Pros and Cons to Raising Kids in the Big City
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Mocha Moms are next on tell me more from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We are broadcasting from our bureau in New York City, where Tell Me More launched this week on WNYC. We want to welcome our new listeners.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few Mocha Moms. We visit with members of this mother's support group each week for their comments and some savvy parenting advice.
Today, we wanted to talk about parenting in the big city. Cities like New York are known for major attractions, but also major temptations. How do you raise a kid to be safe, happy, and sane in the concrete jungle?
Here to talk about that are Cheryl Grimes-Nelson, New York State coordinator of the Mocha moms. Felicia Bradford, president of the Manhattan Mocha moms. Special guest mom ABC News correspondent Juju Chang. Also with us is Mocha mom's co-founder, a regular on this program Jolene Ivey. She's a Maryland state delegate and an honorary New York mom. She has one son here in college, and she had another performing on Broadway last year. Welcome ladies. Thanks for joining us.
MOCHA MOMS: Thank you.
MARTIN: I may have mentioned, I don't know, about 70 or 80 times by now that I grew up in New York. But, by the time I thought about being a mom, I have to say that I had an image in my mind about what being a mom would be like. And it's actually very different from the way I actually grew up. So, I'm going to ask each of you, what's the best part about raising kids in New York and what's the worst, Cheryl?
Ms. CHERYL GRIMES-NELSON (Clothing Designer, New York State Coordinator, Mocha Moms): The best I would have to say is a accessibility to the arts. I'm a creative person, and my daughter is as well. And it's wonderful to go to Manhattan to visit all sorts of amazing stores where you can buy things that growing up in Cleveland, I never knew even existed.
And then aside from that, you know, the obvious theater, and I think that things like that you don't really have access to things like that when you live outside of the city. I mean even if you live close to the city you still have access to it, but I mean when you really live out in middle America.
MARTIN: OK. So, what's the worst?
Ms. GRIMES-NELSON: The worst thing for me personally, I would say, crowding. I've been here now for about 15 years, and it's just really starting to hit me now, it never bothered me before. But you know when I would come into the city with the stroller, it would just sort drive me berserk that you know, there are so many people. People they don't mean any harm, but they can't really even see a stroller coming towards them.
Ms. GRIMES-NELSON: So, that's one of the biggest things to me.
MARTIN: Felicia what about you?
Ms. FELICIA BRADFORD (Actress): The best thing and worst thing about raising a kid in New York. I would have to agree with Cheryl the arts and the parks in New York City.
Ms. BRADFORD: The best parks ever. And actually the worst thing about raising kids in the city is carrying my stroller up the 10 flights of stairs in the subway. Other than that, I really love raising kids here.
MARTIN: But you're buff, as a result.
Ms. BRADFORD: I would have to say yes.
MARTIN: Juju, what about you?
Ms. JUJU CHANG (ABC News Correspondent): For me it's absolutely, it's sort of the arts that's built in, when it snows, my kids, we had a family pass to the Natural History Museum. So, on a snow day they'd go and check out the dinosaurs. And it was like their sort of everyday activity. It didn't even occur to them that this is the kind of thing that most kids get a special treat, maybe once a year, right?
The worst part for me was the social pressure, because I think New Yorkers are very competitive. And I'm sure moms everywhere are competitive, but I would be swept up into things that I didn't - I would swear a million times, I wouldn't get swept up to. Like the preschool sweepstakes. Like I am not going to get swept up in the preschool, which ones are you applying to? How do I get that application? I mean it is insane how you get swept up into that vortex of New York City pressure.
MARTIN: How do you fight it?
Ms. CHANG: You know...
MARTIN: Play to win.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CHANG: Right. When you can't beat them join them.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CHANG: I mean you know I try to keep it in perspective. I literally had friends, who like applied to seven preschools and I kept it to three, which I thought was restraint. But you know, you've got to pick and choose your battles. It's impossible to sort of resist that pressure sometimes.
MARTIN: Jolene, I wanted to ask you, did you notice yourself having to develop different skills when you had one of your boys living up here? You're the mom of five boys, and when Julian got his role on Broadway in the Lion King, did you notice yourself having to develop different sort of parenting skills to deal with the new reality?
Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Maryland State Representative): Well, the first thing isn't really a parenting skill. It's what Cheryl talked about with the crowding, and what Felicia talked about with the subways. I mean there were just too darn many people and there all on Times Square, I'm very convinced of that and just getting across the street. So Julian actually learned faster than I did, because that's how kids are, how to get around. And I really took his lead. I mean he was very unafraid of the streets or the subway, or learning the subway route. And even now, I asked him yesterday, I said, now what's the name of that park we used to go to near the theater, and he said Bryant Park. And I said well where is it? Oh, I think it's at 42nd and 6th Avenue.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. IVEY: How can he remember that? He's fabulous, but we used to love to go there, and you know we would have to sit on the periphery and look at the grass half the time because the grass would be closed, which is a very bizarre concept for me that grass would be closed, or that we would think it was so cool to get to see grass that we would actually take an hour to sit and look at it.
MARTIN: This is something that we can talk about all day, and unfortunately we can't, but I've just got to ask. Cheryl, you're a clothing designer, Felicia you're an actress, Juju you're a network correspondent, Jolene you're a state rep, none of these has a reputation for being particularly family-friendly occupations. So I just I have to ask a little bit about how you manage it all. Juju, if you'd start?
Ms. CHANG: Well, you know, when you take the breast pump through security at the airport, and you get stopped by the guy who's like what kind of a, you know, device is this, you know, and then you have to like find a private room to pump, you know, so those kinds of things are really tough. And then there's the emotional sort of waving bye-bye to the baby and as they get older that wave, you know, evolves in a more difficult and less difficult way, and now I'm getting, you know, the boys are seven, four, and zero as they like to say, eight months, and at eight months it's a different kind of pulling on your heart strings. At eight years they start saying to you why aren't you at pickup? The other mommies are at pickup. You know, that kind of stuff, and so it's a constant juggle. I bring them in for lunch at work. I, you know, leave the office for an hour and disappear and go do pickup. I mean those kinds of things are the only way you can catch as catch can and the juggle continues.
MARTIN: Do you ever feel judged though because you are all in professions that are very New York? I mean these are the kinds of things that people associate with New York, and Jolene, for you in Washington, you're a politician and a political leader, and so these are the things that when people think are sort of glamorous on the one hand, you're getting the pats on the back for being kind of glamorous. On the other hand do you ever feel judged, like people are saying well, see, if you, you know, that's fine for you, but for working moms I can see why you couldn't be here.
Ms. CHANG: Yeah. No. I feel judged on both sides. I feel judged at the office, I feel judged at the school, and I don't know that it's actually happening or if it's just me, but I think that the mommy wars in many ways are a figment of our imaginations, and yet they exist because of that. I feel like I give short shift at the office for sure and I feel like senior producers are looking for me and I can't be found, you know, that's always scary, but on the other hand, you know, there are times when I feel like I'm not contributing to, you know, to the potluck for the parents social or whatever it is, and it's a constant struggle.
MARTIN: Felicia, what about you?
Ms. BRADFORD: You know, I'm really trying to not give myself very high expectations because before when I first started having kids I started to think, OK, I'm going to be doing this, this, and that, and then when those things didn't happen I started to really beat up on myself, and so I would say maybe a year and a half after my first son I decided to take a step back and if I can get him out of the house once a week, I'm a great mom. If I can get food on the table at least four times a week, I'm an even better mom, and that's it. So all the other stuff I do is just really extra.
Yeah. I just had to take the pressure off myself. And I'm like the type of person, I'm not really looking what other people are doing because I notice that sometimes people will say things to you because they're really feeling those things about themselves, and you know, or like, just like what you were saying, Juju, sometimes the people are like oh, you know, your kids not taking any classes this week? Well, no. You know, it's like, sometimes I feel like other mothers put things on us. So I just try to stay out of that.
MARTIN: But what about the other way? Do you ever feel like you're losing roles that you might otherwise get because people are worried that you're not going to be available or reliable?
