A Mom’s Guide to New York City
Natalie Holbrook of Hey Natalie Jean and author of the book Hey Natalie Jean: Advice, Musings, and Inspiration on Marriage, Motherhood, and Style shares why she thinks New York City is the best place in the world to raise a baby. You just have to know how to do it.
KNOW YOUR FOOD CHAIN
Understanding the ins and outs of sidewalk etiquette is paramount. Your whole life is lived on the sidewalks, and it can get a little tricky when you add in traffic and bad moods and kids and their accessories. There’s a pecking order, and knowing when you have the right of way will make all the difference. Here’s a good general rule of thumb: When you are pushing a stroller, the elderly in wheelchairs are the only animal higher than you on the food chain. Always give them the right of way. As far as the elderly not in wheelchairs, well, they should get the right of way, but only if they seem nice. Most of the old folks living on the Upper West Side are mean old jerks, and in my experience they’re going to give you crap either way. Should you encounter another stroller on the sidewalk you should always give right of way to a double, or to any single that has more kids piled on the ride board than yours. Otherwise, kids, old people, ladies, gents, food delivery guys — forget it. The two-legged can all step aside. Be nice about it, and always say thank you and excuse me, but be firm. And feel free to dispense dirty looks liberally.
DON’T TAKE ANY CRAP
Not from cranky old ladies in line at the Trader Joe’s, not from snobby waiters who pretend not to be aware of your child’s rights as guaranteed by the US Constitution, not from the hordes of middle school kids in huddled shouting masses of hormones clogging the sidewalks. It’s survival of the fittest out here! And if the guy in front of you flagrantly lets the door shut in your face, it is fully acceptable to flip him the bird the minute you make it inside. He deserves it, and how else will he learn? And where are his manners? Was he raised in a barn?
GET OUT EVERY DAY
When Huck was small, we made it a point to get out every day, even in terrible weather. New York City is the greatest for brand-new moms: I almost never felt isolated, because the minute I left my apartment, I was already somewhere! There is so much to see and do right outside your door, and nothing could cure Huck of a crank fit faster than a little people-watching and “fresh” air.
THE STROLLER NAP
God bless the stroller nap! If you can trick your kid into falling asleep in his stroller on a semi-regular basis, you’ve earned yourself major mom points. Not to mention time to do just about anything you please! Sometimes for as long as three hours! Stroller naps are gold. Not all kids are into stroller naps; it might take some practice. See, now that’s my kind of sleep training.
A lot of places in the city still don’t take cards, so I always carry an emergency pretzel fund. Forty bucks should do you, unless you’re planning to pay a babysitter once you get home. Babysitters in the city cost more than your rent.
I always really need a hit of sugar around three in the afternoon, especially if I’ve been pushing a stroller all day. A hidden stash of chocolate is not only helpful for your own emergency blood sugar levels, it’s also pretty important in a crisis bribery situation.
New York is hard on everything, but it’s especially hard on your feet. I always have an extra pair of shoes on hand for the times when I need to be out all day. The quickest way to alleviate blisters and relieve foot fatigue is with a quick change of position. Going from a flat to a low heel, or vice versa, can buy you a couple hours. This is also my secret to avoiding charly horses in the middle of the night. (See also: eat lots of bananas.)
KNOW YOUR ELEVATORS
I love the subway. It’s efficient, the people watching is pretty fantastic, you can get to just about anywhere you need to be, and it’s pretty cheap, all things considered. But strollers and subways don’t always go together very well. There’s the stairs situation, for starters, and then there’s the rush hour situation (sardines), so it’s smart to go into your train travel with a solid plan of action. I’m not the beefiest of girls, but I can heft my stroller up the stairs if I need to. I just don’t want to. So I memorized the location and average cleanliness of every subway elevator in the three boroughs I regularly visit, and I mapped out the most direct walking routes to any non elevator destination I might wish to visit. If for some reason I get there and an elevator I’m counting on is out of service, I immediately email everyone I know to warn them. Elevator karma is something I take seriously. Last year we got a new elevator at the Broadway- Lafayette B, D, F, M station, adding the entirety of SoHo and the Lower East Side to our family stroller repertoire, and I was so excited it was all I talked about for months.
KNOW YOUR BATHROOMS
Knowing where the closest public restroom is at all times is my superpower. I successfully completed pregnancy and potty training in this city, and that kind of thing can get you up to speed on toilet situations real fast. You might be tempted to say, “Oh, I’ll just find a Starbucks,” but NYC Starbucks bathrooms are the Abu Ghraib of public toilets, and you deserve better.
THERE’S ALWAYS THE MUSEUMS
When in doubt, visit a museum. The American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim — these are all kid-friendly museums and make a great destination in both the summer and the winter. The MoMA has a really fantastic kid’s section. The Frick, however, is not kid-friendly in the slightest. The Met, AMNH, and a host of other smaller museums around the city are federally funded and as such are pay-as-you-wish. This is the city’s best-kept secret. Steel up your courage, though, because while the museum patrons are usually happy to accept whatever you donate, you’ll occasionally get an attitude. You know, we all have our bad days.
JOIN A MOM’S GROUP
When I was nine months pregnant and out getting the groceries, a woman stopped me at the produce section to invite me to join her baby’s play group. This is not unusual. Moms are highly social creatures, it turns out. You don’t even need a baby! Just the threat of a baby, and you’re in. You can find mom’s groups and playdates by neighborhood, by age, by your child’s interests, through word of mouth, or by signing up for an email list. Having a support system out here is pretty important. I’m part of a mom’s group through my local church that holds playdates weekly, swaps babysitting for date nights, runs pre school co-ops, coordinates school pick-ups and drop-offs, and brings dinners by when a baby is born or if someone is ill. Sometimes a few of us will meet for lunch and just wander around the city for a bit. It’s just really nice to be around people who also know the frustration of a broken elevator when you were really counting on it.
