Two Years in New York.

Though I ragged on The Falconers in my latest book club post (yikes), I did enjoy the descriptions of New York. Like a true New Yorker, the protagonist vacillates between romanticizing its energy and history and despairing of its endless movement and occasional grotesqueness. At a low point in the novel, the protagonist projects her angst onto the city, writing:

“The world is indifferent and uncaring and New York is its agent of apathy. New York doesn’t give a damn. New York sounds like a choir conducted by the devil. And that’s on a good day. New York will take all your money and all your kindness and all your love and will keep it for itself. There is no return on your investment…New York is an orchestra in a constant state of warming up. It never, ever finds its tune or any semblance of melody.”

I see in this portrait some of the vitriol I have occasionally let fly on particularly bad days, when the worst of New York tends to surface, as though the city has some sixth sense: Aha, she’s having a toughie. Let’s show her our worst, gang. Or, the opposite: when you’re waxing poetic about the city, New York will be sure to serve you up something disgusting. That’s a little too Pollyanna for our taste, lady. Try this instead. On days of either extremity, weird subway juice drips from the ceiling onto my brand new dress, or a cockroach lands on Mr. Magpie’s back, or — as happened a week ago — I witness three strung-out teens shooting heroin on one of the gently sloping hills of Central Park, while children blithely kick a ball to one another just a few yards away. I called Mr. Magpie, distraught, not sure what I should have done. Do I keep moving? Call an ambulance? I had noticed one of the teens was wearing a hospital bracelet — a detail that has haunted me and left me wondering over his wellbeing ever since.

This is New York: the hideous and obscene and disturbing abutting the overwhelmingly romantic and stately. Just head to Midtown: it’s desolate and overcrowded, overcluttered with chain restaurants and filth–but then you’ll catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building or find yourself in a weird state of inward content as you watch the world pass you by, and it feels like magic, or poetry, or something ethereal and out-of-body you can’t quite put your finger on.

Mr. Magpie recently asked me whether I felt more at home in Chicago or in New York. New York was an easy, at-the-ready answer. I loved our home in Chicago but it felt distant from everything I knew: a plane ride away from family, a subtly though distinctively different culture and mentality. Even its landscapes felt foreign: endlessly and expansively flat. I always felt minuscule there, like a tiny pin-dot on a map, the corn-fields and farmlands extending into oblivion over and around me. New York feels narrower and easier to wrap my head around, and the rolling hills that met us as we approached the East Coast for the first time on our pilgrimage here felt like home.

But there is something else, too: in New York, I travel everywhere by foot, and most of my life is spent within a 10 block radius of our apartment. Because of this intense pedestrian-ness, I know every nook and cranny — the spots I am likely to run into dog poop, the stinky trash corners to avoid, the intersections I hate. I know where I’ll be heckled by folks pushing a political agenda or asking for donations, when to stop by the grocery to avoid lines, how to order at Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Building (it’s an odd layout). I know my neighbors and the doormen and the barrista at my coffee shop and the cashier at my local Duane Reade and the “regulars” at the playground and the nail technicians at my salon by name and I interact with them all so frequently that I feel braided into the community here in a way I never did in Chicago. We have deeper roots here, too: siblings and cousins and an expansive network of friends and acquaintances I never had in Chicago. Beyond that, blessedly, my parents are now an easy three-hour train ride away.

Still.

I don’t know if New York will ever feel like “home.”

D.C. continues to occupy that spot in my heart and head. If someone asks when I’ll be going home, I reflexively think of my parents’ lovely home in Spring Valley, D.C., and have to do a quick mental shimmy to acknowledge that New York is, in fact, my home at the moment.

Will this change with time? If I stay in Manhattan for, say, a decade — will it then become my home? Home-buying did not transform Chicago into “home,” although I felt comfortable and secure there for a time, so I don’t know that it’s tethered to property ownership. Maybe watching my babies grow up here, plugged into schools and activities and budding friendships and soccer on Saturdays and donuts after Church on Sundays will make this city feel more like my own?

