The Fashion Magpie Raising a Baby in New York

Living in Manhattan with a Baby.

One of the most common questions I receive from friends and family members who have never lived in New York City is: “Is it impossible to live in New York with a baby?”  I think I surprise most of them when I respond that I actually find it easier than living in Chicago with a baby — admittedly, my only point of reference.  Now, moving to New York City with a baby is another story entirely, and I wouldn’t wish that hell on my worst enemy.  But living here?  It’s been surprisingly convenient.  Here’s why:

+Everything we need is walkable.  Everything!  Her pediatrician, music classes, movement classes, playgrounds, the grocery, the drug store, the library, the zoo, museums, and even her pediatric dentist (I’m taking her to first appointment this week).  So we just load up the stroller and head out for the morning or afternoon.  No parking, no transferring from car seat to stroller, no collapsing and hoisting a huge stroller into a trunk.  And the best part is that I’m never more than fifteen or twenty minutes from home (usually less), so if there’s a disaster (blowout, meltdown, change in weather), it’s easy to zip home.  This in turn means I don’t need to pack a ton of stuff in my diaper bag.  It’s honestly a breeze.  I love being car-less at the moment.

+Everything delivers.  Initially, I was daunted by the idea of doing things like picking up the dry cleaning and grocery shopping in Manhattan.  Even though our dry cleaner is only a six or seven minute walk, pushing a stroller while hoisting a bag of dresses and shirts over my shoulder sounded like a highly unpleasant trek.  And even though our closest grocery (Whole Foods) is about five minutes from us, lugging home groceries — even with the support of a stroller — was not high on my favorite things to do list.  (Just think about the logistics of dragging a shopping cart behind you while pushing a stroller with one hand — all while in the busiest Whole Foods in the entire world, largely populated by two types of people: idle tourists stopping to stare at nothing or angrier-than-hell local New Yorkers.)  Then I discovered that the dry cleaner and the grocery, like every other business in the city, deliver.

We now place an Instacart order for groceries every Sunday, and occasionally elsewhere throughout the week as needed depending on what we’re cooking.  (N.B.: the “unlimited” fee is absolutely worth the investment.  With it, you get free delivery on orders over $35 vs. paying $6-$12 per delivery, and since I order at least once a week, the fee paid off within a couple of months).  Separately, I tried a couple of other grocery delivery services and prefer Instacart for selection, website experience, and communication with the shoppers.  They do a really nice job, and if there are errors, have been very generous in refunding or making the situation right.  I still go to the grocery at least two times a week to pick out protein (steak, chicken, etc — I still prefer to pick that out myself or at least get a sense for what looks good) or scoop up some fresh produce, but the Instacart orders have made my life so much easier when it comes to staples like mini’s milk, peanut butter, bread, eggs, butter, LaCroix, snacks, etc.

We order wine from Astor Wine every two weeks or so on Tuesdays (they run a promotion every Tuesday where you can get 15% off select kinds of wine — sparkling, wines from Italy, etc), and they deliver for free on orders over $100.  We used to buy wine from a local spot (that also offered free local delivery!), but Astor Wine has a better curator — we have literally never had a bad bottle from them.  I just sort by their “staff picks” and know I’m in safe hands.  Also, their website is super easy to navigate and they have experts that are available to help you pick finer wines via email, a service I used recently when trying to select a nice bottle of wine for Mr. Magpie.

We place monthly orders for household products like toilet paper, toothpaste, cleaning supplies, dishwasher detergent, q-tips, soap, etc. from Target using Google Express.  I’ve found that Target has far better deals on that kind of stuff than Instacart’s options.  For example, you might pay $5 or $6 for a bottle of Mrs. Meyers countertop spray via Instacart vs. $3 or $4 at Target via Google Express.  And they offer free delivery on orders over $35 and are often, I find, running 20% off coupon codes.

Chewy, a subscription pet food service, delivers our dog food.  Extremely convenient because a month’s worth of food for our airedale is HEAVY, and the prices are reasonable.

We use Amazon Prime for recurring monthly purchases like diapers, wipes, laundry detergent, and my beloved household gloves (I get one new pair delivered each month) — I’ve found that their subscribe + save prices on those kinds of items are better deals than other suppliers.

