Wednesday, October 27, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

One of the many unexpected pleasures of parenting Max is the renewed appreciation I find that I have for my neighborhood: the East Village. I have lived in the East Village more or less since Stewart and I started dating in early 2001. I say “more or less” because I was technically living in Brooklyn at the time, and subsequently Harlem, but I spent most of my overnights at Stewart’s pad on Second Avenue and Ninth Street from early on in our relationship. Actually, it was Stewart’s brother’s pad as well, and I’m sure that he will tell you that three is definitely a crowd. Even then I loved the neighborhood. There were so many cheap restaurants, unpretentious gay bars and little boutique shops. So when Stewart and I decided to officially move in together by buying an apartment, we pretty much looked exclusively in the East Village.

We ended up looking at over 50 apartments for sale until we found our dream apartment, a one bedroom where we still live at Avenue A and 3rd Street. In our years together in this apartment since then, we’ve witnessed our neighborhood gentrify. In came the chain stores and the bridge and tunnel crowds that turned the East Village into one big parking lot on the weekends, and out went the cheap mom and pop stores and restaurants. When our surrogate Christie got us pregnant, we knew that the clock was ticking on our time in our one bedroom. Max can only sleep in our bedroom so long before the situation drives him and us crazy. Given the way the neighborhood was becoming so popular and crowded, we seriously considered looking to move to a new neighborhood to raise Max.
But then Max actually arrived, my life as a parent began, and my perspective on the East Village surprisingly changed. While we had been souring on it during our pre-kid lives, I discovered that, as a parent, the neighborhood was completely transformed. A perfect example is Tomkins Square Park. Stewart and I rarely spent time there as a couple, but it is now the main place that Max and I venture to. There are three playgrounds in the park, in addition to another kids’ space that features running fountains of water in the summer. Max and I spend most of our time at one particular playground that has bucket swings for the wee little ones. Max was a little hesitant about them at first, but now he smiles and coos and kicks his feet just at the sight of them. There are invariably other parents on either side of me pushing their own babies in the swings, and naturally we get to chatting. Everybody is really friendly and resourceful and they have become familiar faces that I look forward to seeing. They hail from all types of different backgrounds, and I’m very thankful that Max is growing up in such a diverse neighborhood.
When we are not at the park, we are either wandering around one of the several gorgeous community gardens in the neighborhood or taking a breather on the benches in front of Ninth Street Espresso. Also, during the summer and even now (it got up to 70 degrees today here), the East Village has a ton of outdoor cafes where Stewart and I can grab a weekend brunch or early weeknight dinner with our son. Max loves to watch all of the activity about him while we eat. In fact, he is such a fan of the city that whenever he gets fussy in the apartment, I know I can calm him down almost instantly by taking him outside for a walk around the block. His eyes will dart around the bright, loud cityscape and that endless distraction makes him forget whatever grievance he seemed to be expressing inside. And while I haven’t experienced the neighborhood with a kid during the winter, I am told by my new playground buddies that many families still brave it in the park, and that the 10th Street library branch is a great warmer option to entertain a kid.
So why have I fallen back in love with the East Village? Because it is Max’s home. It has his playgrounds and libraries, his outdoor cafes and communal gardens, and his calming sojourns around the block. A neighborhood is only as good as its people, and the East Village is good people. I hope we get to stay.


  1. i lived at 10th and A when i first moved to NY in 1989. the nearest chain store was a gap at St. Mark's and Second Avenue. Tompkins Square was about to be closed for renovation. i loved the everything you loved about the neighborhood; it's shops, restaurants and character. Though it has changed considerably, it's a much better place to be raising a child. congratulations on sticking it out and falling back in love with it! i miss it terribly. ;)

  2. Yea, yea...but wouldn't being near prospect park,mochi and aunt Li Li be even better!!!

  3. Thanks, obviously when I came into the neighborhood it was already gentrified but where we live in Alphabet city still retains some character and as I stated it's a great neighborhood to raise a kid.

  4. Here's to that Jake, isn't it amazing to see the same space you are so used to be transformed? So jealous of your everyday there in the East Village. It is amazing the amount of information Max is getting everyday it will expand his mind for sure.

  5. Becoming a parent definitely opens up a new perspective on a lot of things. So glad you're enjoying it!

  6. My kids are 3 and 4, and I've LOVED raising them in the city. We're near Central Park, and there's so much to see and do. Anytime I visit people from the suburbs and get pitying smiles with the wrinkled noses.. "Oh, you have your kids in the CITY??", I wish they could spend a day with us here! I completely agree.. when you have kids here, you fall in love with the city in a whole new way.

  7. Hi Jacob,

    I've heard so much about Max from his pal Eli and I look forward to meeting you. Alan and I (Eli's paternal grandparents) lived at 65 St Mark's Place for a while in the mid '60s, so we'll have to compare notes. We love that so many city neighborhoods have become family friendly and are retaining "the kids."
    Have fun,

  8. Debbie, Thanks for checking out the blog. I also look forward to meeting you. I am a big Eli fan and I am glad that he like Max plans to stay in the city.