Urban Mommy 101?

The other night I was dropping a friend off at her house, which is in a neighborhood not far from, and not unlike, the one in which I grew up. The streets are wide and well-paved; there are neat little houses as far as the eye can see, and the only sign of “industry” is the gas station across from the high school. As I was turning off of her street, a middle-aged couple had to wrestle their chocolate lab to the side of the road to allow me to pass. In the back of my mind I was a tiny bit annoyed, thinking, “just use the sidewalk!” Until I looked around. There were no sidewalks. It wasn’t until I pulled back onto the “main road,” where the high school and gas station sat, that I saw any pedestrian paving. The roads were relatively dark and relatively clear – it was 10 p.m. on a beautiful spring evening, but the only sign of life I saw was one couple and their dog.

In one way, this was a really comfortable, familiar scene. I grew up in the suburbs, 10 miles outside of the city, and we didn’t have sidewalks or a ton of streetlights. We drove almost everywhere, which made the occasional weeks we were without a car (my family has incredibly poor luck with vehicles) incredibly challenging. When we played outside, which was often, we alternated between the backyard and the street in front of our house – which is where I crashed my bike for the first, second and third time. If you had a dog, you walked it in the middle of the road. If you had a hockey net, you plopped it down in the middle of the road too and grudgingly paused the game every time a car passed, a la “Wayne’s World.”

Despite the tranquil, nostalgic scene, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between this life and the life I now lead. Because of my husband’s job, we have to live within the city limits. While we are incredibly fortunate to have a lot of options where we are, city living is city living. That means that we walk our dog on the sidewalk, because every street has a sidewalk. We also use those sidewalks to get to the bus stop and the grocery store and the movie theater. We have a car, and I use it to get to work and visit my suburban friends, but when a blizzard kept our street covered for a week this winter, we never wanted for milk or bread (or DVDs). It also means that at 10 p.m. on a beautiful spring night, you have to navigate clusters of teenagers at the frozen yogurt stand, elderly couples leaving the movie theater, med students doing their grocery shopping and the occasional homeless person asking for change.

All of this is fine with me – I love our neighborhood and our house; we have a little yard and a giant park a couple blocks away. But as I think about raising our child here (like, real soon), I think about all of the things that we don’t know about raising a child in the city, because they weren’t part of our experiences. Do you let your child ride a bike in the street? Not likely, but where does she learn to ride? At what age do you start to teach her about crosswalks and which pocket to keep your money in? When will she be old enough to walk to and from a friend’s house in the evening (something I did with my big sister’s supervision as young as 7)?

I know that as a new parent these questions will probably be the least of my worries, but they now make the list of things that keep me up at night (you know, in addition to running to the bathroom every half hour and laying awake to feel the baby kick).  Like everything else, I’m sure we’ll pick it up as we go along, but if there’s any advice out there for raising an urban baby, this child of the suburbs would love to hear it.

2 Responses to “Urban Mommy 101?”
  1. Skinny Sushi says:

    We live way out in the suburbs, so I won’t be much help in the advice department, but I would say that it’s never too early to start teaching your child how to live safely in the city. As for the right age to do certain things, a lot of that will depend on your individual child and how comfortable she is on her own, but you can probably establish a general age range for various activities by talking to local moms. Get together with other mommies and I bet you’ll find a lot of them are dealing with similar questions, or will have the answers for you.

  2. H says:

    I’ve lived in and out of a city. The one thing I noticed is that a lot of strollers are built for suburbs with big, smooth sidewalks. In the city, you can’t afford to take up so much space, plus you need something with good shocks that collapses easily to go in the car. Everything Heather says sounds right. I’d also recommend the blog “Free Range Parenting” which is by a New York City journalist who gives her urban kid plenty of freedom (including riding the subway at age 9). I just like it, but also think it talks about safety issues in cities — what to worry about and what not to worry about. [i.e. Despite the common belief that suburbs are safer, they harbor the two greatest threats to kids: cars and pools.]

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