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More NYC Mama Lessons
I've been a NYC Mama for nearly ten years. I've seen everything, from the kid who bolts the minute you take him into the Museum of Natural History, to the kid who is happy to grab a book and ride the 6 train all the way from the Bronx to Central Park, only to get bored five minutes after you arrive. (These are my two kids, of course. One of them's a reader, and the other one's a runner.)
Here are a few life lessons I'd like to pass along to other NYC mamas. Yes, it is possible to raise two great kids in the most crowded, busy, amazing city on earth! And yes, it is much easier to do if you have a few tricks up your sleeve.
Buy the monkey backpack
I swore I would never be one of those mothers who puts her kids on leashes. After all, I never needed one growing up; I knew to stay right beside my own mama, and if I dared run away — well, I don't know what would have happened then, because I never tried it!
My first child, however, was a runner. You'll know if you have one of these kids. These are the kids who just take off, whether you're at the park or the supermarket or the Museum of Natural History, and no amount of disciplining can convince them that standing by your side is the right thing to do.
So I bought the monkey backpack, the one that is secretly a child leash, and I started walking my boy like he was a dog. And, actually, having a dog is a good kind of metaphor for this behavior. Some kinds of dogs are more interested in things than they are in people, and they're going to take off to explore that interesting-looking tree or shiny puddle. My oldest boy is exactly like that. Once he hit kindergarten age, of course, he was old enough to understand "unless you can walk beside me without running off, you can't go to kindergarten," and the monkey backpack was permanently retired.
(My second child? I put her on the backpack right away, but it wasn't necessary. She never strayed more than a foot from my side. Sometimes you can have two kids who are complete opposites.)
Get the storage unit
Some parents are nervous about living in New York because they've heard rumors about crime. And yes, some of the rumors are true. If you live in the city, especially in the Bronx, there are going to be burglaries and break-ins.
So think smart. Protect your belongings with a storage unit — put anything you don't use every day into the unit, and only take it out when it's the right time of year for winter sweaters or summer swimsuits. Put your keepsakes into the storage unit as well; that way they won't get stolen if someone breaks into your home. I invested in storage in the Bronx after our first break-in, and it was a wise decision. Even though our home's only been broken into twice in ten years, the second one was much less painful than the first because I already had our family photos and important items locked away in the storage unit.
When I was growing up in NYC, I watched a Sesame Street sketch where a little girl went to the grocery store by herself to buy "a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter." That's not the city we live in today, and in fact PBS puts notes on its old Sesame Street DVDs indicating they no longer reflect "the needs of today's preschoolers."
My challenge as a NYC mama is knowing when to protect and when to grant independence. When to put the monkey backpack on and when to take it off. When to teach my children how to prevent break-ins without scaring them. When to let them walk ahead of me in Central Park, and when to let them explore the park with their friends.
My kids are now 10 and 8, and deciding how much independence to give them each day is a challenge. But I know I have to start teaching them early, because to learn how to thrive in NYC is to learn how to navigate each scenario with ease. Today I let them both go to the corner store to buy gum. We talk about why we're putting our stuff in the Bronx storage unit, and how to keep our home safe. I teach them everything I know, and trust that they'll be able to use it.
That's not just the secret of being a NYC mama, of course. It's the secret of parenting.