When I first started spreading the word about our relocation to New York City, I received two types of reaction: enthusiasm from some, who I suspect, have already been picturing a future of free accommodation in the Big Apple than truly understanding the implications of another displacement for my family; and in contract, a concern in particular from other women and moms.
"New York? How are you going to survive there with the kids? Manhattan? It is a crazy and dangerous place. Why don't you go and live in Brooklyn or in the suburbs?" And then the ultimate “compassionate” line: “I WOULD NEVER MOVE THERE!"
Had it been my first expat experience I would have felt tremendously discouraged and demotivated. But it wasn't the case. Therefore, I simply ignored the comments because one very important learning acquired in years of moving from one country to another is not to be influenced by people's different opinions. They tend to be based mostly on preconceptions, rumours or simply different views people have about moving.
I was well aware that a significant change was at stake. Moving from a suburban house in quiet Westmount, Montreal, where you can leave your front door unlocked all night and in the worst case find a raccoon in your kitchen, to an apartment building in the Upper West Side where neighbours don’t bother greeting each other as they meet in the elevator, is after all quite extreme. However, to my surprise, settling in New York turned out to be much smoother than I had expected. Clearly, I could still think of more pleasant things than unpacking boxes and entertaining two boys in the dazzling heat of July.
But New York was rather embracing.
1. The neighbourhood
After considering a few options, we eventually picked the Upper West Side (or “UWS” as it is better known to New Yorkers) for a place to live. The UWS really is a great neighbourhood for families with children for a number of reasons:
a. It's in Manhattan but a lot less bustling and hectic than other areas. It is just a few subway stops, or a short cab ride, from Midtown where most offices are, which makes your husband's commute easy, quick and less nerve wracking.
b. There are more kids and strollers on the UWS sidewalks than adult pedestrians which made my daily trips more relaxing than in other places. (for all their qualities, New Yorkers are not known to be a patient folk so anywhere else in the city they tend to be less welcoming to a slow place stroller pushing mamma).
c. But in the land of family with kids that is the UWS, it is easy to get help from peer parents when I would you find yourself trapped trying to push the stroller into a store or up or down the stairs of a subway station.
2. Central Park
If there is one good reason to choose the Upper West Side this is undoubtedly the proximity to the City’s best outdoor playground : Central Park.
This is where, from my first days in NYC, I took my two boys to let off their energies. Moreover, in summer time it's the perfect place for a picnic or to run around in one of the many playgrounds scattered all over.
To my surprise these play areas are very SAFE. Not only are they clean and well-kept but also fence. So, though it's always necessary to keep an eye on the kids, they cannot run away too far and I don't have to strain my eyes. Almost all of them are equipped with sprinkles which offer a free relief and fun without necessarily going to a pool. Taking my kids to a playground was also for me a chance to break away from my domestic enclosure and strike up short conversations with strangers, other parents or nannies, seeking relief from the summer heat under the trees shade. This is how I started collecting more detailed information about my neighbourhood, places to take the kids, and phone numbers of potential babysitters and housekeepers.
On rainy days I must be honest and say that I'd rather empty more boxes than entertaining my boys. This is the time when I'm entitled, as a mother, to use tv and tablets as a distraction when the kids can’t take it any more in the confines of the apartment. However as I would have later discovered there is no shortage of indoor places where to register your kids for a very wide range of activities (that do not come cheap though).
My usual destination was the American Museum of Natural History on 79th Street and Central Park West where you can get in just by paying a symbolic fee and the kids are always so excited to see the dinosaurs rooms or, even better, the big hall with the whale hanging on the ceiling.
The attached Rose Center for Earth & Space is also worth a quick visit and then, if hungry, we would head to the cafeteria located on the underground level where the kids menu is all you need. In summer time do not expect to be alone though. The museum is under siege by flocks of tourists so walking your way through them is quite challenging and can get you easily tired and… frustrated. Well, you will quickly become an impatient New Yorker too…However if you manage to get there rather early in the morning and enter through the space wing located on the back side along Columbus Avenue, by the time it gets crowded, you are done.
Option number two was the Children's Museum of Manhattan on 83rd street where the entrance fee is not discretional but not too expensive either.
My kids really love this place which is basically a big playground on 4 levels with different educational sections that, in case of my kids, are totally ignored. I love it less and every time they ask me to go there I get goose bumps because the idea of finding myself surrounded by a countless number of frolicking kids yelling and squealing is how I picture hell. However, this is my job so after ten minutes of breathing exercises I would give myself in and escort the boys where you shouldn't go if you are still hesitating about motherhood.
