It’s the Big Apple, Baby
By Meika Aysal (intro by Melissa Williams).
I know you’ve all been worrying about why we haven’t blogged in ages (truth: no one has ever mentioned it – heck, we only wrote three blogs and one of those was by a guest blogger!). But, you’ll all be over the moon to hear that we’re back and this time it’s going to be a regular thing. Promise. Well…we’ll try our best.
The truth is, life got a bit in the way. The joyous bit of life - a baby came along. A glorious, wonderful, all consuming little being called Rina.
So, from now on, my wonderful big sister Meika is going to be writing our blog posts for us (thank you big sis – you’re a life saver). Meika is also a new mum, to Lola, nine months old. In January, she moved with her family to New York City. So that makes her our New York office, right?
I’ve asked her to write about anything she fancies (because life isn’t all about gifts) and for her first blog she thought she’d tell you a little about the move to New York. Please be lovely to her (as she’s bloody fantastic) and let us know if anything you read makes you want to hear more.
Emigrating with a three-month-old? Great Idea!
What a whirlwind it was leaving London for New York at the beginning of this year. A new job for my husband and a whole new chapter in our family tree with the addition of our daughter, Lola.
Besides coping with a 3-month old baby, we were selling furniture and packing up our house. Stressful? Yes. But in hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise as it gave me little time to think about leaving beloved family and friends.
I had no idea how life would be with a baby in the Big Apple without the familiarity of ‘home’ and devoid of the people I turn to on a daily basis (note to husband: yes, at the ripe old age of 41, I still talk to my mum every day and I hope Lola will want to do exactly the same!). Thank God for FaceTime and WhatsApp!
Also, I’d built up a great friendship with some women from my local parenting group in London and was gutted to be leaving them. Especially when we’d just started this new adventure of raising human beings together. Miss you girls.
Not being close to those nearest and dearest weighed heavily on my mind, and it was a big road block for me in agreeing to move to a new country. That, combined with potentially giving up my job and becoming a full-time mum meant a complete change of pace.
I’d been working in the city of London for twenty-two years and had only been in my latest role at a fast-paced, dynamic corporate for a year. What faced me was taking my foot off the gas in the corporate world and putting it down into becoming a 24/7 mum. On one hand, I felt completely ready to do just that, but adjusting to the idea of not earning an income was hard.
My husband’s new job was giving me a freedom I’d never really contemplated, because I’d always worked. Always. He was offering me the freedom to raise our daughter and be our household CEO without having to hold down an external job and pay for it all. He was offering me a life that a lot of people dream of and that some people want to run a mile from. Even though I was giving up a lot, I knew this new life we were embarking on was going to be privileged.
One cat and twelve pieces of luggage to check please
In transit we were three people, one cat and twelve pieces of luggage facing a massive winter storm walloping the US east coast. Diversions to Montreal for the humans and Washington, D.C. for the cat were absolutely not part of the plan. To top it all off, we managed to lose bag number twelve on arrival in New York two days later, including Lola’s magic SleepyHeadpod! (a game-changing product). Lola handled the move like a total pro. The rest of us, including our cat, not so much.
Starting all over again
My husband and I spent our first night in New York on a bare mattress with our winter coats over us in place of a duvet. Sensible people may have planned to have a bed ready after crossing the Atlantic with a young baby. Sensible people may have thought about getting milk, bread and other essentials in. No, not us.
We arrived at our new apartment at 2 am two days later than expected, and while we had arranged for some simple Ikea furniture to be bought and assembled in the apartment prior to our arrival - oh yes, there’s a company who can do that for you here - we didn’t have key basics like pillows, duvets and sheets. In my infinite wisdom, I had assumed that we would arrive into New York without delay and with enough time for me to get some supplies before nightfall. How wrong could I have been.
We were literally starting from scratch in a new home. Amazingly, it only took a week for our personal belongings to arrive from the UK that were shipped on the same day we left! However, one sofa, a mattress plus some plates and cups weren’t going to cut it. We desperately needed to furnish the apartment and make it our home.
Chip & Joanna Gaines saved my life!
I’d already been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in New York. It’s where I met my husband during a brief stint working for a law firm ten years ago. Back then, a Saturday night out resulted in a visit to a Korean karaoke bar until 6 am. Needless to say, with a baby everything is different.
I’ll be totally honest and tell you that we didn’t really get the best New York experience until spring arrived about 3 months later. Dealing with snow and temperatures of about -10C with a baby is somewhat restrictive.
