Tuesday, April 02, 2013

What's It Like to Grow Up in New York City?

Alice, who as of this summer will have lived
 in New York most of her life.
New York magazine dedicated its most recent issue to "Childhood in New York," featuring 39 well-known people reminiscing about growing up in the Big Apple.

The upshot? People sure got beat up a lot in the old days.

From Matthew Broderick's entry: “We’d go to Central Park. We’d go ice skating at Wollman Rink or Lasker Rink uptown. We would go to Times Square to play pinball. I should also mention that I was constantly robbed. I don’t know if that still happens. But in those days, every now and then, somebody would come up to you and say, 'I have a knife in my pocket. Give me whatever—' and you’d give them your change. That happened a lot to us children.”

Kids had freer rein then, allowing them to roam the metropolis — sometimes at their peril. (The irony today is we live in a much safer city, and yet no one lets kids do anything on their own.)

Even amid the violence, the magic of New York comes across in these anecdotes, whether people are remembering the 1950s or the 1980s. And I don't think that will change for today's children.

There's a surprising simplicity to life here — a storybook existence that you don't get in the suburbs. Our kids live on a small island, within a mile of everyone they know in New York. There's no minivan shuttling them around to activities; they just have their feet. And when they look out the window of our apartment, they see the building where their daddy works and the hospital where their sister was born. It's a village made of skyscrapers.

The subway is a portal transporting them to the wonders of Central Park and Midtown Manhattan (we don't usually get much farther than that). They ponder the lions in front of the library's main branch (Elliot posits that they were once real lions that turned into fossils). And every night, the Empire State Building lights greets us with a new color scheme.

I'm not sure what the kids will remember of all this. Maybe just their dad dragging them out to see sculptures while he complains about the weather.

But I'd like to think they'll have their share of adventures — just not the kind where they get robbed.