On the flipside, spending a week in the leafy, Suburban-esque bliss of the Hamptons earlier this summer left me aching for space and nature, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I will slowly emotionally alienate myself from the concrete jungle of New York, longing instead for cricketsong and the normalcy of an American youth for my children.

I don’t know. But I can tell you that I feel that life has brought me here for a reason — that there is something brewing here, something important — and that Mr. Magpie and I are determined to take advantage of this incredible town for however long we stay here.

So two years in, I continue to tango with New York, loving it on the good days, telling myself “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” on the mediocre ones, and wondering how impractical it would be to up and move our family back to the nostalgia-lined mid-Atlantic on the tough ones. Somewhere in that dance, my two year old daughter informed me, rather haughtily, that we were “in a taxi, not a car” as we zoomed up Broadway to visit a girlfriend; a stranger helped a man up after he tripped over a curb in Union Square; I was nearly run down by one of the furious and insane cyclists in Central Park who are always, apparently, in the midst of racing the Tour de France and have no time for pedestrian walkways; an old woman shoved me out of the way as I attempted to board the Subway; and my manicurist made a point to ask after my son, noting, with accuracy, that “he is two months, right”? It’s a weird thing, the swell and give of this city, the small kindnesses against the unseemly rudenesses, the poignantly personal against the inhumane, the dingy against the magical. At the end of the day, it’s a city of extremes, and, as a moderate in all things, I don’t tend to like living in the poles.

But New York may prove to be the exception.

Because even though New York will knock you down a peg when you’re feeling too good about it, it will also always finds small ways to make it up to you. A conductor holding the door of the Subway car open for you as you race through the turnstiles. The quiet of Central Park on a weekday morning. The elegant stateliness of Lincoln Center, the hush of its fountains temporarily suspending you from the din of the city. The knowing look of a fellow New Yorker as you edge your way around a clump of tourists. The proximity and urgency and thrill of it all.

I’ll take it.

Post Scripts.

+A few moms have written to say that Yumbox lunchboxes are THE best (leak-proof, great for organizing small toddler portions, etc). I already ordered mini one of these monogrammed styles but am wondering if I should buy a “bento-box” style insert? Currently, I use these inexpensive tupperware for her lunch when she’s out with the nanny.

+Worrying about remaining interesting to my husband.

+Is it horribly embarrassing that I can’t wait for this to arrive in the mail?

+Absolutely in love with these hand-painted custom Corroon bags.

+These discounted Jimmy Choos are so fun.

+Love this dress! Wish it were nursing friendly…

+I had a lot of questions about a dragonfly mug I posted on Instastory not long ago. It was from our wedding china, the June Lane collection by Kate Spade.

+Fun sweater for fall!

+One of my favorite finds this summer is marked down to only $45. It makes chasing after toddlers and walking big dogs so much easier. I’m after that hands-free life

+Have heard such good things about these pre-bottled coffees!

+A great gift for a girlfriend or bridesmaid. (More ideas here.)

+A lovely Emilia Wickstead dress, 40% off.

+Musings on the Big Apple after a year.

+Swooning over this tweed jacket with jeans for fall.

14 Comments

  1. Your post evoked the deepest nostalgia in me! I lived in New York (both Brooklyn & Manhattan) for 8 years post-college, and there’s truly no place like it. Of course, New York is my primordial conception of a city, given that I grew up 45 minutes away and visited it frequently growing up — I always knew I wanted to be there. Love took me north and I’ve now lived in Boston for 5 years — but New York will always be home to me. Congratulations on two years 🙂

    xx

  2. Not a New Yorker, past, present or future (unless something drastically changes!) but I can so relate to the instinct to still call the place you grew up “home”. I’m on state number five, but I’m still not entirely sure how to answer that question – “Well, I grew up in New Mexico, then Alabama to North Carolina to South Carolina and then to Indiana…” It’s a rambling journey even to say it all. I recently bought a house here in the midwest and while I love living here, I do wonder if it will ever feel like home. Yet, now that my parents have sold my childhood home and downsized, NM doesn’t quite fit in that same spot anymore either! Who knows!