+The city is basically our backyard.  Living in such small quarters encourages me to get outside with mini every single day.  This in turn breaks up the day for me and makes me feel good in the sense that I am taking advantage of this incredible city — which I should be!  It is so expensive to live here, I want to make sure I’m drinking in all of its attractions.

+Mini is…well, mini right now.  I am thinking that life in a small Manhattan apartment will become more challenging as mini ages and might want more privacy or play space, but, right now, the “petite” dimensions of our living arrangements are honestly convenient.  It’s easy for me to keep an eye on her since I’m always only a few steps away — there’s just no where to hide or get into that much trouble without me seeing her immediately, and there are no stairs to worry about.

+The Subway is a few blocks away.  I will invariably walk if I possibly can (my cut-off is the 25 minute walk to the Children’s Museum), but the Subway makes getting around the city fairly easy.  I definitely needed to buy the Babyzen Yoyo travel stroller to accommodate Subway travel on my own because it’s pretty rare to find a Subway station that does not involve steps at some point.  (Grrr.)  And even the stations with elevators can be super frustrating to navigate.  At our closest station, for example, to take an uptown train, I would need to get on (not kidding) three elevators, and those elevators move like dinosaurs and often have clusters of people waiting to access them.  So I usually just bite the bullet and use the steps.  Setting aside the accessibility element, the Subway is the easiest, fastest way to travel in the city.  The trains run very regularly–except for on the weekends, which is a major bummer.

+New Yorkers are nicer than their reputations suggest.  I am often surprised at how helpful New Yorkers are in opening doors, holding elevators, and helping me carry mini’s stroller up and down stairs.  Just don’t idle slowly down a crowded street or stop still in the flow of traffic — the fastest ways to enrage a New Yorker.

Caveats…

I’m aware that my positive experience may be idiosyncratic.  Here are some caveats…

+I am extremely fortunate to live in a building with an elevator and doormen, meaning I don’t need to lug a stroller or deliveries up and down stairs.  Further, the doormen will keep packages for me until I’m home, which makes delivery of everything super simple and non-logistically-complicated.  I have friends who live in beautiful walk-ups in the West Village and Brooklyn who — though they have adapted, usually by buying the Yoyo stroller — complain about how challenging it is to be on their own with a baby and a stroller in tow.  It also makes deliveries of diapers, food, etc., much less appetizing because you need to coordinate your presence in the apartment with the delivery service.

+As mentioned above, I had to buy a decent travel stroller to navigate the Subway.  (And, occasionally, to attend museums!  For example, the Children’s Museum will not permit you to leave a stroller unless it folds fairly compactly!)  I splurged on what I believe to be the best umbrella stroller on the market and it has really made a difference.  I love that it folds into a square you can wear via a strap over your shoulder — it enables me to be handsfree while navigating the subway.  Even with the Yoyo, though, I have to say that traveling on the Subway with mini by myself is not my favorite thing to do.  I will do it to visit friends and so forth but it’s pretty exhausting (and dirty).

+Baby-proofing is really hard in a New York apartment.  We don’t have enough square feet for a dedicated play space for mini, but we don’t want to live in an apartment that looks like Gymboree, so baby-proofing has been hard.  We essentially moved all fragile things up to higher shelves, but, for example, she can easily access our receiver via our media console and she loves to turn it on and off, on and off, on and off.  She also loves to mess with my husband’s fancy speakers (his biggest pet peeve) and print blank pages with our printer, which lives on the floor.  For all of these things, we have no other options available to us unless we want to get rid of those electronics.  And in some cases we just have no where else to put stuff out of her reach — for example, we have a gorgeous console in our foyer and an elegant sideboard in our dining room, and we need to use the exposed bottom shelves of both to store items.  We simply have no other storage solutions available to us!  So this means we need to be on constant patrol when she’s near them and likely to mess around with their contents.

+I live on the Upper West Side, where the streets are (generally) wide and accommodating when it comes to pushing a stroller.  Downtown, by contrast, the streets tend to be narrower and bumpier and I’m more likely to anger or be angered by the pedestrians around me.

