Harlem, Harlem: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere

Years ago when I was thinking about how my life with kids would look like here’s what I imagined:
– a house off Northcote road aka Nappy Valley in London, a street where moms wear UGG boots, sip skinny lattes, have straight long hair and look like boho chic models
– me strolling my newborn in a bugaboo wearing my favorite YSL heeled boots and gossiping with my BFF Natasha
– working long hours but not worrying about it because DH could handle baby duties on his own or at least with the help of our mates from college living nearby

You see, we struggled so long to have children that I had all the time in the world to observe my friends take the plunge, draw some lessons and imagine how my family life would perfectly snug into this pretty picture. I was serene, thinking I would get all the tricks of the trade from my girls (e.g. how to get a Mary Poppins like nanny, where to get mama cocktails in the middle of the day, what diaper bag to buy etc.). But none of this happened.

Instead, on a whim, DH and I decided to flee the country and lose our mind in Manhattan with Thor and Archibald, our BGFF (Best Gay Friends Forever). And boy we did (more about this in later posts). However after 1 cycle of IVF and a surprise pregnancy (aka I forgot the pill/I did not even know I could ‘naturally’ make children pregnancy) here we are raising 3 babies in Harlem. Harlem with a husband who is as pasty as goat cheese…Harlem away from my college buddies and schlepping to build a new crew in a place that is way ‘Too fast, Too furious’ for a push over like me.

To start with, something strange changed in the dynamics of our couple (and I don’t mean the disappearance of a normal sex life that young parents go through). For the first time DH was the one feeling as an outcast in our new neighborhood with his pale skin and his Hugo Boss suit. And for the first time  my ‘girl in the hood’ upbringing, swearing big mouth and tanned complexion made me fit in. In the past I felt like the lucky ‘gal from an ethnic minority and working class pool’  who managed to survive hurdles to social upward mobility, one hurdle after another but not without leaving many of my sisters behind. From high school onwards I saw ‘people like me’ slowly disappearing from my entourage, first in preparatory school, then in business school and later at work – I did work for the charity and philanthrophic field in which paradoxically most managerial positions were held by girls named Rose or Emily. As for my local Starbucks in Clapham it was full of blondes (real and fakes).

But today things are different. Today in Harlem perhaps for the first time in his life, DH realizes he is a white man. Recently he admitted ‘I really feel stupid walking home  with my suit – I am the only white dude coming out the subway dressed to the T. It’s odd.’ I started to mock him when I realized that he was being dead serious. He continued:’Don’t laugh it’s true. The kids around try to be intimidating as kids do but it is unsettling. But it is funny because when I am with our kids all is different. I am not a newcomer invading their community but just a dad.’

It is true; Harlem is patchy. On one street you have a fancy restaurant where Obama raised a cool $1.5 million for the Democratic National Convention and where the Clintons can be seen dining. A couple of blocks from there, people happily exchange gun shots for no apparent reason except perhaps because they have guns. Harlem went through so much change with young families massively arriving in search for bigger square footage and access to the amazing outdoor play zones that are Morningside Park, Central Park and Riverside. With these ‘new’ residents came restaurants, cafes and bars and escalating real estate, pricing out ‘old’ residents.  My neighborhood is thus a mix of stressed out parents (with an excessively high ratio of families with twins, go figure…) running after their toddlers, African American teenagers hollering people in the street and showing off their abs, African Muslims selling halal patties and spreading over the sidewalk at times of prayer. As for my nanny, she does not know who the hell Mary Poppins is but she surely cooks a mean Mafe (peanut butter based Senegalese dish).

Indeed, it definitely was not where I pictured I would raise my kids…but I absolutely love it. I love that when we go to our weekly story telling session at the local Police Athletic League G, P, L get to play with kids who look like them: born from a mixed race couple who embrace their differences. When I look around 90% children have mixed cultural backgrounds: African American/Hispanic, Asian American/Caucasian, Indian/Dutch and more..and among them here are G, P and L with their French/Lao/American/Vampire ‘DNA’. It is a little sappy but these 45 mins give me faith in humanity; this is, of course, until G decides he wants to bring down on his own the decorations and then I want to commit murder again…Of course sometimes tempers flare and you can get trash talked on a daily basis. Our summer au pair, Alice, got sniggered at by some sassy ladies: “This girl got no a**, tssst…She ain’t black.” That was little too strong a ‘Welcome to Harlem!’ for poorAlice, Oxford (England) born and raised.

As we were walking down our street this week end, teenagers or is it young adults were gathering on the steps of a brownstone house. They were hanging out and talking loud as usual. DH told me about them, he told me how he would always say ‘Hi’ to them on his way home. DH somehow thinks he developed some kind of street creds, which really makes me crack up every time. It is like me saying that I don’t mind drinking wine in a plastic cup…Anyway as we were passing near the group with our two strollers and 3 babies, the youngsters did say ‘hi’ and one started to hiss:’Dude, wow,…see Nigga got 3 kids!’. To this DH turned to me and smiled with a smirk on his face.

I laughed hard. DH has a posse!

2 thoughts on “Harlem, Harlem: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere

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