#FirstWorldFriday: My kids live in a filthy neighborhood without a backyard

first world problem tears


This is First World Fridays #FWF (check out the first FWF here – it was a wild success!) where I share the frivolous stuff that I allow to occupy my mind, and I turn it into an expression of gratitude. Please do it the same – in the comments, Facebook, Twitter, privately within yourself. Tag it #FWF (yes, I’m asking you to tag your silent prayers) and let’s start a revolution!

When it comes to quality of life, I can’t complain. But I will: I live in Astoria, Queens, New York, which if you live in NYC you know has become one of the “up-and-coming” hoods, full of cute gay guys, hipsters and — now — yuppy families (pointing at self), many of whom can buy the not-so-charming row houses for $1 million-plus. When I divorced I bought out the big, pretty pre-war apartment my husband and I purchased and remodeled. The building is beautiful, my apartment comfortable, affordable and in the middle of a rich community of friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances. My living situation is at the top of my gratitude list.

So in this #FWF I’m STARTING with my gratitude.

And yet! Yet every day is a source of anxiety starting when I walk my kids to school. We pass heaps of garbage bags awaiting trash pickup, and even more filth littering the streets. Then, when I go on my morning jog I map a route based on the least-disgusting streets. It’s not only the cigarette butts and greasy take-out napkins that bug the crap out of me — it’s that the residents and business owners lack the decency or pride to keep their neighborhoods tidy. Or that the city allocates enough resources to do the same. This is no way to live!

Then there is the inherent issue with raising kids in the city: They don’t have a backyard. Whenever we go to a large park, forest or beach, Helena takes off like a wild horse, thrilling in the freedom of open space. We frequent playgrounds and forest preserves, but I am always with them, supervising. They don’t have green. They don’t have space, and they don’t have independence.

Deep down I know they will grow up fine, despite these shortcomings. It makes me feel bad that I’m not giving them an idyllic childhood with trees to climb and neighborhood blocks to explore. But those ideals are not what they once were. The overprotected kids movement means that children aren’t running wild in suburban communities like when you and I were growing up. Trees are deemed too dangerous to climb, streets too scary to stroll alone. And we are all burdened with abundance of homework, shuffling to scheduled after-school activities and safety paranoia that keeps children under direct parental supervision into their tweens and beyond.

And the bottom line is that my kids live in a nice, safe place. They attend good schools and are surrounded with good people who love them. Millions of children grow up in urban apartments and most of them turn out perfectly fine.

In short: my guilt and worry, when put into perspective, misinformed and little naive. And, let’s face it: Petty. First World Friday, y’all!

Now your turn! Please share your #FWF, and also #Gratitude!

About #FWF: Each week I will post here about the annoyingly frivolous thing I worried about the previous week. I also vow to devote that energy into an expression of gratitude. Two things are true: Sharing openly that which we are ashamed of (in this case devoting time and energy to silly stuff) frees you from that shame, and gives others the permission to do so. Also: The only way to be happy is to be grateful. So post here, on social media, or privately within your family, circle of friends, or even within yourself your own #FirstWorldFriday. Remember – In one breath purge your silly worries, in a second express gratitude.

Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

8 thoughts on “#FirstWorldFriday: My kids live in a filthy neighborhood without a backyard

  1. OK-I live in a densely populated neighborhood in Chicago—I have wasted much time worrying about no trees to climb, outdoor independence, etc. even though my daughter has all the opportunities in the world, having everything she needs and more. So this week: Green space, dark circles under my eyes, why doesn’t he call?, do these jeans make my ass look fat? Is my car too dirty? FW time sucking worries.

  2. Val et al, I’ll add some more, frivolous ones:

    -Where is he?!
    -My new workout is making my thighs KILL!
    -Is that a mole growing on the end of my nose?
    -My apartment needs to be painted.

  3. I love your posts.

    I could never live in suburbia tho :-), lived one year in Vienna VA, the place is comatose (SP?) The truth and the matter is that even the friends that live in suburbia, their children are never left unsupervised. They can not run in their own backyard sometimes bcs the neighbours do not like it, and then they end up in the parks and the swimming pools in the area… I have thought about this myself, I would not change it for the world. People make plans for months to get to Moma, or AMNH, or the MET, with their kids, and its like a big deal trip – I have lost count of the hundreds of times my kid has tagged along to go to the tens of museums we have in the city… we love NYC and Astoria :-) I just hope it doesn’t become too hip.
    In the last month or so, I have been thinking that they are cleaning Broadway really nice – its the cleanest it has ever been (this is also a petpeeve of mine – so you are not alone wanting our hood clean and nice.) I have been an avid supporter of planting more trees in our hood to make it more like a nice city neighbourhood, than a mega trash bin. The Doe Fund has been delivering cleaning people on Broadway every morning, and I was even thinking to donate to the fund: Ready, Willing, Able, is their motto and it seems the people want to do their job and do a decent job. I hope they come soon on 30th Avenue.
    I don’t have a good FW dilemma this week…. :-(

  4. My husband grew up in Astoria, in one of those row houses (it actually IS charming, though no way is it worth $1mill. At the height of the market his childhood home, where his dad also grew up, MAYBE hit $750K, but not anymore. Still heart-stopping, though, but I digress). So yeah, he had a “house,” but the front yard is a handkerchief size and the back is a cement patio. But were he and his siblings sitting in the house and/or waiting for Mom to take them to frolic in a park? Nope. They rode skateboards and bikes in the alley, disappeared into cemeteries and parks and up and down streets all over the ‘hood, generally getting into trouble. The times, they have changed.

    1. Denise – this is the craziness I’m talking about:




      And of course charm is in the eye of the beholder, but I’ve never met anyone who moved to Astoria for the architecture.

      I wonder how I will feel about letting the kids run free as they get older — honestly some mornings I wonder why Helena can’t walk to the bus stop two blocks away by herself. Paging Lenore Skenazy!

  5. There will be a moment when it just makes sense to let your kids go out into the neighborhood and take public transportation on their own. Ours came by necessity, when we adopted two teenagers from Eastern Europe, and suddenly the resources had to be spread from one kid to three. When I learned that my older two had been riding buses and trains on their own and walking the streets of their capital city alone since they were five or six, suddenly it wasn’t such a big deal to send my 11-yr-old out into the world, armed with phone and Metrocard. I also regularly lament the lack of green space for my kids, but appreciate that I’m not constantly in the car shuttling them. All this to say, I’m with you, girl–the bloom is often off the rose when it comes to living in the city, particularly as I’m fishing the 11 millionth abandoned Trade Fair shopping bag off the sidewalk so it won’t blow into the East River and choke the chemical-ridden wildlife, and yet here we remain. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

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