When my daughter, Sofia, was around three, and we traveled from our home in New York City to Cleveland to visit family, she looked quizzically around my parents’ suburban neighborhood—where I grew up—and, noting the empty sidewalks, she asked, “Where are all the people?” She and my son, Alex, were born and being raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They were used to a constant stream of people moving on the sidewalks; to living in an apartment and being surrounded by buildings; to the sounds and smells of traffic and the rumble of the subway below; and to walking nearly everywhere we needed to go, including to playgrounds and parks for the chance to play outside. Life was good. We stayed in New York until Sofia was nine and Alex was almost six.
It’s now two years since we moved to Broadview Heights, into a house with a deck, into a development with a pool and paved walking trails through the woods, a short drive from both my husband’s and my family. With separate bedrooms for the kids, more than one bathroom, and central air conditioning—none of which we had in our New York apartment—we feel like royalty here.
At the beginning of this summer, my kids and I visited New York. We loved rediscovering our old neighborhood—stopping at our favorite eateries and playgrounds, strolling through Central Park—and reconnecting with neighbors, teachers, and friends. It was a wonderful trip, but on the drive home, we agreed: New York City is a great place to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live there again. Life here is go-o-o-o-d. Here are some reasons I’m happy to be raising my kids in Cleveland:
How do I love my yard? Let me count the ways: We’re playing badminton thanks to our backyard. We’re not sporty-types, but it’s fun for the four of us to just bat the birdie around casually, seeing how many hits we get before we falter. We needn’t worry about the birdie landing on the forehead of the homeless guy sleeping by the bushes or in the picnic lunch of the European tourists, because we do not share this square of grass with anyone! Plus, our raspberry bush yields a bowlful of lovely, sweet (organic!) berries every day in late summer, and we have a fire pit in which we can roast marshmallows—you can’t do that in a city apartment.
In New York, I helped my kids walk their bikes safely and quickly across busy main streets in order to reach the open space of a basketball court or play yard where they could ride. But on nice days those spaces were full of kids playing ball or enjoying their scooters and bikes, so trying to ride around amounted to maneuvering an obstacle course! Grr. Nothing beats having suburban sidewalks to ride a bicycle or scooter without interference. Every child should experience that freedom.
Did you know that you can get a ticket to see the Akron Aeros play baseball for $5? That’s just twenty bucks for a family of four! If your child isn’t paying attention to the game, and it’s so humid that your clothes are adhering to your body, and your beer has grown warm, you don’t feel badly leaving during the 7th inning stretch.
People in Cleveland are genuinely and consistently nice! It’s as if everyone gets a regular good night’s rest. Growing up here, I took it for granted. After seventeen years living elsewhere (Washington, D.C., for five years, then NYC for twelve), I appreciate that even momentary interactions with strangers and grocery store clerks are pleasant. It makes everyone’s day nicer. I like that! And I’m glad my kids witness it. Niceness breeds niceness.
The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
I topped off my Mother’s Day this year by riding a camel with my kids at the zoo. (Ladies, if you ever wanted to feel like an Arabian princess, this is the thing to do.) This zoo has it all and then some: Bats. Jellyfish. Cheetahs. A Hawaiian Dragon Moray Eel, for Pete’s sake! I’m drawn to that strange creature every time. Last visit, we stepped in the veterinary hospital to learn how injured animals are rehabilitated. My kids and I always leave the Cleveland Zoo richer for the experience.
In New York, we spotted celebrities fairly regularly, but here we are privy to something spectacular: Stars. The real kind. Handfuls of polished diamonds strewn across a midnight-blue sky. Magnificent!