Why is everything “never enough”? We’re all chasing after that better job, the better deal, the bigger house and more money. The childhood my children are experiencing couldn’t be farther from what I grew up with and I’m not sure if this is a good thing, or if they’re spoiled.
I grew up poor. Like shit poor. We wore second hand clothes and didn’t get new sneakers until atleast one of our toes were poking out of the top. With four children and two parents, we were stuffed inside a 4 floor walk up alcove bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side of NYC. For those unfamiliar; an alcove bedroom apartment is not a one bedroom- it’s more like one room: 400sq ft to fit our entire family. Our zip code was, and still is, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country. Yet, our apartment was suited towards a single bachelor- not a family of six. Luckily, our place was rent controlled and my parents were still paying the same amount to rent this place in the 90’s as they were in the late 70’s when my father started renting it.
For the most part of my early childood,my mom was a stay at home mom while my dad worked. I cherished those days with my mom. In the 80’s, there wasn’t much for cable- unless we were stealing it from one of our neighbors (which happened from time to time). We had 13 channels and when Sesame Street wasn’t on,soap operas filled the day. I remember one time someone asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I enthusiastically answered “Amanda from General Hospital!” I think my mom may have died right then and there.
Life was different back then. The 80’s could be considered practically an alternative universe compared to what we live in now. Neither of my parents smoked cigarettes, yet we probably owned 6 ashtrays in our house for when one of their smoking friends would come over. I remember enthusiastically making ashtray after ashtray for my non-smoking parents in pottery class and begging them to use it when their friends came over.
I vividly remember Nancy Reagan’s War on Drugs initiative and every other commercial reminding me how my brain was, and what it was ON DRUGS
Getting around with four children in tow in the city isn’t the easiest. We had to go everywhere together- the grocery store, the laundry mat, the playground. We walked everywhere. If someone was napping, we either waited for them to wake up, or had to wake them up to come with us. It was normal. I’m still not sure how my mother did it.
I’ve witnessed schizophrenic homeless people yelling at me, men openly peeing in the subway station, creeps offering me a “ride home” and straight up whackos without even blinking an eye.
At the age of 9, I was babysitting all three siblings while my mom worked a part time afternoon job and by the age of ten, I was taking the cross town bus alone to dance classes. There was a program run my the famous Jacques d’Aboise that recruited “inner city kids” to dance. I was a fully functioning, independent 10yr old, roaming the city like it was no big deal without a cell phone. That’s how city kids are raised- they grow up faster and independent.
Race and ethnicity wasn’t an issue in my tiny world. My neighborhood friends were comprised of everything from Black, White, Pakistani, Yugoslavian, Russian, Irish and Italian. That’s the beauty of a city. You don’t see race. You just know there are “good people” and “bad people” you should avoid. It didn’t matter; if you were part of the neighborhood, you were part of the crew.
This stuck with me. I went to college in DC, which contrary to what many may think, is mainly comprised of white college students or low income black people. (Let me let you in on a little secret- many of the wealthy senators and majority of the politicians live in Virginia or Maryland). Anyway, I was cruising around in my mint green banged up Ford Taurus with my roommate, who was from rural NJ. It was spring and my windows were down.
We came to a stop light and I pulled up to this BMW filled with local black guys. One of them looked over and said “Hey Brittany? Where you heading?”
(Background: this was the early 2000’s when Brittany Spears was popular, I had box bottle beach blonde hair and whether I was at the grocery store or here in this situation next to this BMW, I can’t count how many times black people would stop me to tell me I looked like Brittany Spears… pretty much any of my friends who were blonde obviously made them Brittany lookalikes too.)
As my rooomate slunk deeper and deeper into her seat. They continued teasing “Little rich girl going to the mall to spend daddy’s money, Brittany?”
I laughed and just politely replied “Do you see what kind of car I’m driving? YOU should me taking ME to the mall… and by the way, did anyone ever tell you that you look exactly like Eddie Murphy?” (My roommate was literally looking for some way to jump out of the car at this point).
The guys just all laughed. “You’re tough shit, Ms.Spears.” And with that the light turned green and and we both sped off.
Back in the city, growing up, we met and saw more celebrities than I can count. Before his big White Bronco escapade, we hung out with OJ Simpson on an afternoon at the park and my brother raced his son all the way home. (It should be noted that my brother won by the way 😉) Mike Tyson, Al Roker and Angela Landsbury all lived in my neighborhood; just to name a few. Katie Couric is in one of our home videos. Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City lived in my neighborhood, but I guess that kind of doesn’t count. Extra dork points go to me because out of all of them, seeing Ms.Landsbury thrilled me the most because I spent hours watching Murder She Wrote with my Grammy.
Today,my children are two and three years old and can work an iPhone or iPad more efficiently than many adults. They request tv shows “on demand” and know the difference between “Netflix”and what shows they want on there. For the most part, besides a few hand me downs, they wear new clothes that I buy for them online for each season. They go out to eat at restaurants with us at least a few times a month and can name all of the local taverns within a 20mi radius and know if there is wi-fi there or not. They each have their own portable DVD player for long car trips. I had to endure COMMERCIALS! Can you believe it?! There were no DVRs and fast forward buttons for tv back then.
I’m nervous to let them in our yard alone-even though we live on an acre of land on a private street and I have a big bay window to watch them the entire time. You can bet your bottom dollar they aren’t going to have a 9 year old babysitter- EVER.
It makes me wonder if I’m raising privileged individuals, or simply just living in different times and a different environment. My kids don’t have the option to walk or take public transportation somewhere across town as easily as I did. I have money- if they want something, it will most likely be under the Christmas tree this year.
All I know is that they are certainly growing up completely differently than I did. And while I may have had no money and we literally lived in top of each other in that tiny appartnent, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am who I am because of my childood. My experiences have made me who I am and I can only hope to pass that independance and confidence I gained living that way to them. They will not grow up entitled brats, but the world has changed and they certainly are afforded many more opportunities than I was…
But isn’t that the point? You always want to provide your kids with the best possible life that you can give them. My mom gave me the best, and she had the least. It’s not about money. Ultimately, it’s just about love. And I’m gonna love the crap out of these two little guys.