Motherhood changes everything.
Child-free women who never gave much thought to education funding become fiercely concerned with “innovation zones” and teacher-student ratios once baby arrives. A city once prized for its sparkling nightlife loses allure when the walls of a small apartment close in with a colicky little one at 2 a.m.
For Mother’s Day, we asked first-time moms — affluent and poor, single and married — about the hopes and dreams they had for their first born in NYC. Despite their differences in circumstance, they shared remarkably similar preoccupations.
Tammy Nguyen Min and Tyler, 2 months (above)
New York City is fine for the next three or four years, but after that, don’t count on Tammy Nguyen Min, 35, an anesthesiologist; her husband Richard Min, 34, a food and beverage manager, or their baby, Tyler, born in March, sticking around.
“The standard of living, the lack of space, the lack of an easy access to schools that have waiting lists and lotteries,” are all factors that give Nguyen grave concerns.
“I don’t want to think I have to pay extra for a private school education when we already pay city and state taxes that a lot of other places don’t have,” said Nguyen. Her family may eventually move south, said Nguyen, who grew up in Pensacola, Fla., attending public schools she remembers fondly.
“We pay all these taxes here, but we don't get gym, or p.e. or football or band. You have to pay extra for all that here, outside of school.” which seems wrong, Nguyen said.
Crystal Tillery and Justice, 18 months
Crystal Tillery, 27, and her toddler share their rent-stabilized one-bedroom apartment with a friend to help make the rent, but the friend is moving out, which means Tillery, who makes $34,000 a year, will have to get creative again about making ends meet.
“Money is definitely the biggest challenge,” in the juggle of affording baby sitters and housing in a city where everything costs more than elsewhere.
Her salvation? The Internet. “I research everything,” said Tillery. Hunting for the lowest prices online allows her to stretch each dollar. “I’m looking for a baby exchange,” so she can swap Justice’s old clothes and toys for new ones as he grows. Online, she discovered “mommy meetups” to join with other cash-strapped parents for support and fellowship while they take their kids on frugal adventures. Her thrifty actions have helped her set aside a college fund.
Jessica Medina Copquin, 35, and Bianca, 17 months
Astoria (photo credit: Alexographer.com)
Copquin, 35, who was raised in Corona, loves watching Bianca play with kids from all over the world in city parks. She loves the music of multiple languages coming from her local playground and the fact that her toddler already has a taste for Indian curries.
Yet, “I’m open to moving to another state and even another country,” said Copquin. She and her husband, Alex Copquin, 38, a software engineer, want another baby, but they are dismayed by their housing prospects in NYC. “Almost all the parents I know have a kid and are in one-bedroom apartments,” as she is, said Copquin. She looked for a two-bedroom apartment but the prices “are just ridiculous.”
Shana Byer, and Chase, 18 months
“The trains are not stroller friendly!” said Shana Byer, 25. But the passengers sure are friendly to babies! Chase, naturally gregarious, makes new friends on whatever line he travels. “People just start talking to me because of him,” marveled Byer. “The most serious looking people on the train just open up.”
“What rocks about New York are the same things that suck about it,” for new parents, Byer explained: There are lots of cool, talented people in the city, “but you’re competing with all of them for space,” in housing, classes, parks and activities. A residential rehab specialist, Byer lives with Chase, Chase’s dad Mick Julnice, 26, a photographer, and a young relative she cares for in a two-bedroom apartment.
She is already musing on how to keep Chase engaged without being overprotective. Chase danced before he could walk, so Byer is encouraging his love of music.
Amy Astrowsky, and Amanda, 14 months
Upper West Side
Some women shop compulsively. Others cook, or clean. Amy Astrowsky's “personal obsession,” is researching schools for her 14-month old daughter.
“Where I live is going to be determined solely by where Amanda goes to school,” said Astrowsky, 39, a married but separated fashion designer who is eyeing schools on the Upper East Side while weighing an eventual move to the suburbs.
Astrowsky earns six figures but Amanda’s “amazing” day care costs $2,100 a month. “That’s not even that expensive,” Astrowsky noted. Getting in was a struggle. “I was absolutely relentless to get her into this day care,” said Astrowsky. She dreads the next hurdle: “$30K a year for kindergarten.”
Astrowsky wants her only child to have “the best of everything” and the education of her dreams. That means expending investment in her early years for a later payoff.
Rowenna Persaud and Genesis, 2 ½
“I’m so concerned about the public schools,” said Rowenna Persaud, 25, a recent college graduate who works in retail sales. Persaud, who wants to go to graduate school and law school, is adamant about her child getting a good education, even though she sometimes doubts the value of hers. She is not only struggling to find a job that can boost her up out of poverty and off Medicaid, but “working as hard as I can” so she can eventually enroll Genesis in Catholic or private school.
In some respects, Persaud is lucky: “I don't have to worry about housing,” because she lives with her parents. Persaud would like to see more green spaces in low income neighborhoods. Her own nearby parks are “rowdy and crowded,” so she hops the D Train with Genesis so her daughter can play in Central Park.