Now and then
I grew up just outside London and moved to Brixton when I started art school at 17. I met my husband there and we stayed until we moved to Brooklyn two and a half years ago. Now we live in Brooklyn Heights. It’s not very cool but very pretty and quiet, lots of grannies walking their dogs with occasional sightings of Ethan Hawke cycling around with his kids on a silly bike or, more excitingly, Bjork in great outfits.

I live with Rod, my husband, and our two kids Marvin, who is six, and Ramona, two. We’re a five-minute walk from the river and from Brooklyn Bridge Park, which used to be a working docklands until the early ’80s; it was abandoned until its new incarnation as a beautiful riverside park with slide mountains, a swing park, a rollerskating rink and more. It’s a kid’s dream and has the best views of Lower Manhattan.

Rod was offered a job here and we both loved the city, so felt it was a super exciting opportunity. When we moved, I was seven months pregnant with Ramona and Marvin was three – he adapted really well. The first month we were put up in a rental (totally beige) apartment in the city and I felt pretty shell-shocked… we didn’t know anyone with kids and I kept finding myself hanging out in toy shops. I think that first few months of finding somewhere to have the baby, a place to live, school etc, was exhausting and everything since has felt quite calm.

I wasn’t sure how long we’d be here so have tried to just really enjoy the city… day tripping as much as possible and eating my way through New York magazine’s ‘Cheap Eats’ list. Lots of tacos and dumplings.

Day to day
We take it in turns to take Marv to school, which is in Boerum Hill – about a 10-minute scoot (Marv not me!). We’re always rushing, after the usual frenzy to get out the house on time. If we’re not in the midst of a winter, I take Ramona to the playground after, buying an overpriced coffee and slightly burnt croissant on the way. There’s a surprising amount of crap coffee here.

Sometimes R has a dance or music class, there’s no such thing as a one o’clock club and not many free indoor places to just hang out, aside from the libraries. It makes the UK seem like a socialist dream! Greenlight bookstore in Fort Greene has a really sweet and free toddler storytime and we often go to our local synagogue for Tot Shabbat on Fridays… the kids sing songs with the guitar playing Rabbi Lippe and are given challah and grape juice at the end. We’re not jewish, but everyone is welcome and it’s free.

We’ll usually do a bit of food shopping on the way home. Only reason I mention it is that the grocery shopping here is very different to London and it surprised me when we moved how time-consuming and expensive it is! There are no real supermarkets where you can go to buy food, nappies, wine etc, which actually removes any choice in sticking to my previously slightly idealistic belief that you should always shop locally. So we make numerous stops at the butchers, green-grocers, flower stalls and more… but there’s not a Tesco Metro in sight, which is nice.

We’ll often head home for lunch and Ramona’s nap; this is when I try and squeeze in a bit of work and listen to Eddie Mair on PM for some good news. Other days, we’ll head into the city and whilst R naps, I’ll go to galleries, normally around Chelsea/Soho or the Lower East Side, then we jump on the subway (actually haul the buggy up and down lots of steps – there are barely any stations with lifts) to collect Marv from school at 2.40. A great thing about NYC is how condensed it is, so it is quite easy to fit stuff into the short school day.

They don’t do sports in school time, so after-school clubs are a big thing here. We go to the YMCA a lot which has soccer, basketball, swimming classes… They’re all over NY and by far the most affordable, egalitarian organisation here… It’s fun and a there’s real mix of people: super fit older ladies doing trampoline fitness and loads of teenagers… and kids, of course.

Hopefully they’re both tired out by the time we get home and then it’s countdown to bedtime, which always seems to take longer than I plan for. In the evening we’re either laid out on the sofa watching good or trashy telly, or out at the cinema, or at dinner with friends. I try to get out to a lot of artists’ talks and openings. They’re pretty low key and seasonal, I seem to be out a lot at the moment now that the sun is out, but I was a hermit in winter; getting all the layers on to go out is too much hard work.