    1. Wow! I’m sure “home” is a complicated word for you, then. It’s cool that you’ve had such a breadth of “homes” though — the South, the Midwest, the Southwest! A lot of different cultures and terrains and experiences. xx

  3. I moved to New York in 2006, for college, and even all these years later, I think of Boston as my home home. I don’t know how much of that is aesthetically and spacially grounded and how much is sheer perversity at this point! Because, for all my husband and I talk of other places, New York is where we know how to live. I envy your having lived in multiple elsewheres as an adult! Congratulations on the anniversary—here’s to many more!

    1. Thanks, Claire. I love this expression: “New York is where we know how to live.” I know what you mean by that. And as you get older, it becomes more and more terrifying to uproot yourself and learn the ins and outs of a new place with its attending requirements and quirks. Like, at this point, driving a car everywhere seems weird. HA! xx

  4. Loved this! I do wonder if you and your husband ever consider living in a suburb like Long Island or Westchester, where you can have the space and nature from your childhood but also be a quick trip away from the city. I made that decision 7 years ago and have never regretted it. Made coming into the city all the more exciting and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the space of a home with multiple closets as well as a backyard for kids and dogs to run free.

    1. Hi Rayna! Ah, I know! We have considered this. We almost always land in the same place: at this stage, we’re not willing to give up my husband’s crazy short commute — it takes him 15 minutes door to door! And that is such a lovely reassurance while we have small children and I lean on his return in the evenings. He worries in particular that he wouldn’t see the kids at all if he tacked on a commute. But, maybe — maybe! Maybe with time we could work out a more flexible work arrangement for him or shift his hours or it becomes less of an issue when the children are a bit older. AH. I don’t know. There are tradeoffs to everything. I so envy your space though — and the easy proximity to the city!!

      Thanks for the reminder of this wonderful option.

      xx

  5. I have been feeling this so much lately, but I’m not in New York. Hopefully this doesn’t come off as hopeless or pessimistic but I’m fairly certain this kind of rudeness clashing with generosity exists everywhere these days. The smelly garbage or maybe the occasional cockroach (but yikes!) are all the more tolerable with the presence of kind people. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the political climate, or perhaps it’s social media, or maybe just busyness that has made people more careless or created an environment where it’s more acceptable to be a critic of others?

    I have found the more we find “our people” and “our routine” (which happens shortly after our little ones started school) the more quickly I can recover from the occasional disappointment. All the best to you!

    1. Amy – you are so right! This exists everywhere. I feel like it is super dense and super intense in New York, just by virtue of its crowdedness. Of course there were weirdnesses and rudenesses in Chicago but it didn’t bear down on me in the same way.

      Anyway, I like the idea that you found your people once your children started school! Encouraging 🙂

      xx

  6. It will be 8 years for me in NY this fall, and I’m still kind of stunned by that fact. I also swing back and forth on whether this is the best or worst place in the world. I just returned home from a mostly off-the-grid hiking vacation in northern Montana and as I sped home in a cab along the BQE, I thought about how much I love both extremes- the silence and solitude of the woods and the middle-of-it all buzz of the city. It’s a shame we only have but one life- there are so many I’d still like to live.

    1. Ah, Anna – I love that expression; “there are so many lives I’d still like to live.” I know. Good to try on as much as you can while we’re here 🙂

      xx

  7. Fellow New Yorker here, who also recently celebrated the two year milestone. I found myself nodding my head so many points during this, especially during the passage you shared in the beginning. I will be pondering over “There is no return on your investment” for the foreseeable future.

    On a similar note, when I first moved here, a friend sent me the Taylor Swift song “Welcome to New York” and quoted the line “it’s been waiting for you.” Even then, I knew better and responded, “New York doesn’t wait for anyone”–a truth I have been reminded of many, many times during the past two years.

    1. Smart girl! So true. NY moves at the speed of light, and it’s a double dutch sort of situation — better jump in at the right moment.

      Glad this resonated with a fellow New Yorker!! Such a wonderful and stressful place to live — ha!

      xx

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