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Ten Years Later: Parenting in a Post-9/11 New York City

What I remember most about the twin towers was how very windy they were from the top.

I grew up near New York City in a quaint little town in Connecticut, just a 45-minute drive from the city, and we made the trip over in our red minivan every chance we got. One time, my mother’s friend from Arizona came to visit, so we rode the long long elevator all the way up to the top of one of the towers. I have a photo of the group of us: our hair whipping around our faces, the skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan small in the background. I was twelve.

When I was eighteen, they fell. I had just woken up in my shared college apartment in Utah, and had turned on the TV in the living room on my way to making breakfast. I never made it to the kitchen; I sat there on the living room floor completely stunned instead, cross-legged in my pajamas for the rest of the day, staring in disbelief at the television.

Since the attacks, I’ve twice been lucky to call New York City my home. The first time as a fresh-faced newlywed in Brooklyn, with a view of the forever altered Lower Manhattan skyline out my window; the second time as brand new mom. I’ve thought a lot lately about what it means to raise a family in this place, this place that is often quite dangerous (an earthquake, a hurricane, a confirmed terrorist plot, and Fashion Week all in the space of fourteen days?). I wonder a lot how it is affecting my parenting, and how it is affecting my baby. I wonder a lot who we would be if we weren’t here, and who we will be, because we are.

(More after the jump.)

It’s a different kind of parenting experience than I expected to have, living in New York City with a ten-month-old. For starters, the boy can count on one hand the number of car trips he’s taken. But even more than that, Huck is experiencing a vastly different kind of childhood than either of his parents had. We wait for trains underground, travel sideways on subways, we play in crowded playgrounds with kids he’s never seen before and will likely never see again. We keep low profiles, we watch for mice, roaches, feces, and careening cabs as we walk. We keep a close eye on our belongings and learn to be wary of sirens, abandoned backpacks, and homeless men shouting at us from across the park.

This is a dangerous place. I am raising my baby in a dangerous place.

But what I’ve come to learn about New Yorkers over the three 9/11s we’ve lived here (2005, 2010, and 2011) is that despite the dangers, we all feel that living in New York City is a privilege. This is a tough town, to be sure. But despite its toughness, New Yorkers are incredibly tender. That’s what 9/11 taught me, anyway, and the outpouring of love I witness every eleventh of September reminds me of this.

And that’s what I hope growing up in New York City will teach Huck: That we can be tough despite tender times. And that we can be tender despite living in the toughest of places.

I’ve always felt proud to live in New York City, and today I’m even prouder that I’m raising a New Yorker. One more New Yorker, born on a humid day in October on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I hope he grows up to be just as proud of his city and the sacrifices made on his behalf as we are. We are all lucky ducks. May we never forget that.

You can read more Nat The Fat Rat at www.natthefatrat.com

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