Mom Stories: Being a New York Newbie

“The thing about New York,” the mom said, as we strode towards the school gates at pick-up time, our necks craning to seek out our kids in the crowd, “is that it spoils you for living anywhere else.”

I managed to make my head nod along and covered up my grimace with a rictus smile. Making mom friends is hard when you’re new in a city, so I was not about to have this fragile, nascent relationship derailed over a little difference of opinion.

But as I sob-hiccupped to my husband later that night, what exactly was I supposed to be spoiled by? I mean, I like the super-quick Amazon Prime delivery as much as the next person, but the endless winter, the rats on the subway platform (the subway itself!), the stink of garbage in the streets, the high prices for everyday groceries, that my kids learned the “F word” in their first week here, the fact that all of the moms at the school gates dropped off their kids then turned on their heels and strode off to work with their eyes on the sidewalk… It was all adding up to a feeling of decidedly not being spoiled.

I can totally imagine that if you move to New York right after college, in your twenties, the experience must be heady and thrilling. All the amazing possibilities of this city, sparkling and shining in front of you: who you might meet and fall in love with, the career you could have, the friends, the bars, the shops, the clubs, the freedom. You can probably easily overlook the cramped apartment, the expense of everything, the long working hours, because hope and youth and excitement.

When you move to New York with your husband in your mid-thirties and two kids, and choose your apartment based on school zones, and haven’t been to a bar in months and have literally zero friends, there isn’t quite as much excitement.

I like to consider myself a bit of a professional at the whole moving thing. I’m originally from the UK and moved from there to Switzerland where I met my husband, then to Hong Kong where we had our kids, then on to Singapore, where we had been living for the past six years. I’m used to packing up our whole life and starting all over again in a new place, and I know from experience that it takes a full year to let go of the place you were living before, and to embrace and love your new home. Six months into my New York experience though, and I was struggling to add to my list of things I loved. I knew I had Prospect Park on my list, our neighborhood pizza place, and Amazon Prime, but that didn’t seem to be enough to build a great love from. I was starting to worry that our New York move would be the one that broke me.

I missed Singapore’s year-round sunshine and heat, pristine streets and tropical greenery, my friends who felt like family, the swimming pool in our backyard and silly little things like the autonomy of driving and my favorite Aussie café (side note: email me if you have a recommendation for an authentic Australian avocado toast spot). My daughters didn’t know how to put on gloves or socks after spending their whole lives thus far in a hot country and didn’t understand the idea of layering clothes, or needing to wear a coat. They also desperately missed their friends, and cried before going to school every morning. A couple of times, I even joined them. What if, instead of New York spoiling me, I was too spoiled to ever enjoy living in New York? 

Fast forward six months. Today marks a full year of living here. My kids have made friends and are thriving at their school, having joined in on dance performances, concerts, play-dates, field days and a fashion show. They no longer talk about their friends in Singapore. I have a few, delicate, gossamer friendships that I’m trying to strengthen, knowing that adult friendships take time and nurturing. I’m working, which has helped to embed me in this city, taking part in little everyday conversations at the office, giving purpose and structure to my day.

I haven’t yet fallen head over heels with the city in the way that Joan Didion expressed when she said: “…quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.”

But I’m starting to get flutters from special quintessentially New York experiences like…

The old lady who talks to my dog every morning and knows her name.

The cop who pulled over when I was (embarrassingly!) sniffling on the street after failing my NYC driving test to check that I was OK, and who told me how he failed his own driving test five times and assured me that next time I’d pass. And I did! 

The pet shop owner who sits outside his shop in the sunshine and says hello to me when I pass, making me feel like a local.

Walking my kids to school in the morning and saying hello to the other parents.

Reading the New York Times’ Metropolitan Diary and feeling like I can relate.

Taking a glass of wine up to our rooftop with my husband and looking out over the vast skyline of the city.

The barista at our local coffee shop who agreed to be interviewed by my daughter for her school project and talked to her thoughtfully and beautifully about the meaning of his job and how he serves the community by giving them coffee, for thirty minutes while he worked.

The sheer beauty and relief of the leaves growing back on the trees in the spring.

This ever-growing and much-cherished collection of tiny special moments might one day add up to a great love. My heart is open.