Monday, April 27, 2009

Rules of Life in New York

"Once in a while I had us living in a foreign country like New York..." (Kidd, Sue Monk, The Secret Life of Bees. p. 12)
I was recently talking to a wife of a future Columbia Film Student. She had found my blog and was slightly aware of my difficulty in moving to New York, and not loving my first year here. Now, there are some people how move to New York, fit right in, love it automatically, and never look back. I envy those people, in evolutionary terms they are superior with the ability to adapt, survive, and dominate--"dominate" may be too strong but it applies. There were a few things we did right, like get the right stroller, use the floor plan we got from housing to plan what we needed to get rid of/take with us, and contacting people we already knew in New York to get suggestions and help moving.

I went back and read some entries from that transition time, and boy I'm proud of myself because I have come a long way. Some days I even catch myself liking New York. Since I quit my job, won the housing lottery, and accepted that I live in a parallel universe--I have been doing much better here, and almost feel like it won't kill me to live in the city until Justin graduates. That is if he finishes in May 2010, instead of May 2011. I'm still convinced New York will eat me if we have to stay until then. If you have been following me you know that this is a great improvement, because last year this time I was convinced that the next day was my last.

So, dear future friend, wife-of-a-film-guy-who-has-a-child. Here are the Rules as I have learned them.

1. Love your stroller. I can't stress this enough. You will be walking for miles at a time if you are on a tight budget and won't pay to ride the bus or train for 2 miles. And if you do pay to ride the subway you need to be able to carry the stroller up and down flights of narrow, crowded, dark stair ways. If you pay to ride the bus you have to be able to get baby out, fold stroller, juggle both baby and stroller and all the belongings you needed for your outing, all while only taking up one seat.

2. You may live on an island, but don't be one. I had several factors working against me my first year called a full-time work-from-home job, a stroller bound child, a way busy husband, fear of crowds, fear of enclosed spaces, fear of getting lost, fear of being alone, being intimidated by how out of place I looked (being over-weight, and not fashionable). My first panic attack happened on a bus on the way to knitting club. I was only going down to 87th street, and I only had to take one bus, but it was dark, I was alone, and I didn't know what the building I was going to looked like. I got there safely, and enjoyed myself, and found someone heading home in my direction. Then I stopped going out by myself for a few months.

But the truth of the matter is you have to get out. In my pre-NYC life it was hard to get out the door, but once in the car it was smooth sailing. Here the whole ordeal is hard, and often the destination is hard. BUT YOU HAVE TO GET OUT. You won't hate your apartment as much, because you won't be sitting in it thinking, "this thing is tiny, and I am paying way too much to live in this sardine can, and I haven't seen the sun since Sunday." You'll be able to find a support system (especially at play group). You will find out that even if its hard, New York is very rewarding and interesting.

3. Find out who hates grocery shopping more. If you are on a tight budget you can't do or for all of your grocery needs. (But, the best way to do diapers is through amazon.) Justin has taken over the grocery shopping almost completely, for which I am eternally grateful. He doesn't enjoy it, but he enjoys taking one thing I could complain about away.

4. Focus on the good. So, you have a small kitchen, but is it a kitchenette? It takes a good month for anything to get fixed, but they get fixed. You have a live-in super so the door to the building that was shattered by a drunken domestic dispute at 3 AM got cleaned up before you woke up and replaced before you got home from church. You have laundry in your building. You have an intercom that wakes the napping baby every time you get a delivery, at least you don't have to wake the baby up and walk down the stairs to open the door yourself. You have a crib in your living room, at least you have a living room/dining room/office. Go to other people's apartments, because 95% of them will have something that will make you feel good about your own, and 95% of them will have some great storage idea, or space saving thing that you could use. There is no "keeping up with the Jones'," just "making due."

5. Get a map, and a good things-to-do book. It makes you look like a tourist, but a map will make your life easier when you are out exploring. Especially one with a bus route on it (if you decide you like buses better). And one of Central Park, because that thing was designed to make you get lost. A good book will have great suggestions one what to do, and how to do it. Like start on the Brooklyn side of the bridge to walk across.

6. Do the free things. There are lots of free things to do in New York, especially in the summer. Mommy Poppins is a great resource, so is the Parks Website. The library is pretty great once you learn how to use it (don't go to the branch and expect to check out a book, you need to go online, request the book, wait for it, and then go pick it up once it gets to your branch.) Talk to other people, especially people who have lived here a while, they know the best free things. The Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays... its crowded and crazy... but free. The Botanical gardens have free days. Most museums have free hours.

7. Find the money to do special things. Your in New York, and that means there are things to do here that don't exist anywhere else. Scrimp and save so you can do some of those things. You can get a ticket to Mary Poppins for 30 dollars and you don't have to wait in a line or depend on luck, and it is LOVELY. Carnegie hall has some great deals, as does Lincoln Center. I still need to go to the Opera, Ballet, and I wouldn't mind a few more concerts. Take the Metro North, China Town bus, or LIRR to get out of the city. Washington D.C. is pretty great (especially if you have someone you can stay with.) We spent a day in Sleepy Hallow, or went to the beach for a day. I'm almost to the point where I need to do some more exploring outside of the city, I'm thinking another day at the ocean will do me good.

8. Try your best to follow the rules of surviving motherhood that you already know. I need something to be working on ME to survive being a mother. I do book club, I found knitting, I often have a craft project going, we spent the money for a nice camera so I can work on my photography, and I recently started taking piano lessons (We trade, I get piano lessons, she gets to bring her daughter to my music class.) Not all mothers need something for themselves, but I do, and although I often wish I could do more with myself, this is keeping me sane. I still miss scrapbooking night, having a bunch of people over just for fun, and counter space for cooking.

