Welcome to Babyburg!
I walk into a newly opened kids’ store in Williamsburg, just because the eyesore of the façade is too much to ignore. The girl behind the desk greets me, and when I respond to her I can’t help but feel like I have a sort of camaraderie with her. We seem to be about the same age with the same social disposition: postgraduates looking to make ends meet. I look at a few items, and then my gaze shifts to outside the big front windows. I see a small group of scraggly hipsters walk by the store. Eyebrows knitted, faces contorted in disgust as they saw the window display, and, most importantly, the cheesy name of the store. Then I see it: the kids look even more disgusted with the shop girl. I quickly glance back at her, and she’s put on a pained, longing expression.
“No!” I wanted to shout at them, “I agree with you! Just because she works here doesn’t mean she actually cares at all about kids!”
Certainly, these people weren’t unfamiliar to me. I’m one of them, outside the workplace. And I don’t just mean I work at a kids’ store. Two to three times a week, I find myself pushing the stroller that thousands of New Yorkers either come in contact with, or push themselves, every day. I can add my name to the long list of college students in Manhattan who are trying to make a buck by babysitting. Sounds like a high school gig, but as any sitter will tell you—it beats being a barista.
So, after two years and a BA later, I can consider myself an expert.
Not long ago I ran across the phrase “Bugaboo culture” online and I couldn’t contain myself—this culture, this life, was something I was living by proxy. I specifically remember walking in SoHo with a friend, doing some post-weekend-brunch strolling, when we both had to move out of the way of a woman with a bugaboo. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. As every parent/consumer knows by now, it was like an SUV for infants. I knew the stroller by sight, but not by name.
“That’s a Bugaboo,” my friend said, and he immediately went on about how he’d read an article about how they cost, mostly starting at $700. That’s more than half my share of my 2 bedroom 1 bath rent in Brooklyn. Needless to say, I was astonished.
“Well,” my friend said with an appropriate smirk, “that’s how you know you’re in the presence of a top-notch parent.”
How true. I mean, how else would you know?
So began my slow-evolving hatred for the Bugaboo culture. And, needless to say, the sprouting of more and more babies in Williamsburg has started to make me seethe. Or, maybe it’s just because I live and work there.
Once, out of even more curiosity than before, I found myself at the store again. While I was browsing, a thirty-something new mom picked up a vintage-styled T-shirt for her toddler son. Once the shopgirl mentioned that one of the unique qualities of the shirt was that part of it was vintage, she pursed her lips and put the T-shirt back on the rack.
“I’m not really into the vintage thing that goes on in this neighborhood,” she said. She turned her back on the shopgirl and bought something else.
Then why, I thought, do you live in this neighborhood?
That woman was not the last of her kind. After babysitting for a West Village family for two years, I was able to learn a lot about what is, seemingly, expected of New York parents and how they are to conduct themselves now that their “bundle of joy” has blessed this world with its presence.
Days spent at Bleecker Park, Leroy Park, and Leroy Library have given me glimpses of women who I am positive are in, as the Gawker article once noted, “sexless marriages.” They’re worn-out, annoyed, and very much “over it.” They can really only focus on their manicure, their high-end shoes, or the fact that their youth is pretty much over. God forbid the kid starts crying, because then the reverie of their Carrie Bradshaw-like days is cut short.
This part of being a babysitter always both amused and depressed me. Seems like a paradox, but once you see something often enough, it almost becomes entertainment.
Often I took on babysitting jobs on weekend nights. Eighty dollars in my pocket was a lot better than some East Village rooftop party. I got paid to sit on a couch, watch Direct TV while the kids slept, and was even encouraged to fall asleep. When the parents came home, usually a little tipsy, I always was secretly happy that they were out, partying in their own “We-are-parents-now” way.
“Good for them,” I thought. “I hope they have good sex tonight.” And this sort of good feeling that perhaps they actually would, was reason enough to not be completely disgusted with new parents.
That’s the village; this is Williamsburg.
In a gentrified neighborhood there is always a process: young artists take the risk for cheaper rent, small businesses spring up (along with the rent), schools get better, and then young married couples find it the “perfect place” to bring in their new baby. This explains the high-rises that are springing up along the East River, this explains the mass of prissy new parents with their SUV strollers who avoid Beacon’s Closet like the plague.
But, the hipsters can stay, right? As long as they make the moms feel free again.
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