Home Work

This New Yorker runs a daycare from her Upper East Side apartment

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Home Work, a new column for Brick Underground, goes inside the homes of New Yorkers who are both working and living in their apartments. "How do they make it work?" you might ask. Well, we find out. First up: Natalie Cronin, an Upper East Sider who runs a daycare out of her one-bedroom apartment.

Natalie Cronin was working a corporate job at Kidville, a national collection of children's gyms and schools and trying to juggle her parental duties when it hit her that she could take the parts of the job she loved—working with kids and educating them—and still spend more time with her own young son. "I always loved the idea of home-based daycare," says Cronin.

She liked how intimate it was. She could provide fellow parents with childcare, spend time with kids and do it all without ever commuting. Flash forward six years later, and Cronin runs a successful daycare—yes, there's a waitlist—on the Upper East Side of Manhattan out of her one-bedroom apartment. (Full disclosure: This author's son attends the daycare.) 

The apartment itself is rent-stabilized and, in case you're wondering, it's totally kosher. The state makes concessions for businesses run out of homes that serve their community the way Cronin's does.

Because of the small space, kids go out on day trips a lot to the library and the park. Still, oftentimes there are 12 kids (and up to 6 teachers) in the space at one time. Cronin admits that it's not a life for everyone—she does tend to have a full house by 8 am, and it doesn't clear out until after 6 pm.. Nonetheless, it works for her. Here's how:

A lot of people look at your apartment, which is a one-bedroom, and wonder how you do it. How do you keep your sanity?

It helps that I sublet a room block away that I use for storage and as an office space to actually do paperwork. That space gives me some peace and quiet when I need it. Also, I'm someone who's constantly cleaning and organizing. That helps, too.

How do your building management and neighbors react?

My building is very laid-back and lively and family-friendly at the same time. We've actually had a lot of our doormen's family members work for us. 

We're always very careful about respecting common spaces. We don't clog up the lobby with our strollers and we don't let kids run around in the shared spaces. That really helps. Usually our neighbors are more curious than angry. 

I once had an experience where my neighbor complained that I was running an illegal daycare. The super came in and we showed him the license (we have a special one for home-based daycares, and we're regulated by same standard as center-based daycares).  

Is there anything about  your apartment itself—its layout or location—that makes this kind of thing easier to pull off?

The geography of my apartment helps. I'm on the ground floor (so no one clogs up any elevators), and there's a stroller-friendly ramp right outside. Also, I don't have any neighbors right next to me so noise isn't as big a deal. The fact that we don't have any downstairs neighbors helps, too. That’s why I honestly feel like my place was meant to be.  

What are some of the best parts of doing this?

I love having people in my home, I love feeding people, and I love babies. This allows me to meld what I love to do with my own family life. It allows me to be close to my son's school, and to pick him up when I can. 

I get to live in a nice community, and have a great school, and rent stabilization gives me right to renew my lease year after year (a landlord could choose not to renew a market-rate tenant).

What are some of the worst parts?

People seeing my dirty bedroom, or if the laundry’s all over the floor. If I have a fight with my husband, I have no privacy. But I don’t have to get on the train, either. We all make sacrifiices.

Sometimes my son (who's eight years old) complains, too. If he wants to have a playdate after school, he can’t. But I remind him that if mommy didn’t do this, I wouldn’t be around as much.

My one pet peeve: Lost-and-found stuff that gets left behind.

Managing clutter is a constant chore, and it can make you loco.  The trick is just constantly going through things and getting rid of stuff you don't need. Plus, we have cabinets and boxes for everything and ask kids to take their things (coats, water bottles, etc) when they leave.

Any advice for someone looking to do the same thing?

You have to be someone who likes people in their house. But in many ways it's a lot less isolating than parenting can be.

Now, more practically, you need to invest in pieces that stack (see high chairs pictured above). Everything we have folds up and out. I say it's like James Bond. You always need to be purging, and you always need to be working on the upkeep of the apartment (I'm currently painting). Screens and dividers are your friends, too. [Editor's note: Cronin is a big fan of bObles, foam pieces that can be used as furniture and play toys (see second photo above).]

And you can't hoard. You need to always be purging.


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