What’s it Like to Grow Up Here?

How does one even begin to answer the question: “So what was it like to grow up, you?” It’s a pretty general question that says: “I’m fascinated by your upbringing, please tell me some really juicy detail about getting pregnant behind the school bleachers or about how you worked for the volunteer fire-fighters and saved little old ladies and kittens from burning houses!” How can any one sum up their childhood in a way that won’t leave the curious person who asked in a 15 year lurch as you start from day one and go through the painful and intricate details of your upbringing? It is therefore a wonder to me when I get asked “So, what was it like growing up in New York City?” by people who have come here later in life. I always ponder the answer I want to give. Or, the answer they might want to hear, which I imagine would be along the lines of: “When I got gang raped for the third time, I decided I had the right to get an abortion. I didn’t abort the last two babies, they are in foster care now. I can’t see them because of the Heroin addiction I picked up when I went to public school.”

I have a lot of memories from my childhood that were feelings of curiosity and joy at the thought of leaving New York and seeing green, open spaces with no one else in them, and not waiting in line for anything and actually saying “Hello” to a stranger on the street. Every few weekends, my parents would bundle my sister and I up and take us out to the suburbs to see my grandparents in Long Island. I remember the joy at being in a car that wasn’t a taxi and the person driving the car wasn’t a guy named Kebab who got really angry when you told them they had driven past your apartment entrance. There was delight in seeing the prices of watching a movie at the theatre drop (for no reason?! WOW! It’s so cheap out here! Why doesn’t everybody just move here!?) And the wonder at walking into a Walmart so big the engineers who built the structure must have had to create formulas for the foundation of the building to fit the curvature of the earth.

I guess what I’m getting at is that growing up in the City was no different than what the experiences of growing up in the suburbs or rural areas would be, but I guess what sets my experiences apart were whenever I left┬áthe city and encountered drastically different ways of life that suddenly made my lifestyle glaringly different. Also, the growing pains of becoming an adult are all shared experiences, except they would happen in landmark buildings that are world famous (but that didn’t affect the unrequited love I had on a boy in my class: that was still there, it just happened to be at the Museum of Natural History where we attended our classes.)

I’m astounded at the bravery it takes to decide to move from whatever comfortable (or deeply uncomfortable) ‘burb one grew up in and come to New York for the first time to live here! That’s a bravery that I can’t imagine. I lived here my whole life and a lot of this city is very predictable for me. But putting myself in the shoes of the pioneers who come here and move into a really crappy neighborhood in the middle of Brooklyn, get paid crap money for a job that they are highly over qualified for, learn the horribly cramped lifestyle of being one-in-a-million-and-not-in-a-good-way that this city can make anyone feel, all for the sake of: __________ that only this city can offer is: Awe-inspiring.

So, what’s it like growing up in New York City? You seem to be right smack in the middle of it and I think you have a better idea of what that is like than I do. I just grew up here! You’re becoming your adult self in a scary and beautiful place that is foreign in so many ways it is not for me. Wow! Can you elaborate on that for me?

September 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm by Natalie Allen