June 07, 2005

I'm not quite sure what to say about this

I am in a quandary about this post. I'm not at all sure how to write it, maybe because I'm not quite at all sure what I think about it. Maybe I will write this post as if I were musing aloud to myself. You want to come along on a disorganized musing?

We used to live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in a beautiful pre-war cooperative. We loved this apartment and we loved the building and we knew our neighbors and even socialized with them. It was a lovely building in a desirable part of town. Parts of the building were pretty Social, too, with a couple of people in the Social Register and some captains of industry and a federal judge. It was a high powered little place. I have no idea how we passed the co-op board or why, for that matter, I was elected to serve on that board. But that's another story.

We made friends with a very high powered couple in the building who had a child shortly (six months?) after we had our first. The two little girls became very close buddies. They played together probably every day. It was sweet to watch them. Even after we moved, the girls stayed friendly and we continued to see the parents, irregularly, but we did stay in touch. The girls attend each other's birthday parties. That's why I was in my car, stuck in nasty traffic, on Sunday.

It took us 55 minutes to go from 86th and Columbus to 84th and Third. That's just too damn long. Although the Girl Child was the model of good behavior in the back seat and was only slightly concerned that we were going to be missing fun things at the party. She was looking forward to the party. She helped pick out the gift and she even wrote her name on the card all by herself. And she drew a picture for her friend.

So we get to the party, and here, my patient readers, here is where I begin the musing part of the post.

The party was held in a big hall, a sort of multipurpose assembly room, at one of the very fancy UES preschools.

A word about the preschool in Manhattan. Parents sweat blood to get their kids into these schools. They procure letters of recommendation from top CEO's for their 3 year old child. They drag their children from interview to interview. They attend open house tours, they are interviewed themselves, they demonstrate to the school how they could be useful to the school. It is a competitive sport. There are limited spots and the schools are hierarchically grouped according to educational role fulfillment and social status. Some schools are better able to place children at desirable private schools than others are. These schools are highly sought after and the parents are, for the most part, well off and have sharp elbows. I have no doubt that they also want the best for their children, but I question whether they happen to weight equally the prestige of the pre-school in the calculus of dinner conversation with their peers.

My wife and I rejected this dance when we moved to the suburbs. When we got to the suburbs, they way we found our kids’ preschool was by my calling a prep school class mate and saying, “we live here now, where should we send our daughter, we figure you probably have a good handle on it” and that was that. We got a recommendation, made a phone call, wrote a check and that was that. No interviews, no tests, no nothing. Simple as pie and my daughter has loved her little school.

Back to the party.

The kids were all adorable, as healthy little kids are wont to be. They played nicely together, following the soccer coach/party leader and his crew. The Girl Child jumped right in and participated, to my infinite pleasure. Watching her run around and kick at the ball was sublime.

The parents. The parents were more interesting. This was the oddest for me. I guess there were class issues and money issues and geographical issues. I looked around the room at these people who are supposed to be my peers, who I would have been living in tandem with if my daughter had attended this school or any other similar school and I felt out of place.

The women, and they were mostly women there, were mostly non-working women with personal trainer hardened and pilates lengthened bodies. They dressed in the latest of fashions. They wore clothes by, I suspect, people I’ve never heard of. The conversations were vapid. They were, on the whole, waaay better looking than the suburban moms in my daughter’s class. They were fun to look at.

The conversations dealt with preoccupations and money issues I don’t usually hear about in the burbs. How many preschools one should apply to, the houses people were renting that Summer in the Hamptons, the rental of vacation houses in Italy (and bringing nanny’s with you), the stress of managing the nanny staff while being a stay at home mom, etc.

These are issues of class and of money. Class and money are not the same thing. Don’t make that mistake. If we had stayed in the City, this would have been my world. I’m not sure we would have been able to play in this world as comfortably as others at the party suggested they could. One family was met on the way out by a privately chauffeured Escalade. On a Sunday. They had the chauffeur working on a Sunday. That takes a lot of scratch. The Girl Child and I were parked on the street some four blocks away. We had fun walking back to the car and looking in the windows together. We do not have a chauffeur.

So where am I going with all this?

I feel like I dodged a bullet when I got out of Manhattan. It’s a big city, New York, but intensely small in places. These people who we would have been part of. . . Let me say this, I’m glad we moved, I’m glad we chose not to subject our kids to that. We didn’t want our kids to feel like the poorest kids on the block with everyone else jetting down to St. Barts on the private plane. I think that in the suburbs they are going to have a chance at a more normal life. Maybe. Maybe not, of course, but still, that’s the choice we’ve made.

And that choice feels good after that party. Don’t misunderstand me, I like the couple we stayed friends with, they just have made choices we’d never make.

Did this make any sense at all? Or was it just another failed post? Beats me. It was hard enough to struggle through writing it, I am not going to torture myself by re-reading it!

