Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Our Building (In Center). Photo by Ivan Gilkes
I admit, living in the middle of Manhattan, in a rather small apartment with two rambunctious boys, a husband and a home office, does get tedious at times. There is the fact that I work mere inches from where I sleep, and that there is only one bathroom, which often offers a nice whiff of urine, as the boys are not yet adept at getting the pee in the bowl--Sebastien, our youngest, just started potty-training (today he even "dropped a duce" in the toilet, go Seb!)--and that our kitchen is so tiny two people cannot operate in it simultaneously. And the living room is strewn with toys and about 2000 books belonging to my husband and all they do is collect dust.
But don't feel too bad for me. Because small can be grand. When I vacuum the house, which I admit is more rare than it should be, I can reach every corner of our space without unplugging the cleaner. How's that for convenient? We never have to do yard work and if the toilet is clogged or the sink won't drain, our maintenance men come within the hour to fix it. We don't even own our refrigerator, so when that broke down, they brought us a loaner fridge until ours was fixed. There are five other families in various forms on our floor, so if we ever need a cup of milk or someone to watch the kids for five minutes while we run to the store, we just knock on the door. Our carbon footprint, living in the city, in a large building like we do, without a car, is smaller than if we lived upstate on some idyllic farm. Call me crazy, but I think raising a family in a high rise in the middle of a big chaotic city is where its at.
I know, I know, the poor children never get to play in the backyard. Instead we go to our local park when its warm, and the kids get to actually socialize with their neighbors. Or they play soccer on the grass in front of our building or ride their scooters around the fountain at Washington Square Park. While our apartment is heavily subsidized by Steve's employer, NYU, I don't know that the suburbs would be a less expensive option. Factor in the car payments, insurance, mortgage, transportation costs, extra childcare needed because of the commute and the additional alcohol and drugs we'd take to counterbalance the alienation, and I think it would cost us more money to move to a nice house that we owned.
Look, I know there are cool people in the suburbs and great families and that opening your door and letting the kids run around outside is a very good thing. And, I know there are those that will be offended by my suburban slagging (my mother included) and will remind me that not everyone can afford the city. I accept all your criticisms. The city is too, too expensive. But what isn't these days? And yes home ownership is a great safety net, until the bank forecloses on your mortgage. I get that. But answer me this: why oh why does every middle class family in America need so much freaking space? What do you do with all those rooms? Are you avoiding your children? If so, how? My children like to be in the same room as me, even when I go to the urine-scented bathroom, so even if I could go in another room, my two would just follow me around telling me that so and so stole this or demanding juice boxes or begging for TV or telling me their butts itch. What's the benefit in that? All I can think of when I see large living spaces is "Ugh, can you imagine cleaning that humongous place?" and "Damn, what are the heating costs?"
Now of course, sometimes, I worry I might be missing out. Like when I visit my family in Los Angeles, where all my relatives live in stunning homes filled with light and tasteful decor and more than ample space for gardens, multiple TV's etal, accept for my sister Denise, who is a life-long renter like myself, but her apartment is still nicer than ours and almost as big, even though she is just one person. And when I visit them in their suburban splendor, sure I get jealous of the pools and their smug homeownership. And when I come back to NYC, I miss driving to Target and Trader Joe's and filling up the rented SUV with all the stuff, and throwing the kids in the back and listening to KCRW's morning becomes eclectic as I drive around burning fuel at the drive through of In-and-Out Burger.
It's what I know. I grew up in a lovely house, designed by my architect father, in the San Fernando Valley, where family upon family lived out their middle class dreams. My grandparents saved and saved to own a home, their proudest achievement. And here I am, living in rental sin, and loving every minute.
Posted by Sydney Railla-Duncombe at 2:40 PM