My favorite floor is the underground level where there is a contained play area so you can simply stand or even sit by the entrance without becoming cross-eyed, trying to keep a visual contact with your kids who are, otherwise, disappearing amid the crowd.
On my daily outings with the boys, I would often bump into groups of children wearing colourful shirts, giggling and happily playing under the attentive supervision of young counsellors. They were all attending summer camps, a few weeks of fun activities starting right after the end of school and organised by various institutions. Many times, while chasing, in sweat, my kids on their scooters, I asked myself: “Why didn't I think about a damned summer camp? Wouldn't it be easier for me, for them, for us?”
A really pointless question because, first, when we arrived, it was too late to register to any of them and, second, even if given the chance, I would have opted out of it. The transition from Montreal to New York City had been, on a different level, an emotional challenge for the kids too. Therefore, we had to go through our first weeks of adjustment to our new environment together. When everything changes around them they only have me as their steady reference and I must softly guide them towards their new life until they’re comfortable enough to fly alone.
The idea of Moms & Boxes has been in my mind for a few years now. The trouble was that each time I got started, my husband would come home announcing a new international move. Finally, I made up my mind to take a shot at starting it irrespective of when the next call for packing would come (and where to).
My name is Anna and I really hope to meet or hear from you soon. My journey around the world started about 17 years ago when, one warm day of May in London, I’ve met the man I would later marry and join our ride around the world. Growing up in two different countries—Italy for me, Israel for him—travel became, right from the beginning, an integral part of our story. At the beginning, it was the long distance package. The real deal, pre-Skype, pre-FaceTime, long distance call rates. But once finally reunited in neutral Geneva, where he started his first job in a renowned multinational company, we relaxed for five years. I have not lived in a single place for full five year ever since. With his second job, we moved to Milan. Incidentally my hometown. But by then, at least initially, I felt like a stranger.
Less than 3 years later, with only few weeks after our first boy, Matteo, was born, he came home one evening with a sort of a smile that I’d later learn to detect. “We are moving to Taipei” were his words. I felt like crying and almost filed for divorce. Having done a few moves prior in my life, I did not want to move to the other side of the world with a little baby and also, back then, quit my job.
A couple of months later, we boarded a plane with a one way ticket to Taipei.
Those 3 years in Taipei have been the most fascinating in my life.
An unforgettable experience, not without difficulties, but extremely enriching and formative for who I am today. I met wonderful and good hearted friends I am still in touch with now who helped me a great deal getting by and understanding a different culture, different language and, more generally, a different way of life. From the world’s biggest skeptic, I became so happy and comfortable in Taipei, that, there, I "designed" and "manufactured" our second boy, Tommaso.
As comfortable as I was, and just 5 months after Tommaso was born, my husband came home from the office one day with that suspicious smile I had not seen for a while—“We are moving to Montreal”.
Time to pack up again, ship our stuff, buy a one way ticket and board the plane. In the first few days after landing in Canada, French and English spoken, I felt very happy to be back in a familiar environment. But I kept going for strolls in the local Chinatown to get a “homey” feeling of familiar scents and sites. This time it was a thermal more than a cultural shock. My first winter was 4 months (well) below freezing point after spending almost 3 years in the tropical climate of Taiwan.
We quickly fell in love with Montreal, its unique atmosphere, a perfect blend of both European and American culture and its seasonal breathtaking colours. This time we wanted to stay longer. We bought and redesigned a house and just when we were about to finish, during a short break with the kids in Italy—my husband on Skype with the same old suspicious smile, “We are moving to New York”.
I loved my life in Montreal, I made fabulous friends, designed our own family home, I wanted that to last. But could I say no to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in the Big Apple ? Few months on and I was again a on a plane, with a one way ticket to New York City, two kids and lots of good memories stored in my boxes
We have been here for eight months now. Every evening when my husband comes home, calls me on the phone or Facetimes me, I shake a little because I know it could happen again. However, instead of worrying about the future, I decided to put my present time to the use of other women who are trying, like me, to figure out their life in a brand new place and, more specifically, in the city that never sleeps.
This blog is a logbook where to collect and record stories, opinions, comments, pictures from our friends not only in New York City but across the world.
Everybody is welcome and encouraged to contribute.
You can email us the content of what you would like to post and we will post if for you.
Moms & Boxes speaks many different languages. English is the one we all share but not necessarily the one we excel at so don’t be shy.
We're looking forward to hearing from you !