Excuse me if I seem bitter, but there’s something I need to get off my chest. I’ve lived in New York City my entire life, in apartments, sometimes one-bedrooms I shared with a parent. I’m of an age where peers are beginning to have kids, or think about having kids, which always raises the question–do we raise little precious in the big, bad city? Or do we move to the suburbs “for the children”? Of course, living in a non-urban area is a FINE AND GREAT LIFE CHOICE and you should make it if it’s for you. Personally, I’m a fan of being from a city. Both lifestyles also have their perks and drawbacks, and it’s just a matter of what works for you and your family.
Anyway, recently I’ve come across a lot of people who are trying to game the system by raising their children in a big city, but then moving to the suburbs just in time for middle school. Their kid will get to peacock about being a “city kid” while basking in the comfort and societal normalcy of suburban life, and also might have a better chance at getting into a “good” school. Plus, the parents then get to say they were the cool ones who were totally fine with balancing an exciting city life with a baby. There are lots of things that bother me about this, but the main one is that these kids (and their parents) rarely bother to learn apartment etiquette. To them it’s not important. They’re going to be leaving anyway.
We’ve gone over some basics of apartment etiquette, but the main premise that a lot of people can’t wrap their heads around is that even though you have four walls a door, you are not really isolated. As I write this I can hear my neighbor’s dog barking, the guy on the sidewalk shoveling out his driveway, and my upstairs neighbor playing piano. This might sound like torture to some people, but I think it’s good for us to remember we aren’t alone in this world. Your presence and actions affect others.
So if you have a kid in an apartment, for no matter how long, here are some things you should know and start implementing.
- Do not leave your strollers in the hallway. I know your apartment is small. Everyone’s is. That’s why you shouldn’t have gotten the 30 pound stroller with the shock wheels that won’t fold up in the first place. The hallways are for public use, and save for umbrellas, wet shoes, and mayyybe a trash bag left out at night and taken down first thing in the morning, you should not keep your stuff out there.
- Understand when it’s time to be quiet. Obviously few parents can help a screaming infant in the middle of the night, and most apartment dwellers are pretty forgiving of noise. We all get that we share walls. But you should teach your kids early and often that hallways are not for screaming, not to jump or pound on floors, and not to practice instruments after a reasonable time at night (or too early in the morning). And for everyone, if you’re having a party or expect to be making a lot of noise past that “reasonable” time, try to give your neighbors a heads up.
- Be understanding of the noise others make. Ideally, everyone comes to apartment living with a forgiving attitude. We all try our best to be mindful of others, but some things just can’t be helped. I don’t mind the occasional crying infant, because I know shit happens. In the same forgiving vein, parents, do not assume that every noise made was made specifically to disturb your child. I’ve heard of parents shouting at their neighbors for ringing buzzers or making noise when their child is trying to nap, or for throwing a party past their child’s bedtime. Obviously if something is ongoing and extraordinarily loud you have the right to complain, but part of apartment living means you need to make concessions. Also, children are resilient and learn to sleep through noise! It happens all the time.
- The city is not always kid-friendly. People curse on the street. People are drunk in public. People wear “inappropriate” things. This is true of everywhere, but all the more likely the more heavily concentrated the area. In all likelihood, your kid is going to see some things you think they are too young or too innocent to see. Make peace with this now, or move to a place where it’s easier to shelter them.
- The subway is not your car. This one goes outside the apartment, but it’s still important. There is a certain efficiency to living that it necessary in a big city, especially when cars are not an option. I see a lot of parents forget about this, and insist on taking up a whole subway bench for their strollers, diaper bags, and whatever entertainment their kids seem to “need.” Once I saw someone set up a playpen on the subway floor. Once again, this is a public space, and space economy needs to be taken into account. Don’t take up more than your allotted number of seats, and if your kid needs entertainment, give them a book, a quiet toy, or an iPad with headphones. Far too many people just let their kids watch movies at full volume and it’s driving me insane.
Plenty of people move to big cities to really have a life there. Those aren’t the people I’m talking about here. Those people care about living in a city, and adapting to what everyday life must look like. I’m talking about the people who say they want to live in a city without understanding that your lifestyle cannot be that of one in the suburbs or in a rural area. Just as I wouldn’t move to a farm and expect a deli to open up around the corner, you should not live in a city and expect the sort of space and privacy country living provides. If you want all the trappings of suburbia, then sorry, that’s where you have to go. We all gotta make sacrifices.
Only slightly related, but a toddler tried to give me his seat on the subway the other day. I have met the city’s politest child, and I will never be the same.