The real reason I can't leave my building

By Jen Laing  | November 19, 2015 - 8:59AM

Like most New Yorkers, I’ve had my share of horrible neighbors: the single chick above me who traipsed around her apartment every weekend from 1 to 4 am—in heels; the elderly couple downstairs who pounded on my door every time my toddler ran from one end of the apartment to the other (which is to say, daily); the equally disastrous frat boys who moved in after the couple and routinely left every TV and stereo blasting at top volume whether they were home or not (I celebrated when their lease was not renewed).

What’s more, my building is not ideally located for my life: it’s far from transportation, a two-subway commute to one of my children’s elementary schools and an inconvenient trek to my husband’s office. And yet, we stay put, in large part because of our neighbors.

I met Lynn in the laundry room of our building. We were both pregnant. I couldn’t place her accent (Southern? Midwestern? I was way off—she was Norwegian.). We met again a few months later and soon began taking daily stroller walks with our infants. Neither of us had family in the city and we bonded over the shared experiences of new motherhood: sleepless nights, feeding schedules, the pros and cons of co-parenting and sleep-training, the introduction of solid food. By the time our second children were born we, and our kids, were inseparable.

Today, almost 10 years later, we have each other’s spare keys and use them to check on each other’s apartments and feed each other’s cats. We pick up and drop off each other’s kids (though they go to different schools) and watch each other’s brood so we can each enjoy date nights with our significant others without the added expense of a sitter.

Lynn's mom stays in my apartment when I am out of town over Christmas. We pick up groceries for each other when we’re out shopping. Our kids are constantly running between our apartments. And I am as likely to find one of Lynn’s daughters’ headbands, a pair pink socks, or a Judy Moody book at my place as she is to find one of my boys’ Ultraman action figures, basketballs or schoolbooks at hers. She speaks to my kids in Norwegian and I have taught hers the Hebrew blessings over the candles, wine, and challah at our weekly Friday night Shabbats.

If there’s a silver lining to remaining in this cramped apartment in this overcrowded city, it’s that our children are being raised with neighbors that provide a built-in network of friends to play with, adults to turn to, homes to visit, meals to share, cultural differences to discover and relationships to explore. As neighbors, my boys and Lynn's girls are growing up with something special: an extended family. (So many of us who arrived here in this city to make a go of it far from our hometowns have none.) The last thing I thought I’d find upon moving into this building—which I was certain was a pit stop on the way to bigger and better—was a best friend, but that’s what this neighbor has become.


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