9. Find a babysitting trade that works for you. We can't commit to a weekly trade, but we found another family who we trade with when we need. They do a great job of keeping it "fair" and I never feel taken advantage of, or like they aren't asking for service in return.

10. Become a night owl. Maybe this is just for a wife of a film student, but I had to learn how to stay up late. None of Justin's days start before 10 AM, and most of them don't end until 10 PM. Most events (often even enrichment) don't start until 8 PM. Prime time TV is 8 to 11 (that means if you need to watch Castle you have to stay up until 11, or watch it online the next day.) Reuben doesn't get to see daddy before he goes to 9. We have dinner together twice a week, we try to have breakfast together but it doesn't always work out.

11. Enjoy that fact that you stick to your budget because you can't find a good enough deal. We tried going up to target to do regular shopping, even taking a taxi home so we could buy things like storage bins and not have to carry them home on the train. But, we stopped doing that. We are really good at sticking to our budget because I can't spend 30 dollars on a pair of pants for a three year old. If you like shopping you can find deals, but I hate wrestling with Reuben, and trying to find the right deals. Most of my "shopping" happens online, we save up our money and our needs, until we need to buy enough to get free shipping. And, if we can't get it online for a good price, we do without.

12. Adaption is key. This is the city that never sleeps, that means it is constantly changing, that means that nothing is set in stone, that means you just have to learn to go with the flow. Talk to the other mothers, find out what they do to make things easier, or just commiserate for a while about how difficult things get.

***I'm sure there are more, and better rules to know, but they aren't coming to mind. I'm betting my New York friends could add to my list (Please do New York friends, I'm sure it will help both me and my future friend.)


Morgan said...

great rules of survival brecken!

i still cannot bring myself to buy diapers from anywhere but costco. you get more diapers (a lot more) for the least amount of money. if you can find someone with a zip car rental, or have a friend that comes into the city with a car once a month or so, it is definitely worth it to make a trip to costco to stock up on tp, paper towels, diapers, frozen chicken, detergent, and all that good stuff.

we like the NFT (not for tourist guide) to the city, it has both the bus and subway maps and great maps of all the parks and neighborhoods. and it's really small and is plain black so you don't look as much like a tourist.

i have found that everyone has their own way of making things work for them in the city, especially with grocery shopping. just do what works for you, not what people tell you works best for them. i have friends who go every day for each meal. others rent cars to drive to the cheapest stores and stock up and only go once a week or every 2 weeks. i have a pretty good neighborhood store, so i go about 2-3 times a week. i can get in and out (with 2 kids in tow) in 5 minutes. it's easy, fast, and doesn't require extra money or planning. but try different things and find what works for you.

learn to love you apt. i had a little talk with myself and decided that i have a great apt, especially compared to others in my building. i found things that i love about my apt and my building, and have decided that my kitchenette is really the only super negative thing about it, and i can deal with that. i have learned to cook on a square foot of counterspace, and now i can't even remember what it's like to cook in a big kitchen.

a support group of friends is huge. i would be so lonely if i didn't have great neighbors and ward members. definitely make an effort to meet people and schedule play dates and outings.

and one more thing... i too LOVE castle. it's one of my new favorite shows!

good luck future new yorkers!!

Jessica said...

Gee, I have a new-found affection for life in Utah. I'm glad you've gotten to the point where you are finding things to like about New York.

Tara said...

ditto on the NTF (not-for-tourists) guide to NYC. I LOVE that book and couldn't live without it!

Also, I think Brecken really nailed it with looking for the positive in everything. You need to see living in NYC as a new and different adventure--almost like living a completely different life for a few years. You can't compare NYC living to suburbia because they are just too different.

I'd say that NYC and I have a love-hate relationship. I love most everything, and the things I hate make for good stories later!

Good luck!

Sandy M. said...

I would love to come and live in NYC for a while! I want to try out your suggestions!

Justin said...

I love this post Brecken! The blog followers see the difference in writing, and I see the difference in living--you really have come a long way and deserve appropriate commendation for it. You are such a good New Yorker, and don't worry, I recognize you have become such with the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel view that I will graduate and we will move. I also like the part where you link to the parallel universe post--I had fun with that one. Love,

sallysue said...

I just started watching Castle, too!

I need to follow your advice, but for Greensboro. sigh. Good job you looking at the positive. Perhaps when my first year is up, I'll be able to look back, too, and see the good in all the hard. :)

Heidi said...

Wow, THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! This was amazing to read...I've had an array of mixed emotions. Huge appreciation that you wrote this list :) and gratitude for all the helpful hints! Excitement for the adventures and a giggle since I just finished watching Castle! Worry to adapt but hope that the price is worth the end result. Thank you for sharing your wisdom (again) on the phone and here on your inspiring blog. I truly appreciate you my new friend!

Emily K Jacob A said...

Hey Cooks!

I'm setting up our private blog and I need your email address! Would you mind giving that to me so I can send you an invite? You can do it through facebook if you'd like! Thanks so much! Hope all is well!

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Susan and I'm losing my best friend to NYC.

Heidi told me to read your post about the rules of NYC, thank you! You have been such a huge support to Heidi and she can't talk about New York without mentioning you. I am so sad to see her leave, but I know what a great opportunity this will be for her and John.

I just wanted to say thank you, again, for your support. Heidi is awsome, I hope you two can continue to help each other when she's out there.

P.S. Congrats, and good luck with the baby!

Justin and Olya said...

my name is Olya, and I am Erika Hill's sister-in-law. We are in NYC for some time, and were wondering if we could connect with you somehow. :) Your blog was immensely helpful , but we'd like , maybe, some more tips on where and how's. Plus, friends are always good. :) email me : or call 801-369-1298
Thank you, Olya