Posted by Random Penseur at June 7, 2005 10:14 AM

it made perfect sense
of course..i (mostly) grew up on the island - so maybe that's why i get it?

money never makes you happy
it just means you have money
but - you know that...and so will they

Posted by: sn at June 7, 2005 10:58 AM

Makes perfect sense to me RP. Even back in the dark ages of the 70s and 80s when I lived on the Upper West side there was a general scorn for those on the Upper East side who lived the lives you so accurately portrayed. Perhaps the west side has changed to the point where the mindset is now the same. But it seems clear from your post that the east side hasn't changed.

As much as I miss NYC, every time I read something like this I feell like going home and kissing the ground of my Virginia neighborhood. The public schools are excellent - no need to the 25k pa private elementary schools,etc. We may be stolid booshwa types (as we used to say) but I'll take that over the vapid, vacuous world you described any day of the week. And, with any luck my daughter will grow up to have a bit more substance than the average east sider who grew up in chauffered Escalades.

Posted by: Ivan at June 7, 2005 11:37 AM

I think you said it very well. I see it alot where I work, too, when the kids just casually mention how their dad just bought a new jet because the last one wasn't big enough for the family and their friends. It's a different world, and I have to wonder if this region is the place to rbing up my family.

Posted by: Mandalei at June 7, 2005 12:02 PM

Like you said, it all comes down to choices. The important thing is that you cherish your children and I'd bet that if you peel away the veneer from those folks, you'd find the same things: some good parents, some bad, and a lot in-between.

Contentment is harder to achieve than success, and a much better way to live, in my opinion.

Posted by: Ted at June 7, 2005 12:15 PM

Came out perfectly clear at this end. You get a certain amount of that sort of thing among the McMansionistas in my neck of the Virginia suburbs, but nowhere near as concentrated as up there in the City. No way would I ever want to participate in it.

Posted by: Robert the Llama Butcher at June 7, 2005 12:51 PM

I would like to believe that Ted is right. Seriously. It's the Pollyanna in me.

However, the Ultimate Cynic wants to tell you GOOD FOR YOU for getting away from those plastic people.

You're REAL. As far as I can tell that's the true difference.

Posted by: Margi at June 7, 2005 01:26 PM

Interesting post! I'm a new reader via KOTGD (Mark).

Posted by: Paula at June 7, 2005 06:02 PM

Don Imus once said that "if the deciding factor is money then you're making the wrong choice". Having lived in the 'burbs all my life I can only say Welcome. I tried the City. I was never in your position and "opportunity", RP, but I've grown to hate it anyway. I can't imagine being brought up in a cut-throat atmosphere like that. I would never have subjected my own daughter to it, nor myself. I'd never deprive my precious own of fishing for polywogs or exploring the woods out in back. I'd never want my kids to think of concrete and cinderblock walls (okay, so they're dressed up all pretty nowadays) as their natural habitat. I'd want mine to be able to walk/run barefoot on someone else's lawn. I'd want mine to feel free to walk around a neighborhood and notice the flowers in the neighbor's garden and even to pick one and sheepishing look at the window and see a smiling and understanding and even grateful face looking back. Somewhere to roam. That's what I had and that's what I'd want for my kiddies! Just a neighborhood -- nothing big. Just a place that they can always remember as their own childhood.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at June 8, 2005 12:11 AM

It makes total sense. It sounds like you are starting off teaching your kids how to live comfortably within their means. However much those means may be, and I suspect you are a little more comfortable than I! But hay, I'm not jealous. You don't have a house in the Hamptons, or even one off of Riverside drive, anymore, for that matter.

Y'all live in the burbs now, just like the rest of us common folk! Watch out for the Klopecks, though. LOL

Posted by: Mark at June 8, 2005 12:51 AM

Hay is the first part of horseshit, unlike "hey", which is what I meant.

Posted by: Mark at June 8, 2005 12:52 AM

If you swim with sharks you're going to get bitten.

You put your kids in the kiddie pool instead of the shark tank. Best decision in the world, IMHO.

Posted by: Jim at June 8, 2005 05:22 AM

Yeah, I know, Riverside is on the Upper WEST Side.

Posted by: Mark at June 8, 2005 07:03 AM

Thanks for the great comments. I hope I didn't come across as judgmental or bitchy in this. I'm not sure what I was trying to get at but I am uncomfortable sitting in judgment of those people. After all, I was almost them.

Posted by: RP at June 8, 2005 09:33 AM

And when I say almost, I mean in their situation but without the hedge fund money.

Posted by: RP at June 8, 2005 09:40 AM

Hey, SOMEBODY needs to call people like them on their shit!!

Judgement, or observation? A razor's-edge-thin line, if you ask me.

Posted by: Mark at June 8, 2005 09:45 PM

You get too pedestrian and next thing you know, shit like this starts happening:


Posted by: Mark at June 8, 2005 10:26 PM
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