Ms. BRADFORD: Do you know, no, I actually feel like I'm better now that I'm a mother because I can juggle so many things. As far as - I was thinking about the breast pump laughing. I nursed my child in so many inappropriate situations, you know, doing so many inappropriate things. I remembered being on the train, he's standing, and I nursed him until he was three and I was pregnant and I'm trying to remember where this audition was, so I have my phone at the time looking at it, standing nursing, people in the train are like this woman's crazy, but I'm like, whatever, you know, this is what I have to do to get by.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Go, mom.
Ms. BRADFORD: Yeah. When I go places I feel like I'm so much there now. Like, OK, I can get this done. You know, before I had a lot of self doubt before being a mother. Now I'm like, whatever, I can do anything, let's go.
MARTINM: OK. Cheryl?
Ms. GRIMES-NELSON: I'm kind of like in the - and strangely, exactly in the middle of these two ladies. My career certainly is not a family-friendly career. You know, not to - I won't say anything negative about my old boss, he was very good to me in many ways, but literally the day after I told him I was pregnant, he called me in and said how much time are you going to take? So, you know, that was sort of a real good setup into what it was going to be like to try to come back and not come back and stay until seven o'clock at night. So basically I stepped out. I stepped out of the industry all together. I stayed home for a couple of years, and then I started freelancing last year, and that's kind of been my answer. It's not a perfect answer because I still sort of struggle with am I doing enough either way.
I certainly absolutely know that I'm judged within the workforce because I'm sort of, you know, I took time off, how dare she, and then the second thing is when I did come back I chose to come back freelance, and I setup certain parameters. I said I can't be here until seven o'clock. This is the time I'm going to leave, but it's kind of a fit that works for me, but I certainly - I know the other end of it, Juju, because now that my daughter's in school it's, you know, there have been times where I'm up there volunteering because I'm freelancing, and I have some flexibility, but then there are other times when I can't and I feel a little bit of pressure because the full-time moms who are at home can be up there all the time, you know. And so like there's a bake sale that I missed and my daughter, you didn't come to the bake sale. I'm like, but I was at the other thing last week, cut me some slack! So it's just never, ever enough.
MARTIN: We'll cut you some slack. That's why we're here. If you're just joining us you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News, and I'm speaking with Mocha Moms Juju Chang, Felicia Bradford, Cheryl Grimes-Nelson, and Jolene Ivey about raising kids in the city. I wanted to talk about safety. Jolene, your son Julian was on Broadway last year in "The Lion King," you have another son in college, and we've talked in the past about the fact that your husband was traveling during 9/11, and so there's both those sort of local safety issues that people - everybody thinks about, and then there's kind of the meta national security issue that people think about, particularly people who live in capitals like New York and Washington, New York being a financial capital. Talk to me if you would a little bit about safety. Do you worry?
Ms. IVEY: Every mother worries about her children. That goes without saying. But you can't pack them up in cotton and leave them in a box. I mean people have to grow up and everybody grows up stronger when they have the chance to learn to be independent over time. You know, what concerns me more from a safety issue viewpoint is not terrorists. The thing I worry about is people who I know and I trust who have access to my children. That's who I worry about. I don't worry about terrorists, I don't worry about strangers on public transportation, I worry about the uncle that you might have known your whole life that you think is OK, and then gets your kid by themselves and something happens. That's what I worry about.
MARTIN: I hear you, Jolene, but what about that whole, there are more strangers in New York than there are in a lot of other places, I mean there just are. What about that? A couple of weeks ago we spoke with Lenore Skenazy. She's a mom here in New York who got some attention because she let her nine year old son ride the subway alone. It was something he really wanted to do.
Ms. IVEY: And he was fine.
MARTIN: OK. I just wanted to ask though, how do you...
(Soundbite of laughter)
M. BRADFORD: Jolene's not defensive, don't worry.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GRIMES-NELSON: I'm not quite that...
MARTIN: Go ahead, Cheryl.
Ms. GRIMES-NELSON: No, I, you know...
MARTIN: But I just wanted to ask this whole question of teaching kids independence, you know, we have this big thing because in my neighborhood we have a bunch of kids who were all born at the same time, and I'm lucky to be part of that crew, and one of the things that we - the kids, they love walking to each other's houses by themselves. They think it's such a big deal, and I have friends who grew up in the city who - they were allowed to trick or treat alone, as long as they stayed on their elevator line, like, they had to stay on their elevator line. They couldn't move to another elevator bank and stuff like that. Quickly some thoughts, Juju?