'Untitled (Quiet Man)' 2015. Gouache and watercolour on paper, by Eve Ackroyd

Making it work
As maternity leave is so short here, a lot of mums go back to work full-time after three or four months and mostly after this they have nannies. When we moved here Marvin was three and I was mostly the only parent doing pick up from his nursery school, and hanging out with all the babysitters. But that changed when he started public (state) school last year; it seems to be a real mix of stay-at-home parents, freelancers and part and full-timers, which was much more my experience of other families I knew in London.

I guess because it’s not private nursery (which is so expensive and not subsidised by the government) the diversity is much greater. There’s a big Middle Eastern community near us and Marvin learns Arabic in school, which he loves. I’ve met a really good group of other parents and we all help each other out. We do a lot of playdates, many of us are in smaller apartments, mostly without outdoor space, so as long as the weather is warm enough we tend to meet in playgrounds and in winter maybe museums (a lot have family programs and specific days/times that are free). I find meeting out much calmer than having numerous toddlers and six-year-olds charging around a small space, but we do plenty of that, too. NY is great in summer, all the public outdoor pools are free and Rockaway Beach in 45 minutes from us on the subway, so that’s where we spend a lot of our time at weekends.

We have a great babysitter two days a week, which just about allows me to keep painting in sporadic bursts. Nurseries are expensive and there’s no equivilant to childminders so it’s nannies, which makes it pricey! Bringing up kids here is expensive and a lot of mums do return to work, mostly full-time, flexible working hours are very rare and the system seems pretty backwards.

You can bring kids to most places in NY – or maybe I mean Brooklyn. I think any restaurant that disallowed kids would be publicly outed on YELP and boycotted. Even our local period-era saloon which sells craft beer and has prohibition jazz playing on the weekends (sounds painfully Brooklyn but is actually quite great) always welcomes kids. There are still dive bars if you want to escape the noise. Breastfeeding is very common and encouraged, and all work places are required to have a ‘pumping room’ for new mums returning to work. Everyone pumps.

Highs and lows
Besides the million things to do, one of the best things about raising kids in New York is the people, it’s a friendly city and people are very sweet to kids. We know all our neighbours in our building (some of whom have lived here for over 50 years) and we get into conversations with strangers all the time.

People definitely have a bit of attitude here, but in a  good way… I’d like my kids to get some of that NY Chutzpah! Also when you meet someone and they suggest dinner/ playdate they actually mean it, it’s easy to make friends here. Weirdly, about two thirds of the people we’ve met seem to be fashion photographers. I think they come to NY to earn the $$!

The worst part for me has been making it through the freezing winters. It’s bearable until about the end of January, then you realise you still have two more months of battling through the icy sludge and bitter winds. And then the other extreme of very sweaty summers and being eaten alive by mosquitoes from July to October. Oh and the healthcare, which is incomprehensible and a complete nightmare.

I had a homebirth in London but was so confused by what our insurance would and wouldn’t cover when we moved here, that I opted to have Ramona in hospital. But with a great midwife instead of an obstetrician. A lot of people I know have planned for natural births and if you want this, it seems to be a choice between two hospitals in the city which have specific natural birthing facilities. So it can be done but I think you have to be quite decisive about what you expect, and a lot of people use doulas for this reason, because midwives are rare.

We’re lucky enough to have healthcare provided through my husband’s work, but we still have to pay a significant amount towards it and it’s expensive and confusing. Friends who’ve grown up here don’t understand the system, so I’m trying to learn to not get stressed out by it. But I have huge admiration for the NHS and would urge anyone who thinks we don’t need it anymore to come and spend time in America. If you have money you’re fine, but sadly, it’s a terrible place to be poor… Which is probably true for all aspects of life here. It’s definitely a country of extreme wealth and poverty.

After two and a half years we feel pretty settled and happy, so there are no immediate plans to return. Our youngest will start nursery later this year, and I’ll be moving from painting in the back room to a studio, which I’m excited about. I’m looking forward to spending more time working and building an artistic community for my work here. I do miss family though, especially my sister being 10 minutes walk away; and I feel sad that my kids are growing up away from their cousins, I think that would be the thing that might draw us back in the future.

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