How does it feel to move to The Big Apple from a city of about 50,000 in Florida?
Trevor Gehman is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary in New York City, and the co-founder of Clearstream, a text messaging platform for churches and non-profits. He and his wife Brittany grew up and were living in Pensacola, FL, until they moved here for the seminary in 2016. Now they live in Brooklyn with their two sons, Jonathan and Sam. Trevor notes that while his observations are specifically about moving to New York, much of it pertains to life in big cities generally.
Why does it make sense to move to a city with kids?
It goes without saying that apartment living in a city with young kids poses challenges. When we moved to New York, we left behind our spacious house, garage, and backyard for a 650 square foot walk-up. (But at least it costs more, too!) So there were sacrifices. But there are so many wonderful things about living in a big city like New York, especially for kids. Just around corner are world-class parks, museums, libraries, historical sites and every kind of activity you can imagine. Not only that, but the people we regularly interact with on the subway, or in a park, or on the street, are from every background you can imagine. So our kids are not only exposed to rich history and beautiful architecture, but a wide variety of people. It’s common for us to hear 3-4 different languages while walking around our neighborhood. It’s hard to put a price on showing your kids firsthand just how big and diverse the world really is.
Plus, contrary to perception, New York (and the country at large) is the safest it has been in decades. There’s never been a safer time to raise kids in the city.
What’s one thing that surprised you about moving to a city?
Probably just how close you become to your neighbors. I had always assumed that we would feel more disconnected from people around us, compared to our small town. But, we’ve found the opposite to be true. We know more of our neighbors, and spend more time hanging out with people who live close to us than ever before. I suppose the reason is that (a) there’s so many of cramped into one block that we can’t avoid each other, and (b) we’re mostly walking, rather than driving. But beyond that, there’s also a real sense of camaraderie. Everyone knows that it’s tough to live in a city, and we’re all helping each other as best we can.
What about strollers and baby carriers, and the subway?
Most subway stops in New York don’t have elevators. So yes, it’s difficult to take a stroller and two kids up and down the stairs. But, without fail, people offer to help, so it’s never an issue when my wife takes the subway by herself with the kids. And when she was pregnant, most people offered her a seat.
New Yorkers are tough, no doubt, but they’re big softies underneath.
How do you find a family-friendly neighborhood?
Our neighborhood (Park Slope) has a bit of a reputation for being the place you live after having kids. So it was the first recommendation we received when we were looking for an apartment. Since there are so many families here, everyone is just a little more understanding when your kid has a Category 5 meltdown on the street.
Any great tips for making new friends?
My wife is better at this than I am. She talks to everyone! But I would say that generally, New Yorkers enjoy talking to strangers. So don’t be shy! As soon as they figure out you aren’t selling anything, they’re glad to meet someone new.
Some tips, please, for coping with homesickness!
One of the great things about living in New York is that it’s a fun place for friends and family to visit! And having a pull-out couch means one of the most expensive things about visiting the city isn’t an issue! We’ve had so many friends come to stay with us that it really has made it easier to not feel homesick.
How do kids make it harder to move?
Everything is harder when you have to do it while taking care of children. We’ve been fortunate that when we’ve moved (both coming to New York, and switching apartments) we’ve had friends to help take care of our kids.
How do kids make it easier?
Well, they force you to make everything into a game or fun activity, like packing up toys. Ironically, this helps the whole experience become a little more enjoyable for us. Instead of stressing out, we tend to spend most of the time being nostalgic and wistful. And the chaos of it all just ends up making us laugh.
What's one packing tip everyone should learn?
Use movers. At least in New York, it’s a no-brainer. It takes 2-3 hours and a few hundred dollars for a crew to do it, and it doesn’t put your marriage and friendships at risk.
Is it easier to leave after a goodbye party or without one?
I’m a big fan of celebrations to mark the changing seasons of life. It’s good to pause and reflect on all that God has given us. A house full of friends and family helps remind us that, in the end, people are what matter. To take that knowledge into a new city (with all the difficulty that entails) helps keep everything in perspective.
What's the nicest thing a new neighbor can say to a family moving in?
Honestly, just say something, anything at all. When someone moves in, take the time to introduce yourself. That simple gesture makes an outsized difference. Many people don’t say anything at all, and that’s too bad.
What has to happen before you feel you "belong" someplace new?
New Yorkers have their own list of “requirements” before you can really call yourself a New Yorker. We’ve only been here three years, and I wouldn’t yet presume. But, we’ve definitely checked off a few common ones: we’ve had a mice infestation, we’ve figured out how to use radiators, we’ve hardened to the point that practically nothing that happens on the subway makes us look up, etc.
But I think the most important thing is this: we know a little more acutely both the frustration and joy of New York. New York is hard in many ways. Yet somehow, we just can’t help but love it.