I never intended to be here.
I mean, I explicitly did not want to be here.
When my husband and I were looking for apartments, we instructed our real estate agent to show us any neighborhood near downtown Brooklyn: Carrol Gardens, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Ft. Greene, DUMBO, basically anything but Park Slope.
There’s a ‘Park Slope’ neighborhood in most cities with hip, urban centers, but the birthplace — the ur-destination — of obnoxious, yuppie parenthood is this neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. Picture expensive SUV-style strollers blocking the sidewalk. Picture mommy bloggers with yoga mats drinking imported teas. Toddlers named Henry and Sophia taking advanced Mandarin classes. That’s the rep. No individually minded person with street cred would get anywhere near it.
And yet what happened next is that I moved to Park Slope.
My husband and I have two children. We both work full-time jobs. We spend more than a firefighter’s annual salary on childcare. (This is true.) And I have become a Park Slope Mom.
When my husband, my 1 1/2-yr-old daughter and I moved to our block a little over four years ago, I was uncomfortable with the uniformity of the neighborhood. Our old Brooklyn neighborhood on Atlantic Avenue was eclectic — we rubbed elbows with the Staten Island wine store owners, the Muslim/Puerto Rican family deli owners, the wheelchair-bound homeless veteran, our artist friends nearby, and kids from the projects a few blocks away. And as we did the open house crawl, we wanted something similar. We were disappointed to see place after place that was too dangerous, too small, or way too expensive.
Then our agent snuck in an affordable apartment with a tiny little backyard, and we fell in love. We closed. We moved. We walked around, a little shocked at how quickly everything happened. We saw our new neighbors: They were in their late 30’s and early 40’s, with small children. Mostly white, some lightly tattooed and some a bit corporate-y. All focused intently on their kids.
This place, my husband and I whispered to each other late at night in bed, is like the suburbs. And I hate the suburbs. We didn’t want to turn into these people, we said anxiously, who are content to be the same as everyone else.
We shouldn’t have worried; it was inevitable.We eat a lot of pizza, drink a fair bit of wine and hand out iPhones to our kids in exchange for 15 minutes of adult conversation. Not long after moving, I got pregnant with my second daughter. When she came along, we were so happy. And so broke and tired. We’d strap her into a baby carrier and push our older girl in the stroller while doing our errands on the weekends. Groceries. Dry cleaning. Wine store. If we were lucky enough to have both of them fall asleep mid-day, we’d drag our stroller-cum-storage-unit to the place that made us the happiest: a bar. We’d park them, sleeping, in the corner, and pretend to be normal again. It felt a little rock-and-roll.
Then we got a nanny. We had resisted this so far, but with two children and both parents working, we had to have more stability in our childcare. Yes, she had an accent and yes, it was expensive. We looked into other alternatives but it was hard to find a daycare near us that took babies. So we suddenly had another “member of the family”. We joined the Y so they would have somewhere to go on winter days when the park was too cold. We paid for her expenses, like the monthly unlimited subway pass.
We made friends with our next-door neighbors, who also have two kids about the same age. We were all far from family, so we thought it would be sweet to make a regular Sunday dinner together. For fresher ingredients, we split a CSA. We got a lot of kale, and we liked it. To get rid of the overflow of cabbage and kohlrabi, we started composting. We asked our new friends about their car, and suddenly we found ourselves purchasing an affordable minivan.
Now, four years in, we plan early evening dates at local restaurants with our friends and their children. We eat a lot of pizza, drink a fair bit of wine and hand out iPhones to our kids in exchange for 15 minutes of adult conversation, because they’re too squirrelly to sit for long. We try to keep the kids relatively quiet, clean and respectful to the waitstaff.
At what point is our life obnoxious? We are certainly privileged to be able to live in a neighborhood that New York Magazine called the best in NYC and Money Magazine called one of the best big city neighborhoods in the country. And really, when you look at it, it’s a cozy, tree-lined neighborhood next to a big, beautiful park.
Should we feel bad about that or just grateful that we got here by accident? We’re really lucky to be districted into a terrific public school — does it make it better or worse that we were waitlisted for kindergarten?
I had heard the stories of the strollers and the baby yoga, the bloggers and the entitlement. I won’t deny it exists here; I just don’t honestly know anyone like that. Besides, doesn’t Lulu Lemon have hundreds of stores all over the world by now? I don’t think you can pin that one on us. Did you notice I just said us?
I’ve seen a little Xanax, more than a few glasses of Chardonnay, but Amy Sohn’s world of “hookers, sluts and drug addicts” sounds horrific to me, and frankly, made up. Or maybe she’s hanging with the kind of unpleasant wealth that transcends the boundaries of Prospect Park West.
If there’s something we’re guilty of — and we are — it’s that we’re living this upwardly mobile dream life and humble bragging it out. I know this because when I watch commercials, the families look like ours: quirky, freckle-faced daughter, devoted hipster dad. This is not an accident. Those lightly tattooed, corporate-y creatives of Park Slope ride the F train every morning to the ad agencies, the production companies, the media empires of New York City. We are creating the world in our idealized image and selling it to the rest of the country. Does this make us bad people? Yes, kind of. And kind of no.
Our neighborhood is safe, family friendly and hip. We’re more Sesame Street than Stepford, truly. Come visit and we’ll go out to dinner. With my kids. Don’t worry, I’ll bring my iPhone.