+I live across from Central Park.  This, I think, has entirely shaped my positive view of the city.  I don’t know if I would be quite as enthusiastic about living here with my toddler if it weren’t for Central Park, which we essentially live in.  We visit it at least three or four times a day to walk Tilly, go to a playground, visit the zoo, enjoy the carousel, have a picnic, etc.  Having that much green space and openness makes me so happy and gives me so many incredible (free or low cost!) activities to do with mini at my side.

+The two major downsides that I can think of right now are lack of space (which, as noted above, is also a convenience from time to time) and the car/taxi situation.  I do wish mini had a dedicated playroom where we could set up a small table for arts and crafts, give her a wide berth to play and run, and even purchase her some bigger toys (like a teepee or a playhouse or a small trike) that are straight-up impossible for us to store here.  I tell myself these are not important in the grand scheme of things, though — she still has plenty of room to run and explore outside and in classes, and she doesn’t need a trillion toys, either.  (That’s what visiting friends and family with kids out of state is for.)  One drawback I’d never thought about prior to moving to New York is traveling via car with her.  We have an inexpensive travel carseat (very safe and super light) that we keep in storage down in the basement of our building, so it’s not exactly available at the drop of a hat.  (And we definitely don’t want to keep that bulky thing in our apartment!)  As a result, we never — and I mean never, not even once! — take a cab anywhere.  We Subway or walk exclusively.  When we travel out of the city, we take the Subway to the train or rent a car and install our carseat in the back.  It’s not been a huge issue thus far, but it certainly limits my options when I am trying to zip around town.

Post-Scripts.

+For what it’s worth, my favorite classes I’ve found on the UWS for mini are Musibambino and Juliette and Ella’s Playdate.  She’s also in a private music class with a couple of other kiddos that was arranged by a mom I met through our nanny and taking swim lessons at the local Y, but I would still say Musibambino and Juliette and Ella are the absolute best, and we tried a LOT!  I don’t go regularly to either, though — I save them as a once-every-few-weeks treat using their drop-in option.  (They get so, so redundant.  Probably good for mini but would drive me nuts!)  For activities, I like the Tisch Children’s Zoo in Central Park (mini loves to pet and feed the animals) and — more rarely — the Museum of Natural History and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (I am pretty convinced that’s where she came down with her case of hand-foot-mouth, though…)  We are trying the Children’s Museum of the Arts next week!

+Found a new children’s wear label with the most darling Liberty print sets — check out Little O!

+This smocked romper is TOO CUTE for fall with the little apples!  Also comes in dress form, and would be darling for a first day of a “twos program”!  (Mr. Magpie and I are currently trying to decide whether or not to send mini to a twos program next fall.  I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but the New York pre-K scene is intense; we would need to apply soon for admission a year out.  And applying is a multi-step process!  I’ll have to write a longer post about this topic, because it’s more nuanced than I thought — even deciding if we want to send her to a twos program or wait until she’s three has been meatier than anticipated.)

+Speaking of school for minis — this is a fun backpack for a little one.

+I love the idea of this denim jumper over a white frilly blouse.

+Mini will be wearing these in silver with everything this fall!

+A ridiculous bargain on a precious traditional look for a mini.  I cannot believe how discounted it is!

+Love the retro, hand-made vibe of this mini cardigan.

+I guess I’m entering into “fall wardrobe” mode, because I’m already keeping my eyes peeled for cute jackets for cooler days.  Some of my favorite picks from her first year: this “pram” coat (she looked like such a dumpling in this with the little pom poms! — she’s wearing it in the snap at the top), this Petit Bateau raincoat, this Burberry car coat, and a monogrammed Widgeon fleece (love that this has no zippers or snaps — just two easy velcros!).  This year, I’m eyeing: this pink slicker by Hatley (or this one in pink gingham!), this navy boucle coat, this Scandi-cool raincoat.  (Aside: mega discount on a Burberry toggle coat for a baby!)  Also — for a boy — THIS!  ON SALE AND SO CUTE!

+Kind of a fun print — could it pass for a Thanksgiving dress?