Ms. CHANG: We have in our building, we have an elevator card that allows you to - your floor and only your floor, but I've since learned that these young kids, 10, 11, 12 year olds, can get programmed for other floors, so they can go to their buddies house without mom and dad taking them, so that's like a form of, you know, Manhattan independence.
MARTIN: Cheryl, you were going to say.
Ms. GRIMES-NELSON: Yeah. I, you know, I certainly - I don't judge moms about what they're sort of borders are as far as what they think is safe or not, but I have to admit, I don't think I would want my daughter on the subway by herself at nine years old. Would something happen to her? Would she make it out OK? I'm sure she would, but there are just certain, you know, I think for me probably pre-teen years feels a little better to me, but I don't know. I think some things when you're a parent, you have to sort of feel it as you go along, and I have a run - you know, I was the fourth of four daughters and I always think that my mother was a little more lenient with me because the rest of them sort of, like, broke her in, and I only have one daughter, and part of my fear is holding on too tight. So I constantly try to make sure I don't. So it's just - I think you just have to feel your way through.
MARTIN: Send her to Jolene. I just wanted to ask now, down to our last couple of minutes, you know, New York as I said is a tourist's dream, so I have to ask our New York Mochas, what's the one thing you must see if you visit the Big Apple with kids?
Ms. CHANG: This is Juju. Well, depending on how old the kids are I would either do Empire State Building if they're sort of younger or, you know, if they're older, Staten Island Ferry/Statue of Liberty obviously is a big one too. And then if you're a little more commercially minded, Times Square, sort of, you know, ESPN Zone, oh did I make a commercial? You know, that kind of stuff, Madame Tussauds, there's a lot of stuff going on there.
MARTIN: OK. Jolene, you did the tourist thing, you tell us, what was your favorite thing?
Ms. IVEY: Actually, I didn't do a lot of tourism things because my kid was working. I mean I hate to say it, but the poor 11-year-old boy was working a full-time job like a man, so it was my job as his mother to stay close to him. So I stayed on Times Square pretty much so he could get me. If he wanted a cup of tea, I'd bring him a cup of tea, you know, but that meant I didn't get to do a lot of touristy things myself, and for him his big deal was he got to see "Rent" for act two. He got to see only act two because of course he was working during act one.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Oh that's funny.
Ms. IVEY: And they let him in to see act two without me having to pay as kind of a professional courtesy, and he's still talking about it. He thinks that was the coolest thing because he said this is my first Broadway play that's not "The Lion King." He saw that one a few times. He loves it though, fabulous show.
MARTIN: OK. Felicia, what about you?
Ms. BRADFORD: The park on 59th Street and is at Central Park South, that huge park. It's water, they have something for all the kids, yeah. If you come to New York City you have to visit that park.
Ms. IVEY: Yeah. We did do that. It is beautiful.
MARTIN: OK. Cheryl, what about you?
Ms. GRIMES-NELSON: Gosh, that's such a hard one for me, but I'm just going to go with the first thing that pops into my mind, it's not in Manhattan, but the Bronx Zoo. It's just really one of my favorite places in New York City altogether.
MARTIN: The Mocha Moms co-founder and Mocha Moms regular Jolene Ivey, she joined us as usual in our Washington studio. Cheryl Nelson-Grimes, coordinator of the New York State Mocha Moms, Felicia Bradford, president of the Manhattan Mocha Moms, special guest mom Juju Chang, correspondent for ABC News, they all joined me in our New York bureau. Thanks, moms.
Ms. CHANG: You're welcome.
Ms. BRADFORD: Thank you.
Ms. IVEY: Thanks, Michel.
Ms. GRIMES-NELSON: Thank you.
MARTIN: At Tell Me More the conversation never ends. We'd like you to tell us more about your strategies for raising kids in challenging circumstances. Do you think it's tougher to raise kids in a big city or small town, and what are some of the landmarks in your city that every child should see? We'd like to hear from you. So to tell us more and to see photos from our visit to the Big Apple, go to npr.org and click on the Tell Me More page. You can also call our comment line at 202-842-3522. That number again is 202-842-3522. And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow from New York.
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