Lola and I were pretty housebound in the first few months, regardless of the weather, as I imagine most parents to infants are, and the reality of being in New York with a baby is that you can’t just pick up and go wherever you want, whenever you want. You can’t just jump on the subway and go down to Chelsea Market or spend an afternoon in Brooklyn. It has to be planned. Well, it does for me at least.
My saving grace at this time was a TV show called Fixer Upperon the HGTV channel. This show would run back-to-back episodes with dedicated ‘#marathon’ days running from dusk till dawn feeding my boredom while Lola slept. Within those first few days, I had pretty much decided that moving to Texas would be our destiny! Forget New York, let’s move to Texas and buy a ranch and live like cowboys. Yes, seriously.
Watching Chip and Joanna Gaines turn properties into dream homes had me transfixed. Forget all the home makeover shows you’ve seen and picture a formal dining areas with grand vaulted ceilings where you would host the most amazing Christmases; casual dining for civilised breakfasts with the kids who manage to eat without making a mess; lavish kitchen islands; stylish mud rooms to welcome everyone home and dump their belongings in; laundry rooms (need I say more); and master bedrooms with the most amazing en-suites offering a sanctuary for mum and dad. You only have to visit the show’s website to get a glimpse of what I’m talking about.
Amongst all the dross that makes up the 800+ channels on American TV, this show saved my life. New York City would tease me saying ‘come and play’ as I gazed at it in awe from our 30thfloor apartment, and I would say ‘not today NY. There’s feeding, napping and bath time to consider, and I have a date with Chip & Joanna of Fixer Upper’.
Let’s go outside
Lola and I hit the sidewalk as soon as the weather improved. If I was feeling a bit low about being on my own all day with the baby and without adult conversation while my husband was at work, getting out and about definitely lifted my mood.
I was really surprised to learn that some simple day-to-day stuff that I took for granted in London doesn’t translate in New York. For example, getting on a bus with your baby in her pushchair – not permitted. You have to collapse the pushchair and board holding baby and all of the necessary accessories a conscientious parent brings. A friend of mine who has two-year-old twins and a nine-month-old recently did just this. Just her and the kids. She is a supermum in my book.
Also, many restaurants don’t have baby changing facilities. Even in my local neighbourhood, aka ‘Stroller City’, baby changing tables are scarce at most eateries. Hardly life-altering issues I know, but at first-glance I expected more from one of the leading cities in the world.
That’s not to say that children are not welcome in this wonderful city. I’ve really grown to love the number of kid-friendly parks with playgrounds, splash fountains and story-time. Walking around Central Park with Lola as a young baby has been glorious. The sun shines almost every day and I realise I am immensely lucky to be here.
Mommy & me
I was determined to join a baby group to meet other mums and their kids, but in reality, classes are largely attended by nannies and the kids they look after. It was so disappointing. Some nannies don’t even interact with their kids at these classes, let alone with other adults. And there are those classes where cliques are already formed amongst super thin, immaculately dressed Upper East Side moms – a completely different breed to me.
Discovering a class worthy of parting a fairly significant sum of money for hasn’t been easy. You think there would be tons of classes to pick from in the city, but I haven’t found that to be the case. I eventually found a class by looking online and reading reviews by other mums. There’s a fair amount of ‘soft play’ venues for toddlers and older kids, but not a lot of things to do with babies for babies – a gap in the market maybe.
However, a ray of light was in discovering Little Maestros, a class run by talented musicians and singers, who put on a fantastic show with puppets, kiddie instruments, toys and other props, for anyone who attends. There’s always a guitarist, pianist, drummer and sometimes a saxophonist (nice). I’ve managed to meet some great people who go with their kids who are the same age as Lola. This week has a beach theme; bikinis are optional. Knock yourself out Lola.
It’s all about people at the end of the day
(Meika is front left)
Connecting with a couple of groups called British Mums NYCand UES Mommashas enabled me to find a network of friends who are experiencing the city with their own little ones and who understand exactly where I’m coming from.
With my Brit friends, there’s a scheduled meet-up every week. It’s mostly baby talk, but we get to share tips on where to go and what to do, plus reminisce about the UK (this often involves lamenting about the loss of, but not limited to, Marks & Spencer and John Lewis!). This group has really enabled me to feel ‘at home’ in New York.
My newest acquaintance lives one block up the street, and is in her 80s. We met on the bus and just hit it off. It goes to show that if you put yourself out there just a little bit, you find friends in the most unexpected places.
Six-months in and my family is settled in. We gawp at the awe-inspiring view of Manhattan from our apartment and wonder where tomorrow will take us.