+Several moms have said they like Hatley brand pajamas.  I’m not super wild about the prints except for the thumping bunnies pair!  So adorable.  I just snagged a pair of jams from Petidoux, though, and am anxiously awaiting their arrival.

+Mini is in a stage where she is ripping bows and hair elastics out of her hair any time she’s bored.  I am thinking of buying a pair of these old school Goody barettes — I wore these exact ones as a baby!!  Throwback!

+I think we’ve moved beyond the stage of using an infant toothbrush, and this toddler one is in my cart.

P.S.  To minimagpie on her first birthday.

P.P.S.  I have been feeling so nostalgic for mini’s early days lately.  How was she ever so little and immobile?!  I just reread some observations on life with her at seven weeks and dissolved a little bit inside.

13 Comments

  1. I think you’ve stumbled on quite a big part of the reason things feel pretty doable with a little one: the UWS. It is absolutely the most child-friendly neighborhood in New York from a convenience point of view. So many subway lines, supremely walkable, easy access to midtown (and then from there just about any other place in NYC), amazing public and private schools, and then the greatest backyard in the world. There are plenty of other great neighborhoods for kids and families, but the UWS is exceptionally gentle. Glad it is feeling like home 🙂

    1. Yes — “exceptionally gentle”! I feel super fortunate to have landed here, especially since it was a somewhat harried move and we had to go on the advice of others rather than figure out what we gravitated towards. Mr. Magpie has an interest in potentially living in the West Village at some point, but it will be hard to give up the Park! xo

  2. I do wish we lived somewhere more walkable – while we can get to the library and farmer’s market, I miss being able to just walk out the door with the stroller like we’ve done on recent trips to Boston and Monterey. Plus, some days the baby just HATES her car seat, but is much more amenable to the stroller.

    I recently picked up some cute pieces from Petit Peony (caveat – a cousin-in-law is working with the company in some capacity). They’re having an end-of-season sale – perfect for picking up items for next year!

  3. I totally agree that NYC with a baby is better than many people think, largely because of the walkability and the abundance of parks. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but there are a few things that I find particularly difficult about NYC with a baby. 1 – Even though my baby doesn’t take up much space yet either, her stuff does! I’m thrilled to get rid of her bouncer which has been consuming what feels like half our living room for the better part of a year. Her stroller clogs our entryway and her highchair blocks a door. 2 – Commuting time. It takes both my husband and I 30 – 60 minutes to get to/from work each way. Obviously this isn’t unique to NYC, but it’s frustrating to get 1-2 hours per day less with my baby because the subway takes forever to travel 2 miles. 3 – With no car and a stroller, we are especially dependent on the weather. I find it hard to do much with a baby in NYC when it’s pouring, freezing, or 90 degrees and humid. 4 – The corollary to all of these is expense! You can buy more space, or car service, or other solutions – but cost here is uniquely prohibitive.
    I’ll try to be inspired by your attitude towards navigating the city with a baby as we head into this weekend of hot and humid weather!

    1. Leah! Happy to see you agree with my perspective in general, though you raise some truthful and difficult points. The whole “baby clutter” one really resonated with me — ugh, the stroller! And mini’s doll stroller. We just got rid of her walker which left me joyful. But you are so right: so frustrating how bulky a lot of this baby gear is! It’s uniquely challenging here in NYC! xo

  4. Super interesting post — I always wondered what it would be like to live in NYC with a child, and this is a helpful take with lots of insight on running a household (that can apply to those outside NYC as well!)

    I was fortunate enough to live in a doorman building during my last few years in NYC, and I agree that it does make a whole world of difference when it comes to deliveries and such. And having Central Park outside your door is a HUGE perk! I felt lucky when it was only a few short blocks away — it’s such a special part of the city.

    1. Yes, exactly! I had no idea what the deal was with doormen prior to living here. Of course many people live without and life goes on, but my best friend texted me after we put in an application on the apartment we ended up living in and said:

      “Glad to hear that!”

      [PAUSE]

      “The world needs to know: DO YOU HAVE A DOORMAN??????”

      Haha! And so I realized that it can be an enormous convenience.

      xoxo

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