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Wall Street Journal

 

Urban Mama Chic

December 16, 2005

By Kay S. Hymowitz

PRINTER FRIENDLY

Readers might have noticed a front-page article in the New York Times a week or so ago, reporting that Manhattan was in the midst of a baby boom. In the past five years, it seems, the number of borough children under age 5, including many in tony neighborhoods, has risen about 26%. This was taken as a sign, perhaps, that women can have it all: work, children and a hip urban lifestyle.

As with many articles in the Paper of Record, the story's prominence might have had less to do with its import than with the desire to flatter the publication's base readership, many of whose members, no doubt, were simultaneously nodding through the article's observations while spooning cereal into the mouths of their city tykes. Yes, there are more preschoolers in Manhattan these days, as there are in a number of other American cities. But the questions is whether they'll stay.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported a survey showing that about half the city's parents of preschoolers planned to move out of the immediate area in the next three years. Portland, Ore., another city with enough latte outlets to satisfy great hordes of young marrieds, has been losing busloads of students from its public schools. And Joel Kotkin, author of "The City: A Global History," expects Manhattanites to follow the pattern. In the past, he notes, New Yorkers have tended to turn tail for more family-friendly parts at around age 35, the age an urban mother starts panicking about whether the institution her toddler will someday call alma mater will actually teach him to read. All-night sushi bars and Sarah Jessica Parker sightings are nice and all, but in the end, decent, affordable schools are the real It thing.

For all the fanfare, these rumors of a baby boomlet have a sort of déjà vu quality. Several decades ago baby boomers like me, determined to spare our children the Eisenhower suburbs we were certain had warped our own childhoods, used to enjoy a bit of frisson when we read accounts of "yuppies," with their "renovated brownstones" in the "restored historic districts" of various cities. We were so important that Newsweek even named the year 1984 after us: "The Year of the Yuppie."

As it happens, many yuppies packed up their pinstripe suits and skulked back to New Jersey once their families outgrew their four-room apartments or, in a considerable number of unlucky cases, after their first child was mugged on his way home from school. Even now that many big cities enjoy a dramatically lower crime rate, history is likely to repeat itself.

But in the meantime the new urban moms are carving out a persona suitable to their unique status in the city. Unlike the lawyers, doctors and academics who characterized the yuppie era of urban parenthood, today's urban mothers are distinguished by their membership in the Creative Class. Older and more established in their careers than mothers in the past, they are editors, media producers, documentary filmmakers and designers who, having grown used to hanging out with other editors, producers, filmmakers and designers during their 20s and early 30s, don't want to stop just because there is a sleep-interruption machine in the next room.

For a good sense of the new maternal chic, log onto Urbanbaby.com. Founded by Susan Maloney for women who "couldn't relate to pink and blue," the site has been featured in InStyle and Harper's Bazaar, and little wonder: It offers a guide to "cool clothing and gear for tots," as well as local Mommy and Me classes and postnatal yoga lessons in seven different Creative Class cities: Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Chicago and New York. There is also a "Moms About Town" page that lists famous and quasifamous mothers said to be "graced with leadership, talent [and, natch] creativity." There is no way that mothers like these would be marching to the subway yuppie-style in a corporate power suit and Reeboks. Nor would they suffer the soccer-mom uniform of velour hoodie-and-sweat pants.

Judging from Urbanbaby and other urban lifestyle outlets, Creative Moms actually have two aesthetics: uptown and downtown. The uptown Creative is a Carrie Bradshaw type, now married, moneyed--and lactating. She loves high-end fashion, and while she adores her baby, she also loves any excuse to shop. She has quickly discovered that when it comes to fashion, children are the next best thing to an American Express gold card. She purchased $150 Seven maternity jeans during her pregnancy, dresses her newborn in $75 Burberry booties and bundles him in Petunia Petunia baby blankets, which she has heard are the wrap of choice for the celebrity offspring of Jennifer Garner and Gwyneth Paltrow. She uses a Bugaboo, the Mercedes of strollers, which did a cameo appearance on "Sex and the City" and is also said to be excellent for maneuvering in and out of taxis. And instead of the quilted diaper bag with Beatrix Potter illustrations, she carries a $300 black Italian leather satchel with polished hardware.

Typically, the downtown Creative Class Mother is less flush with disposable income. But what she lacks in imported leather, she makes up in edginess. For the downtown Creative Mother, the less family-friendly the neighborhood, the stronger its appeal. In New York that means she lives in Tribeca or Williamsburg, Brooklyn--which were only yesterday industrial wastelands. The downtown mama spends a lot of time in small, locally owned cafés--she'd rather find herself in New Jersey than Starbucks--offering whole-grain biscotti to her teething 14-month-old. A Chicago-based Web site called psychobabyonline.com, founded by two "basically cool chicks who just happened to have a kid," nicely captures the downtown style. Among the site's products are booties with a skull-and-crossbones design and a picture book called "Urban Babies Wear Black." The site announces: "We celebrate individuality rather than conformity, creativity rather than convention."

With that mantra in mind, both up- and downtown Creative Mothers tend to encourage their offspring toward self-expression. But the truth is that neither psychobabies nor Burberry babies make appealing company for anyone other than blood relatives. The proprietor of a popular Chicago café, tired of kids throwing tantrums on the floor or in the middle of the take-out line, recently posted a sign asking that little ones use their "indoor voices" at his establishment--much to the dismay of local mothers.

To be fair, we yuppies also favored what we called "verbal" children, which is one of the reasons, besides decent schools, that many of my peers eventually moved to places with bigger "indoors." It will hardly be a surprise when the Creative Class Mamas follow suit.

Original Source: http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110007687

 

 
 
 

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