Dadwagon, as is well known, is the first and last stop for millions of Americans (and billions of foreigners) who want the straight dope on fatherhood in the world’s only important metropolis: New York City. And yet, despite Nathan’s, Theodore’s and my own intense NYC partisanship, none of us are 100 percent city-born and -raised. Theodore comes closest, having lived here as a child, but he also spent time re-enacting Harrison Ford movies and hiding his tzitzit in rural Mississippi. Nathan, as far as I can understand, grew up on the back of a large turtle floating somewhere off the coast of Cuba.
And I—well, I spent my childhood primarily in classic small towns: Amherst, Massachusetts, and Williamsburg, Virginia. Two lovely places that I don’t really regret leaving. Moving to New York in 1998 was the smartest thing I ever did (I’m not sure I really had a choice about it, but anyway), and I’ve never regretted the compromises that life here has entailed: the lack of open space, the pervading poverty (my own as much as others’), the record-size cockroaches, the increasingly unusable subways, the way that corner bodegas seem to charge more every year for pints of Haägen-Dazs that seem to shrink every year. Nothing has ever made me seriously consider moving anywhere else, like the suburbs or something.
Until now! (But only because my Dadwagon contract requires it.)
Now, as Sasha nears the age of 2, and the prospect of applying for “universal” pre-K slots is just around the corner, with the gut-tightening horror of actual attempted entry into public school a corner or two past that, the suburbs—and all they represent—are starting to look a bit enticing. But not just for the “good schools and free parking” reasons that most people flee to New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut. Frankly, I just don’t worry that much about Sasha’s education. She’s smart, she has involved and intellectually inclined parents (and extended family), and that sort of social pressure usually pushes kids toward academic success. Also, she’s half-Asian.
For me, it’s a question less of amenities than of attitudes. It’s not for nothing that most of my friends in New York are not, in fact, native New Yorkers. Actually, I think I can count my native friends on one hand (and not in binary, either); some of them (but not all!) can kind of be dicks—you know, that know-it-all, blustery New Yorker stereotype.
The rest of my friends either grew up in other cities, in suburbs, in small towns, in foreign countries, and I think that has helped shape their (and my) approach to this place. In other words, because we’ve lived elsewhere we’re uniquely ready to take advantage of everything New York has to offer. We appreciate the fact that you can do anything you want at any time of day or night, because we’ve lived in places where the options were limited, where no one understood us, where the boredom of everyday life drove us mad with city-lust. We came to New York and thrived here because we needed to.
At the same time, we—and you all know I really mean “I”—can maintain a certain kind of nostalgia for the countryside. Maybe I’ve just been listening to the Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs” album, which treats life in the burbs in the 70s, 80s and 90s as the bittersweet experience it was (for me). The yards and the schools and learning to drive—don’t those things have value? Should I give Sasha the same childhood that shaped me? New York will always be here for her, when she’s grown up and can appreciate it. Till then, she’ll have the birth certificate testifying that she was born in the center of the universe.
Except… except I’m not quite ready to give up New York for myself. I’m still too addicted to its possibilities (god, I sound so fucking earnest), to the random insanity that makes life as stimulating as it is frustrating. I’m selfish. I haven’t had enough of the city yet. But maybe I have had enough that I can see the end coming—a time when Jean, Sasha and I will head north, or west, or east (but certainly not south) to a place with acres of grass, a creek, a couple of cars (I’ve always wanted a vintage Land Rover), and a bunch of milquetoast kids whom Sasha can effortlessly dominate with her city-bred ways.
But will that be Jersey? God, I hope not.