Melissa Errico, founder of the wildly popular downtown mommy group Bowery Babes, was drinking tea at the Noho Star the other day, reflecting on her somewhat lapsed career as a singer and Broadway star, which has included cabaret performances at the Café Carlyle and starring roles in My Fair Lady, Cole Porter’s High Society, Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George and Michel Legrand’s Amour, for which she received a Tony nomination in 2003.
“I was saying to Patrick,” she said—as in Patrick McEnroe: the Davis Cup captain, brother of John, her husband and father of their three children—“that I have nothing to sell anymore, I’m just there. I’m so there. It’s just a sense that everything is O.K.”
Ms. Errico, 38, founded Bowery Babes in 2006, inspired by her prenatal yoga teacher, who stressed the importance of women banding together against the trials and isolation of impending urban motherhood. Now numbering more than 500, the Babes live in a loosely defined geographic bloc including the East Village, Soho, Chinatown and the Lower East Side (though residents of Williamsburg and the West Village have managed to sneak in, along with one stay-at-home dad). Their packed calendar includes weekly art classes, theater days, play groups, and postpartum “adjustment” parties at which wine is served and a counselor is present. (Alas, this reporter was not permitted to visit.)
Wearing a gray cashmere hoodie and a cherubic flush, Ms. Errico was clutching a BlackBerry, which buzzed incessantly. One mother was asking her to forward an email about a friend’s “strollercize” class to the group, which Ms. Errico hesitated to do because another Bowery Babe had her own stroller class. (She eventually relented since the classes were being offered in different neighborhoods.)
“Hey, Katia,” she said, answering the phone once before turning it off. “Is anything wrong? You need a nanny? Oh, how much is a nanny for a 24-hour stint? I can give you a couple of ideas. It’s basically like $150 a day. … I’ll call you back.”
Ms. Errico had less to say about her career—“I don’t really know what to say about it,” she said—than the Babes, of whom, she said, she has “completely the most tender thoughts I’ve ever had in my whole life.”
FROM NBC TO THE ABC’S
Parental support groups are nothing new in New York. Further downtown, Anna Grossman’s 1,000-strong HRP Mamas (which stands for Hudson River Park Mothers’ Group) come from the Financial District, TriBeCa and Seaport areas; out in Brooklyn, members of Park Slope Parents, an infamous Internet community in the borough’s most stroller-clogged neighborhood, debate gender assumptions made about misplaced mittens.
But Bowery Babes prides itself on being a more intimate, supportive entity, with five subgroups dividing members into smaller communities based on the age of their children. “We don’t talk on the Internet about our marriages,” Ms. Errico said. “It’s not UrbanBaby.”
“It’s really more about trying to be proactively doing things rather than chatting, chatting, chatting,” said member Beth Rogers, who has offered organic cooking classes for the group out of her Soho apartment.
“Maybe because we’re downtown, that gives us a different vibe,” said Zoe Aldersberg, an East Village photographer and the “moderator” of Bowery Babes II, who learned of the group in yoga while pregnant with daughter Uma, age 2. “It’s more like a group of friends. It’s weird, because I meet people and I’m like, ‘Do you want to join my moms’ group?’ And it almost feels like a dirty word. Like I’m some suburban mother in God-knows-where!”
Of Ms. Errico, Ms. Aldersberg said: “She’s like the Pied Piper. You kind of want to follow her.”
Back at the restaurant, Ms. Errico, fidgeting with the sleeves of her hoodie, attempted to explain how she’d overcome various career disappointments to find unexpected peace as a mother and de facto symbol of enlightened downtown mommyhood.
In 2003, she was cast by Kelsey Grammer in her own sitcom for NBC, Neurotic Tendencies. “I was funny at the auditions, I was funny in Jeff [Zucker’s] office,” Ms. Errico said. “I had a great sense of humor and a good little body.”
Her first day of filming was a Monday. She was fired on Tuesday. “The only thing I ended up hearing was, ‘Her charm from the audition isn’t translating,’” Ms. Errico recalled with mock distress.
She pointed out a fellow Bowery Babe passing outside in the rain—“that woman yawning, she has a 4-month-old”—who had just the day before bought the $6 logoed canvas tote Ms. Errico has been selling out of her loft on Mulberry Street, where she has lived with Mr. McEnroe for the 11 years since she convinced him to forsake the Upper West Side. The pair bought raw space in the area at a time long before the Bowery and Cooper Square hotels and the restaurant DBGB. “His family was like, ‘Welcome to the arts!’” she said with a laugh.
The couple met in grammar school at Buckley, where he was her older brother’s best friend, and then years later at Joe’s Pub, where the brother, a songwriter, was performing. “We had nothing in common, but Melissa’s not exactly shy,” said Mr. McEnroe, who has dressed up regularly as Santa for the Babes’ annual Christmas party and as a chicken for their Halloween parties.
They married in 1998, when Ms. Errico was 27. After her sitcom disappointment, Mr. McEnroe took her to Six Flags and to a local tennis club, where he instructed her to hit the ball as hard as she could.
After rebirthing her career with performances at the Carlyle and the Kennedy Center (she’s also recorded an as-yet-unreleased pop album with Mr. Legrand, her idol), Ms. Errico became pregnant by accident at 35 with Victoria, now almost 3. “I had the worst fears about motherhood and being an actress and it was stupid, so stupid,” she said.
At yoga, she met 12 women who were due at the same time she was. They started meeting informally for lunch and kept in touch through their deliveries. Ms. Errico herself achieved a partially yogic natural childbirth in the hospital, naming her daughter after the sense of victory she felt. “It was a great, satisfying experience,” she said. And then: “Gosh, your readers might just think I’m the biggest jerk!”