Parenting in Texas and New York

If you’re old enough to remember the Seventies, your views of New York City might be kind of warped, in spite of yourself.  I can remember watching The French Connection, horrified and mesmerized by how dangerous and bleak and threatening the city was.  Who’d want to live there?  I wondered.  Toss in a couple more films of that era like Taxi Driver and Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and you’ve got a pretty fullblown case of flyover country paranoia on your hands.  What can I say?  I’ve always been the easily rattled type.

Oh, but times change and cities alter along with people, and here we are living in Manhattan, feeling perfectly safe, even though the subway scene in The French Connection did rocket through my mind the other night when a few teenage toughs kept changing subway cars and my friend Carol, a former New Yorker, took to muttering ominously, “They’re up to no good.”

That made me realize I still, at some level, believe living here is more dangerous than living in Austin.  (I could come up with comparative safety statistics, of course, but who wants to get that nitpicky?)  In fact, at a recent gathering, a few of us Texans were quizzing a New Yorker on how old his daughter was when he first allowed her to ride the subway alone — and all of us seemed convinced it must have been terrifying and much more dangerous than any similar parenting decisions we’d made in the heartland.

Which is crazy, when you consider it.  We may never have to agonize about sending our kids on solo subway trips — but we’ve all faced the same gut-churning fears when our kids first depart in a car driven by one of his friends we can distinctly recall still being in diapers.  After that, any ideas about having control are just about nil.  Even in our own easygoing, permissive family, the only issues I got tough about were seatbelts (always and no excuses) and drunk driving (never, so call us anytime and we’ll pick you up).

Over the years, the New York subways have gotten much safer, but you can’t say the same about Texas roads — especially with young drivers behind the wheel.

So.  You live with what you’ve got, I guess, work with what you have.  Another New York father told us the story of how his young daughter wanted to watch “South Park” on TV.  So he and his wife both watched the show and gave it a vehement NO WAY.

“That’s funny,” I said.  “My husband and I both watched it, too.  We said YES.”

Well, different strokes, the New York father said, looking us up and down a little like slipshod parental miscreants.  I thought about telling him the story of how our son got sent to the principal’s office in middle school for dialing 1-800-SPANKME — and how, when the vice-principal called, I had to keep myself from reeling into hysterical, highly inappropriate laughter.  Oh, yeah.  Different strokes, indeed.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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4 comments… add one
  • I grew up in NYC in the 1970s and I–and all my friends from that time–miss that dark, scary, depressed city desperately. It was wonderful. Today’s cleaned up, yupped up, jacked-up city kinda depresses me.
    I was about 11 or 12 years old when I rode the subway alone for the first time, to 34th St. to visit my mother at her office. I still remember exactly how she explained when I should get off. “You’ll stop at 42nd street, where a lot of people will get off and a lot of people will get on. It’s the next stop.”

  • Steve Link

    The apple falls not far from the tree.

    I once observed my 15 year old son furiously typing at the computer.  When asked, he explained he was writing a complaint to the band director.  I offered to edit it, which he refused, and encouraged him to experience the catharsis of a letter written but not sent.  Again, he refused, but explained it would be okay because it would be sent anonymously.  I challenged that:  “You either have the courage of your convictions or you do not. ”

    The next day I received a phone call from the band director requesting a parent conference concerning my son’s letter complaining of the director’s “big dog attitude,” along with other choice descriptions. 

    Control?  Keep them safe?  Not going to happen.  You do your best, and then enjoy the ride.

  • Mine are still telling me about things they did then that I didn’t know about.  Perhaps that’s why my hair is getting curly.  No matter how hard you try, they risk their lives.  It’s better not to know too much.

  • Winston Link

    I’ve always wanted to visit NYC and spend a week meandering through the wonderful museums.  But as of this writing, I can still get sweaty cold palms just contemplating arrival at any NYC airport.  The only pleasant thought I have of NYC is recalling the sound of Shelley Winters saying the words, “New York,” during appearances on The Tonight Show.

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