GET IT DELIVERED
First of all, have you met Amazon Prime? Allow me to introduce you. The AP, as I call him, is my boyfriend. He is always there for me. I’ve stopped buying stuff in person nearly completely, and I have developed a really lovely relationship with my UPS guy in the process. His name is Lloyd. For Christmas he gave me an official UPS ballpoint pen. I guess I see him a lot. How did we manage birthday parties before Amazon Prime? I guess what
I’m saying is . . . do I sound like an infomercial yet? The monthly diaper deliveries will be your gateway drug, but soon you’ll be ordering jumbo-sized marshmallows and henna tattoo kits just because you can, and they’ll be there the day after tomorrow. Here in the city you can get just about anything delivered. Take nothing with you! That’s my motto. This kind of luxury is never going to happen to me ever again in any other place at any other time in my life, so you better believe I am having all of my toilet paper dropped off at my front door.
I sort of wonder if there might not be any such thing as a kid-friendly restaurant. I suspect it really has more to do with whether you have a “restaurant-friendly kid.” Most places I’ve been here are kid-friendly, even the places I’d consider a little stuffier; you just have to know how to handle yourself in there. It’s a subtle interplay between a child’s behavior and a parent’s reaction to said behavior that makes the difference. Every place has pasta with butter or bowls of steamed rice, there’s always somewhere to park your stroller while you eat, and eating one-handed with a baby on your lap is not so difficult once you get some practice.
MY BEST TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL MEALS OUT WITH KIDS
— Give your kid his own set of chopsticks and you’ll find yourself with a solid forty-five minutes of orange chicken peace and quiet. Kids with chopsticks also eat 50 percent more of their dinner than they would have otherwise.
— At the end of the meal, use a wet wipe or two to wipe up your mess. The staff will love you for it and be happy to accommodate you the next time they see you.
— Statistically speaking, most likely your kid isn’t going to poke his eye out with the butter knife, so I always let Huck have one if he wants it so long as he’s quiet.
— Download games on your iPhone for emergency situations, and don’t you dare feel bad about it! Remember, if you want your kid to behave in must-behave-at-all-cost situations, you need to put your kid in must-behave-at-all-cost-situations as often as possible. And if you have a bad experience, go easy on yourself. Consider it good practice. Be up front with your baby about your expectations, and reward him generously when he’s polite and well-mannered, even if he’s too little to understand you. I swear it works.
ACCEPT HELP WHEN IT’S OFFERED
Help will be offered a lot out here, you might be surprised to learn. New Yorkers are actually very kind. Moms are sort of an endangered species, and you’ll be taken care of by the many grateful non-breeders who recognize your value to society. Chivalry is not dead! Except for when it is, and then it’s a nice excuse to exercise some righteous indignation. Sometimes a little righteous indignation feels good. But yes. There is help everywhere. But not from the tourists, though. They’re pretty much useless.
SEND OUT YOUR LAUNDRY
For extreme situations where you’re up to your eyeballs in things, you can send out your laundry. Your knickers come back to you folded up in these impeccable little squares. It’s a dream come true. I know it sounds like the most extravagant nonsense you’ve ever heard of, and it is. But the price difference, according to my friends who take advantage of it, is negligible. So keep this one in your back pocket. It’s just nice to know it’s there.
ORDER DINNER ON YOUR WAY HOME
Around ten blocks from home on days when nothing is doing, I order delivery on my smartphone, enjoy my walk home, get in just in time to meet the delivery guy, wash my hands, pull on my stretchy pants, and ta-da! Dinner is served. Good work, mom.
AND NOW AS I HAVE SAID CONCERNING STROLLERS
Strollers are exhausting. What a completely ridiculous torture device we spend hundreds of dollars on and then willingly tether ourselves to. They’re heavy. They’re cumbersome. They’re completely enormous. They take up the whole of your apartment. Your home is a shrine to your stroller, and you are naught but a humble pilgrim come to worship at its wheels. When apartment hunting in the city, your very first priority is going to be your stroller. “Where does the stroller go?” Not “Is there a dishwasher?” or “How’s the natural light?” or “Are there hardwoods?” or “Has anybody died in here recently?” but “Where does the stroller go?” Will it fit? Is there a closet or a walkway for parking? Can you leave it in the lobby? And if so, will it get stolen? How are you getting it into the building? Is there an elevator? Can you bump it up the stairs? And the door: Can you open it with one hand, keep it open with your foot, maneuver the stroller inside, then get yourself all the way in before the door shuts on your backside? How do the doors open, anyway? If the doors open out and you are on any kind of stair situation, you are fully screwed. I always say “We made it!” when we roll into our lobby, like we’ve just barely escaped with our lives, but this is how it feels. For me, at least. Huck’s been sitting there the whole time enjoying the ride of his life. But it’s a distinction worthy of an Ironman award every time we run to the drugstore and make it back in one piece; it’s really better that we not downplay this. You got one foot in the lobby, you remembered to get the eggs, you’ve really beat the odds. This is an accomplishment worth celebrating. One of these days our strollers will come with phone chargers and sound systems and hovercraft technology. And won’t that be nice?
Excerpted from Natalie Holbrook’s new book HEY NATALIE JEAN: ADVICE, MUSINGS, AND INSPIRATION ON MARRIAGE, MOTHERHOOD, AND STYLE in stores now.