Many days, I hear the suburbs calling my name, but city living is fantastic for single moms.
My life illustrates this perfectly. I live in a pre-war co-op building in Queens, New York — a friendly place where everyone really does know my name. And my kids’ names, and much of our business. This is a place where death announcements of residents’ loved ones are posted in the first-floor bulletin board. The highlight of my holiday season is the annual Christmas party in the lobby — a potluck dinner attended by the whole building, a cross section of renters and owners, long-time residents and newcomers, all kinds of ethnicities and nationalities.
The community of this building wraps its arms around my family: there is the handful of older women who spoil my kids with gifts for all the holidays — even all the Hallmark ones. By some act of God, our downstairs neighbors, a 50-somethings couple working in media and theater who do not have children, find my kids’ early morning footsteps, jumping and squabbling charming. I occasional wake up to find a loaf of her banana bed hanging from a sack on our door knob, and recently, a hand-written invitation slipped under the door for Helena to spend an evening hanging out, baking and playing Barbies. There is the married mom of three teenagers who last month sat with my sleeping kids while I gave a radio interview, and once waited in the rain for the tardy laundry service guy with my dirty wash so I could make it to the day care on time.
These and many more folks create a precious web of community that gives my kids and me a sense of security. I take huge comfort in knowing that should one of my kids need to be rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night (every parent’s fear), there are no fewer than a dozen doors I could knock on — at any hour — and feel confident any would open, invite me in, and happily care for my other kid.
The social aspect of city living is perhaps the greatest asset for a single mom — especially one like me who works from the isolation of her home office. There are dinner and brunch invitations, and I am constantly short of coffee mugs and wine glasses, a small price to pay for the welcomed drop-ins who casually walk off with their beverages. In the past week, no fewer than three neighbors spontaneously hung out — one stopped in to retrieve the spare keys I keep, another borrowed my vacuum, while a third brought the color copies he printed for me. I enjoy a stream of adult conversations that I doubt would happen so frequently or organically if I lived in my fantasy’s tidy cottage surrounded by peony bushes and a yard separating me from my neighbors.
It is the physical proximity that city life forces that also brings closeness. My kids are known and adored by these people who have known them since before they were born. A team of older women gather on warm afternoons outside the cafe located in the street level of our building. They let the kids walk their small dogs up and down the block and notice haircuts and new shoes. It’s the casual hellos, and it’s-so-hot-out-theres, and oh-my-you-kids-are-getting-so-bigs! that my children and I exchange a dozen times each day with neighbors in elevators and hallways that collectively create a true home. In the city we live on top of one another, and in the city we know each other and we know each other’s business.
There is always a downside to every situation, and that is that in the city we live on top of one another, and in the city we know each other and we know each other’s business. My life is not 100 percent about being home and with my children and neighbors. Sometimes — especially weekends, when they are with their dad — I have a life outside of this building. And sometimes, when that life comes inside this building, my date and I can find ourselves in the elevator next to an otherwise friendly neighbor, all three of us staring awkwardly at the digital floor numbers click- click- clicking up until one or the other party is relived by opening doors.
Last Saturday I came downstairs to meet my date, all 6’3″ of his broad shoulders in a slim-fitting T-shirt standing next to his black Harley glittering in the late-afternoon sun. As he kissed me hello and fastened a helmet on my head, I could feel a half-dozen familiar eyeballs watching us from 10 feet away. The weight of my city life was upon me as I joined him on the loud, purring bike, placed my heeled sandals on the foot pegs and he wrapped my arms around his trim waist. And without looking back, we rode off into the the rest of the world.