There he was standing in front of me giggling, arms outstretched, and totally naked. He was bald and wrinkled, like the dancing old man from those Six Flags commercials, but he was just over a foot tall and, from his mostly toothless smile, drooled a bit. His mom scooped him up and got him dressed.
I recently joined a south Brooklyn YMCA and this locker room scene isn’t so unusual.
Brooklyn moms and their offspring have been enjoying the Y for a century and a half, but never has parenthood taken so many blows to its reputation. Childless adults across Brooklyn mock their neighbors’ choice to settle down and start families. Looks of disdain are aimed at young couples rocking their babies to sleep while they enjoy a cocktail on Park Slope patios. Moms and dads struggle with baby carriages on the subway and are often dismissed as merely being in the way.
“It’s true for pregnant women, too,” my friend told me recently when I bumped into her and her young daughter. “It’s like it’s your fault for getting knocked up.”
Of course, at the rapid pace of this city, there will always be somebody in the way, or in your cab. My mom still tells me, with incredulity, the story of how a man pushed her out of the way to steal her cab in front of Macy’s while she was very pregnant with me in 1981. But rarely was that the rule and not the exception. As a toddler growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, I was known as the hi-and-bye girl, my charm emanating from my use of those two words exclusively, and neighbors would fawn over me.
Now it seems that the only fawning adults are members of the same exclusive club: those who have chosen to bring life into this world.
“It’s because we can’t stand their obnoxious, screaming kids,” my mom said when I mentioned the topic of this column to her. “Or when they’re teaching their kids something and the decibel goes up 10 notches and everyone around them can hear what a good mom they are, like she’s the first mother to ever teach her kid anything.”
Don’t get me wrong – I’d hate to totally defend some of the poorer tendencies of parents these days – but it seems to me that the reason people move to New York is to live freely, without judgment of lifestyle, as it has been for centuries. Even if this choice is often considered heteronormative, why do we train so much animosity on our neighbors who decide to permanently settle, and, therefore, to commit fully to membership in our communities by raising their children here? I’m always told that I’m a rare breed – having been born and raised in Manhattan; and having stayed in New York City as an adult – and now a new , huge generation of kids will join that club.
To them, I say welcome.
It’s true that parents can seem pretentious about having children, or neglect them to the point where they begin to disturb those around them, say, on the subway. They sometimes spend excessive amounts of money on baby accessories that seem garish to the childless, like tiny t-shirts that read “Made in Brooklyn.” The baby talk grates on us, as does the apparent suburbanization of New York. Should parents turn on their children in anger, like a typical scene from a Saturday afternoon in Target, us childless folks pat ourselves on the back for not having kids.
What we hate to consider is that we aren’t so far from establishing our lives in this way, or that we’re just plain selfish.
At the Gate, a Park Slope bar, I recently had a drink with an old friend visiting from out of town. We had planned to go to Union Hall originally, known best for recently banning babies from the premises, but it was empty and we decided on the Gate for its patio.
“There will be babies there,” I told him. He shrugged it off, and we walked over and seated ourselves.
Minutes later a couple walked in with a sleeping newborn baby in a bjorn. “Yeah,” my friend said. “At least it’s not the bad kind.”
I’m still trying to figure out what the bad kind is. Though I’m not a mother, or even close to being one (if ever!), I do have a niece and a nephew, 11 and 7, respectively. They live in Maine with my brother and his wife. I sometimes lament, if only because I miss them, that they don’t live here in this central, urbane part of the universe; though they do have a very nice life up north. It was with this thought that I recently assisted a young tattooed mom carry her stroller-strapped daughter down the steps of the Metropolitan Avenue G station.
“This must make it tough getting around,” I said as I walked backward down the steps, without any real idea of what I meant.
“You have no idea,” she responded.