and Sixth and in order to stay on the block we moved to a smaller apartment. So in high school it was my parents, myself, and my cat sharing a bathroom.
My high school experience was unique. I went to private school until high school, which was incredibly insular. It was a lovely experience, but I went to middle school with a lot of kids that were just like me. And then for high school I went to LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, which is a school that was based on getting in via an audition and talent. The only criteria was that you had to live within the five boroughs. It was the first time that I was actually with a real representation of what New York looks like.
It’s really easy to grow up in New York City and live in a bubble.
The experience of going to that school put me in touch with New York in a different way. It’s really easy to grow up in New York City and live in a bubble. It’s really easy to go to a private school on the Upper East Side and walk from your Upper East Side apartment. Same goes in any neighborhood, really. It’s really, really easy to live in a very privileged bubble in New York City and this showed me a lot more of what the city is actually made up of.
I was never going to leave Manhattan, ever. One of the first fights my husband and I had when we were first—we weren’t even discussing marriage yet—and we had a fight about that I was never gonna let him leave Manhattan. And he wanted to live other places. Then when we were engaged, about five years ago, we needed more space. We were still living in Manhattan on Bleecker and Bowery, which again I thought was the best. We had a tiny apartment but we were on Bleecker and Bowery, so it didn’t matter to me. The location was amazing.
We started looking at apartments in different neighborhoods—on the Upper East Side, on the Upper West Side—and it didn’t feel like us. I vetoed everything and he sent me renderings of our apartment now in Cobble Hill and I made the mistake of saying, "Sure, if that place exists, I’ll move to Brooklyn." So we went out and saw it, and it existed. I cried every time we went out to see the apartment while we were in the process of buying it. My husband was a little worried. I couldn’t imagine being that far away from the city. We spent about two days in the apartment and I told him I would never live in Manhattan again, so it’s worked out so far.
The pace is the biggest difference between living in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I affectionately refer to Cobble Hill as the ‘burbs. A lot of the food and shopping is very similar to what you’d get in Manhattan. Not that long ago, Carroll Gardens was a distinctly Italian neighborhood with an older generation still living in a different, more disconnected way from the city. Now it is a tremendous amount of urban professionals commuting into Manhattan every day, myself included. All that said, it’s still different. You get off the subway and it feels different. It’s slower and it’s quieter and it’s cleaner. Every time my mom comes out to our place in Brooklyn she breathes in really deeply and says "Ugh! It’s like the country out here!" For her Brooklyn is absolutely the country.
My parents, I should also say, lived and traveled all over the world, but New York is obviously home. My mom lived in Tokyo most of the ’70s, and lived in parts of Spain and Paris as a young woman. My dad traveled abroad for a full year. They’re well-traveled. They’ve spent a lot of time elsewhere but, again, these are people that decided they were New Yorkers and that that’s where they’re going to spend their lives.
So much of their identity was a lifelong decision to be there. My mom turned 70 in January and sometimes I’m like "Wouldn’t you rather be somewhere else? Somewhere easier or warmer?" And the response is always "Yes, but then I wouldn’t be here." I mean, you have to feel something in order to make your life here.
Whether or not it’s fair to say that New York City is the center of the universe, for a lot of people it is and it feels that way. It’s hard to grow up in what you believe is the center of the universe, and then leave. It’s hard to not feel that you’re missing something. What I struggle with is the idea that somehow life would be going on without me in a way that I can’t really bear.
This is the first time in my life I’ve ever thought seriously about leaving New York City. I had a baby nine months ago. We’re very fortunate—we have a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. There’s three of us. That should be plenty of space. But she’s out of closet space. She’s got this heinous Jumperoo thing that’s sitting in the middle of my living room that doesn’t collapse—it’s an eyesore in front of my art and my furniture and all of these things.
It’s the first time I’ve ever understood why people leave. Because, first of all, it’s not about me anymore. It’s about her. Quality of life seems appealing to me in a way that it just never did before. It would be great to have a playroom, or just a place to put her stuff where I didn’t have to look at it all the time. It would be great for her to have a place to run around when she starts walking. It would be really nice not navigating the stroller in the weather, in the subways. I get it. The last two months is the first time my husband caught me looking at real estate outside the city.
I’m not there yet at all. For a long time I felt like if I left New York I’d have to totally leave. I’d have to go across the country or I’d have to go to another city, and that’s kind of what I’m dealing with for the first time which is, you know, I thought I’m just a city person. I’d rather live in the city in Chicago or in the city in Austin, or in the city somewhere else, but the truth is I don’t know.
What I struggle with is the idea that somehow life would be going on without me in a way that I can’t really bear.
Maybe being right outside New York, which is an expression I hate. When I went to college in Ann Arbor, everyone from the suburbs of New York would introduce themselves and say they were from New York, right outside the city. So I would always specify and be like "I’m from New York, right inside the city." When people would ask me where I was from I would say 10th Street, which was so obnoxious but I needed people to know that I was not a kid from any town who could just take the train into the city. I took the subway to high school, that I actually grew up in the city was so important to me.
What kills me about even thinking about leaving is the idea that my daughter would not have the same experience that I did, especially because I did have a similar upbringing to my mother. Part of me is a little bit sad that maybe my kid and I aren’t going to have that in common, but again, that’s part of the whole parent evolution. That mattered a lot to me, but I realize, in having her, that it’s not about me anymore and that that’s my own ego, my own kind of identity. It has nothing to do with her. And that ultimately I should just give her the best possible life and the most comfortable life possible and she can come up with her own identity issues later.
New York Narratives is a collection of first-person accounts commemorating, celebrating, and reflecting on the lived experience in New York City. Read more stories here.