The Best Place to Raise Kids?

One parent shares her personal experience of being a Mom in Brooklyn.

Pig Lipstick: don't try this at the Prospect Park Zoo


I posted on Facebook, “touring middle schools with my 5th grader.” My friends’ responses were split into two camps. Friends back home in Alaska posted, “What?!?” Friends from Park Slope posted, “I know!?!”

The responses got me thinking about my decision to raise my sons in Brooklyn. How does location impact my parenting and their childhood? Is living in Brooklyn ‘better’? Or is it simply ‘different’? What are the similarities between raising a family here compared to back home?

As my Facebook comments illustrate, the middle school application process is different in New York than in other parts of the country. To prepare for the December 17th application deadline, my husband and I brought our oldest to District 15, District 20 and citywide middle school tours. Each bit of datum we entered into a spreadsheet. Compare that with my friend, Melanie, in Alaska. Her daughter asked as they were driving to the junior high for the first day of school, “is this the only option?” In Soldotna, yes, it is. No application necessary. Just show up.

Will hustling to get into the ‘best’ middle school give my son an edge on Melanie’s daughter? I doubt it. Middle school peers are likely more important than middle school teachers. My niece and her friends motivated each other to work hard in and out of school. Thanks to their friendships and positive peer support, they survived middle school, loved high school—each studied abroad for a spell—and are now attending Dartmouth and Brown. I have found a middle school for my 5th grader. I cross my fingers t he and his friends get accepted not because it specializes in math but because I want my son to go to school with peers who will encourage him to succeed. Good friends can be found anywhere and thankfully we have some here in Brooklyn.

We spent three weeks in Alaska when the boys were 7 and 5. Two of my nieces—who are only a week older than the boys—buckled my boys’ seatbelts, taught them to fish, and lead them on the horses. Although my sisters tried to comfort me with, “I’m sure there are city things your boys can do better than the girls,” it was clear they thought I was raising the wimpy city kids.

The following summer my 16 year old niece spent a week in Brooklyn while on her way to Hungary. I sent her and my then 8-year-old to Prospect Park with loose instructions to “be back by seven.” My 8-year-old led her through the back trails, pointing out waterfalls and taking a break at the Audubon Center. He then led her back through Park Slope to our apartment. My niece had to trust her guide and my son knew exactly where he was the entire time. Prospect Park is our backyard; our backyard we share with you, our neighbors. My niece pointed out, when I told her I was writing this post, how impressed she was with my son’s ability to lead her around Brooklyn with authority and confidence. Perhaps I’m not growing wimpy city kids after all.

The biggest difference between Brooklyn and Alaska—the biggest difference between New York and anywhere else—is summer camp. New Yorkers work. New Yorkers have small living quarters. New Yorkers send their brood to summer camp. For the entire summer. Whether it is sleep away camp or day camp, Brooklyn babes are there Monday through Friday, July and August.

I attended enough short sleep away camps as a teenager to fall in love with a boy, secure him as a pen pal, and then get back to the Alaskan summer. But Alaskan parents don’t send their kids to summer-long camps because everyone wants to be outside. It’s finally warm enough and the sun is always up. Alaskan summers are for hiking, fishing, and swimming. Come to think of it, those are the same reasons New York kids attend summer camp.

New York is unique and amazing. It has everything. Diversity! Culture! Education! If you can make it here—in a $755K, 2 bedroom home with 3 kids and no driveway—you make it because you can’t imagine living without the possibility of going to a Broadway show or a Mets game tonight.

Unique and amazing also is Alaska. Alaska has everything. Virgin woods! Wild salmon! Hockey! If you can make it there—with a moose infested ¼ mile driveway to plow in the dark, frigid, eternal winter afternoon—you make it because you can’t imagine living with the possibility of watching the Aurora Borealis tonight.

Regardless of where I live, I consider it part of my job description as a mother to worry about my children. I worry about the baby’s eczema I can’t cure and hope I am soothing. I worry their hand writing is sloppy. I worry they will drown in the bathtub. I worry about Stranger—and not so stranger—Danger. I worry about cyber-bullying. By living in New York I’m trading one worry (a newly licensed 16-year old driving on dark, icy roads with friends, for example) with another (a preteen traveling alone on the subway to school.)

I’m thrilled I’m raising my sons in Brooklyn. If I lived in Alaska, I’d be thankful to raise my kids there. Yes they are different but both exciting and nurturing. But, in the end we all face the same challenges. When I posted on Facebook, “can’t get anything done with baby in my arms” my friends in Alaska and New York united. “Amen!” came from both sides of the aisle.

Amber Ceffalio