How To Raise A Kid In A City

We're not all like this

We’re not all like this

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.

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The Etiquette of Weed Pt. 3: A Rebuttal

I'm sorry this is your neighbor

I’m sorry this is your neighbor

Last week, author Jennifer Garam’s XO Jane article, I Don’t Want to Smell Your Pot Smoke and I Don’t Think It Should Be Legalized, was picked up by Time Magazine. Obviously the title is a bit sensational, but I expected to be a bit more sympathetic than your average Millennial. As someone who doesn’t smoke pot, I can relate to a lot of Garam’s complaints: the constant pressure to do it because it’s “cool,” the frustration of being the only not-high person in a room, and most of all the smell. The smell of pot is something that’s always bothered me, and the prospect of legalization and the increase in that smell being acceptable gives me a minor panic attack.

However, the crux of Garam’s complaints is really an issue of etiquette, not of legalization.

Garam illustrates her complaint with her downstairs neighbor, an apparently avid pot smoker.  She explains, “I live in an old building with cracks and crevices so there were a lot of places for the smoke to seep through. It smelled like it was coming up through the radiator, through the crack between the floorboards and the wall at the head of my bed, by the kitchen, and in the closet. Also, I live on the top floor, so the smoke would float up to my apartment and get trapped there with nowhere further to go.” She complained to her landlord (though seemingly not to her neighbor) to middling success, and received no relief until her neighbor moved out.

We’ve discussed both pot smoking etiquette and apartment etiquette here, and this issue lives at that intersection. I’ve lived in apartment buildings my whole life, and I’ve been subject to pot smoking neighbors, but also cigarette and cigar smoking neighbors, and none of these are pleasant.  For two years my pantry (which shared a wall with another apartment) smelled like cigarettes, and when I was a kid my neighbor down the hall smoked so many cigars I swear the lobby was hazy. I’ve never particularly minded cooking smells, but if someone hasn’t taken out their garbage for weeks, believe me the whole building knows. Even if you’re a smoker (of anything), it’s not a stretch to understand that not everybody is okay with, or can handle, the smell of your smoke.

This is all to say that if you live in an apartment building, you have to come to terms with your space not being entirely your own, and that goes both ways. If you’re going to smoke pot, you have to do everything in your power to contain the smell to your own apartment (smoke through a vaporizer, with lots of windows open, or with one of those things with a dryer sheet tied to the end of a paper towel roll). If you are bothered by the smell or smoke from your neighbors, ask them yourself first instead of running through your landlord. Make it clear that their actions are directly affecting you. It’s easy enough to shut the door to our apartments and forget that the outside world exists, and yes I’m all for having sex as loudly as you want, but if you’re going to live in an apartment, you have to remember there are people on the other side of that wall.

Issues like these are good reminders that we are never entirely alone. Whether you lived in a crowded apartment building or in an open field, miles from your neighbor, your actions and decisions affect others. It seems inevitable that pot will be legalized in the US, and despite the issues that will arise (can we talk about how black people bore the brunt of pot arrests and white people are most likely to reap the benefits of legalization?), it will probably be a good thing. We still deal with the issues of alcohol being legal, but you’d be hard pressed to find many advocating for a complete return to prohibition. So no, having an annoying pothead neighbor does not mean pot shouldn’t be legal. I’m sure this woman has had many a pothead neighbor who’ve been able to keep their habits to themselves, and thus she’s never known about it. What it does mean is that we’ll all need to rethink our habits and adjust them accordingly, so that nobody is forcing their hobby on an unsuspecting tenant.