When I first moved into my Brooklyn neighborhood in 1986, I was something of a pioneer. I don’t mean to aggrandize — mine was hardly some “dodgy hood” in the first throes of gentrification. It was a nice, old-fashioned Italian neighborhood of well-maintained brownstones with little gardens, populated by nice, old-fashioned Italians.
People spoke Italian to each other over their fences, tended their roses and hydrangeas and sat on their stoops reading the paper under the shade of old maple and ailanthus trees. Women came outdoors in aprons, men in baggy pants and sporty caps, and said good morning to each other when they passed on the sidewalk.
My neighborhood dates back to the early 19th century, when it was originally settled by Irish immigrants. As they left, Norwegian-Americans moved in, followed in the latter part of that century by Italians, who stayed and put down deep roots. They raised their families here, and when the children grew up, many simply moved upstairs, leaving their parents on the garden and parlor floors, and eventually took over the building when their parents passed.
At first the locals regarded me and my infant son as outsiders, probably expecting us to move out when baby number two came along. (They’re Catholic; naturally they assumed more kids would follow.) I wanted a local babysitter, so I did the proper neighborhood thing and asked at the church. “Try Lucy,” someone suggested, and that afternoon I rang Lucy’s bell. A 60-something white-haired lady answered the door, and within 15 minutes it was decided: She would be my son’s sitter.
And so it went for a decade. Lucy’s family became his extended family. Rory learned about “macaroni” and meatballs, and picked up some spicy language from her older grandsons. But when he started pronouncing words with a distinctly Brooklyn accent (“earl” for what you cook onions in; “terlet” probably needs no translation), I had to speak to him privately, so as not to embarrass.
Lucy also was our “ticket of admission,” our proof of acceptability. Over the years people came to recognize me and say hello. But most never learned my name, and some still call me “Rory’s mom.” (Rory, for the record, is 26 and lives in another country. But to them, I’ll always be Rory’s mom.)
There Goes the Neighborhood
Things like this, you never really see them coming — just like you don’t notice your child actually growing. Obviously it didn’t happen overnight, but it feels like one day the neighborhood was all older folks in front of sleepy little shops that sold homemade pastas and cannoli and frumpy clothes and Catholic school uniforms, and the next it was Michelin-starred restaurants and people cabbing in from Manhattan just to eat there. One day you could stroll out and pick a restaurant — okay, I had noticed there were suddenly a lot more places to eat and that all the entrées didn’t come with a side of spaghetti — and walk right in and be seated; the next, it was two-hour waits (on a Tuesday!) and strollers double-parked outside.
I never would’ve expected it to happen here, but we have definitely been invaded by the Mommy Bloggers.
If you’re not familiar with this new breed, allow me to offer a description. A Mommy Blogger (MB) is a successful young woman, late 20s to possibly early 40s, but mostly likely she’s 32. She’s usually blonde, tallish, slender; wears fabulous clothes, even when pregnant; and is married to a Sensitive Male (SM). He almost certainly has facial hair, wears glasses, a hat, Keds, jeans and an ironic T-shirt. He’s the one pushing the stroller (or wearing the sling), often with an arm draped around the MB.
SMs work in IT or are social media gurus or play the banjo in a bluegrass band. The MB is either on leave from or still working as a high-powered fundraiser for a do-gooder organization or is a marketing exec for Johnson + Johnson. (Sometimes her father is Mr. Johnson.) She writes a blog about being a mommy in Brooklyn, and dutifully records every hilarious and adorable thing her child did that day. Sometimes she gives business advice or rails about outrages like nonorganic baby food.
And she gets together with other MBs, and they do Pilates and take their kids and Jack Russells to the park, and make jewelry, and on Saturday nights they all go down to the pub and listen to their SMs play in a bluegrass band.
Okay, this may be a slight exaggeration — but less than you’d think. You can still get a decent manicotti, but more likely the night’s special is Pomegranate-Glazed Wild Tuna with Edamame Cashews and Jasmine Rice, or Korean BBQ Brisket with Kale and Fennel Slaw with Homemade Rye Lemonade. (I got that off a real menu.) Table for two? Um, sure — next month.
But There Is an Up Side
Oh, they’re good kids, these 30-somethings. They stop to talk to our 92-year-old neighbor, Tula (the last remnant of the Norwegian invasion), and they’re happy to let people choo-chee-coo their baby or pet their labradoodle. The neighborhood’s always been safe, but now it’s even safer, the sidewalks full until the wee hours of happy hipsters on their way home from Trivia Night.
And when you can get a table at a local restaurant, the food is always tremendous (and tremendously expensive, but hey, this is New York). Wine selections have grown up since the candle-in-Chianti-bottle days, and craft beer and bourbon are all the rage. Shopping has gotten a lot trendier too, and we no longer need to go into Manhattan to buy a pair of shoes we’d be caught dead in.
And, selfishly speaking, I’m grateful for the real estate boom the Invasion has brought. My “garden duplex on a prime block” has appreciated so much in value that I couldn’t afford to live here now if I hadn’t bought the place 18 years ago. Sometimes I think young couples are eyeing me with homicidal envy, but I’m probably being paranoid.
It’s funny: When I first moved here, I was only 29, and most of my neighbors seemed old, at least the ones on the parlor floors. They’d see me in the morning and ask if I was going into “the city” for “business.” I’m sure they thought I thought I was hot stuff with my moussed hair, shoulder pads and leggings and because I worked in the glamorous magazine publishing industry.
In hindsight, though, I realize they probably weren’t all that much older than I am now. It’s like one of those lightbulb moments when you think something happened a few years ago, then someone with a more reliable memory tells you it was actually in 1994.
I look at my older neighbors and clearly see how they’ve aged — and no one can miss how the neighborhood has changed. But here I am, being all snarky about the MBs and SMs, when the older folks seem to accept this new wave as just another new wave. They’ve been around long enough to know that everything changes, whether they like it or not. And they’re wise enough to not waste any energy fighting it, and just accept it. Even if they don’t have the first clue what edamame is.