Every night when I cozy up to my 11-month-old daughter, I bring out her bin of books and let her pick two for me to read to her at bedtime. Recently, without fail, she grabs “Good Night New York City” and “Good Night Brooklyn” every single night.
For days, I wondered what it is about these books she loves so much. In fact, these weren’t her favorite books pre-pandemic. I always try and throw in a Dr. Seuss book with a cute little rhyme, and most days she lets me. But her tiny little face lights up when we grab her Goodnight New York books. It was weeks into the pandemic that I realized, she has a yearning for what she knows, and misses New York City just as much as I do.
I grew up in Brooklyn. Born and raised in Canarsie, moved to Mill Basin in my teen years. When I left for college in Western Massachusetts, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there because I knew damn well I was coming straight back to New York City when I graduated. My friends called me “The Brooklyn Girl,” and reveled in my stories about dancing at nightclubs downtown, and midnight rides to Rockaway Beach. I remember a late night conversation with my Massachusetts-bred college boyfriend. He was about to graduate and we laid in bed talking about what we’d do afterwards. I said I’d be open to trying out a new city to be close to him. “I love Boston.” Poor guy had no idea I was lying through my teeth. I was counting the days til I could get my own apartment in New York City.
Growing up in our corner of Brooklyn was special. Some of my friends had huge Victorian mansions in Prospect Park South, and some rented basement apartments. Some had single mothers who worked nights to support their kids, and some were renowned doctors. Of course, there were some, whose parents’ “professions” were never known. That’s Brooklyn… We didn’t care that some drove Mercedes, some drove beat up 15-year-old Toyotas, and some didn’t have cars at all. What mattered is that none of it mattered. Many of us were the children of immigrants. Indian accents, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, Jamaican. Jewish, Catholic, who cared? Everyone was the same, except we were totally different.
So when the Covid-19 virus hit NYC hard, my family and I escaped to – another end of Brooklyn. We headed back to the small oasis of Mill Basin. This hidden treasure is truly a space between. Still in NYC proper, but with houses and backyards. In all honesty, we didn’t intend to leave our tiny two-bedroom in Cobble Hill at all. My dad’s death after a long battle with cancer coincided with the first day of New York’s shelter in place order. So while we thought we were staying with my mom for one week, we’re still here two months later.
At night, after putting our daughter to bed and saying goodnight to Brooklyn and New York City, I lay in my childhood bedroom, reading articles titled “What hardcore New Yorkers Really Miss,” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” about the thousands of families fleeing New York City for more space and fresh air. The debate feels familiar, as it was just last year my husband and I were deciding where to move after finding out we were expecting our first child. I’d spend hours convincing him Brooklyn was the place for us. I’d show him old photos of The Brook Sun and Swim Club, a no-frills pool club in Canarsie where we’d go to escape the steaming hot Brooklyn summers in the 1980s. I wanted our daughter to grow up like I did, around anyone and everyone. Not so secretly, I wanted her to be a Brooklyn girl too.
With the tragic daily news updates, I grapple with our own future. In my quest for information, I stumbled on a newly formed Facebook group with thousands of NY moms exploring the option of leaving the city. Unsure of how this will play out, and tired of shelling over entire paychecks for rent in a city where going outside is feared, they’re finally looking beyond the boroughs. I mine the posts, looking to be swayed one way or the other.
In this group, people are searching for what doesn’t seem to exist. “Are there any places like Brooklyn out there, but with more space?” People go back and forth, discussing if there’s any place to truly find diversity in Nassau County, or if there are any towns with less than $40,000 in taxes in Westchester.
Sure, I long for more space, and a big backyard that’s not my mother’s. I cringe every time our rent check for our empty apartment is processed. Even before the pandemic, I worried about whether or not our daughter would even get into her zoned school for Kindergarten, and if we’d even be able to afford to continue living in Brooklyn.
But I won’t give up on Brooklyn. At least not yet. I want to be here when our coffee shop reopens, when Governor Cuomo announces we can safely gather, when we watch our daughter smile uncontrollably as we push her on the swings in Carroll Park. When I can pop in my headphones and zone out on the unbearably slow F train. When I can sneak out with our daughter for a 7 AM stroll along Court Street before the city wakes up. When I can shyly smile at Bobby Cannavale and Keri Russell during our early morning coffee runs, pretending I don’t know who they are. I can’t wait to gather with our neighbors at the bar downstairs on Friday evenings, watching our kids of all different cultures run and play on the sidewalk as we have a glass of wine, hug, and welcome the weekend. I can’t wait for Brooklyn to welcome us back.
Maybe one day, you’ll find us living in one of those places they call “The Brooklyn of (insert outer suburb).” But for now, I’m not giving up on NYC. We’ll continue reading “Good Night Brooklyn” instead of saying goodbye. These Brooklyn girls are staying.