A Village of Their Own
A Village of Their Own
I MOVED to the West Village four months ago in search of a tribe. My husband, Danny, had been murdered by Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, while I was pregnant and living in India, and because it was a very public murder, I needed a neighborhood with two characteristics seemingly at odds, anonymity and intimacy. After moving within Manhattan four times in two years, I hoped I would find what I was looking for below 14th Street, above Canal and west of Broadway.
My first encounter in the neighborhood wasn’t exactly with a single mother, but close. We met only once in the elevator of my new building. She was an impeccable woman wearing a tailored suit and an exquisite fragrance. She gracefully introduced me to her “little one,” a sparkling white 3-year-old poodle, after I introduced her to my son, Adam. “Nice to meet you,” she said, pointing a pink-polished finger at the dog. “This is Eve.” The dog lifted a no less perfectly manicured paw in greeting.
Next came a single mother, a stunning blonde who works as a stylist and an interior designer. She said she knew she would be raising her daughter alone when her then-husband spent the first night of the baby’s life unable to cope with his daughter’s struggle. The baby was born with a lung problem and couldn’t breathe properly.
Since the woman is self-employed, she finds that affording the Village lifestyle can be a struggle, but one that is worth it for her child’s sake. Her daughter, now 2, is used to having five playgrounds within six blocks, not to mention the water parks along the Hudson River as her beach.
She warned me, though, against expecting too much from the Village as a community. “People are friendly, but they stay in their own bubbles,” she told me. “They are like, ‘I want my kid to interact, but for myself no, thank you, I don’t need another friend.”‘ Her remarks helped me to not take things personally when I took Adam to a school carnival a few days later and sat alone for two hours watching little chickens, dinosaurs and witches running around while the bored parents barely cracked a smile.
But as single mothers, we need to talk and share, if not about dating, at least about our children’s fathers: those who died, left or never really existed in the first place.
Elizabeth Lapin, the sweet and slightly dramatic mother of 7-year-old Blake, recently moved to the Village from the Upper West Side after trying to get her son into a prestigious all-boys’ school. During the admission interview, she felt a need to clarify why there was no Daddy around. When she explained that she had conceived with a sperm donor, the admissions officer exclaimed: “Ah! We never had one of those!” Elizabeth kept her cool, but decided she wouldn’t stick around to find out if her son got in. Instead, she chose to move downtown, where her reproductive choice might not seem so unusual.
As Elizabeth puts it, in our adopted neighborhood, there are always odder stories around than your own, though she herself has some pretty interesting tales to tell. Her son has a male nanny that she found at the toy store Kidding Around on West 15th Street. She visited the store many times, she said, befriending a young salesman who seemed to talk magic to the children. She told him that she had just moved to the Village and was looking for a baby sitter. The young man suggested his girlfriend, but Elizabeth refused. “I want you,” she said.
When Elizabeth and I talk about motherhood, we discuss everything from the gross to the divine. She told me about yearning for sex while she was pregnant and being lonely during the birth of her child. She showed me a manuscript of poems she wrote, titled “Bliss Elsewhere,” about conceiving a child with a blue-eyed stranger. This poem is called “Recipe.”
I picked him because he has no favorite colors,
I love them all.
Dogs are like people, he wrote.
He is unlike any man I’ve known.
I picked him because he has no family history of migraines or heart disease
and his grandmother has red hair.
I picked him because half of him is Jewish and Russian.
I picked him because he was eighteen years old.
His fast-moving sperm would find one of the eggs I’ve carried since birth.
As for my story, I’m not sure how much 9/11 had to do with my moving downtown, but I knew that 103 women were pregnant and lost their spouses when the towers fell. I felt a certain kinship with them; somehow, I thought, living in Lower Manhattan might strengthen that connection and also be good for my son, because he would grow up surrounded by people with a shared bond.
Everywhere downtown, I meet women with vivid, often heart-stopping stories related to that day, not to mention stories full of verve. One of those women is Kelly Cutrone, who got pregnant about the same time I did.
Kelly is a successful, super-energetic fashion publicist who runs a firm on Grand Street called People’s Revolution. Half Italian and half Irish, Kelly has a mass of unruly black hair and talks quickly in a sensual, smoky voice. Her love affair with the father of her daughter, Ava, was short-lived, and he left the country before her birth.
On Sept. 10, 2001, when Kelly walked past a CVS drugstore in SoHo, she suddenly felt an urgent craving for Cheerios. Except she doesn’t even like Cheerios, so she also picked up a pregnancy test.
THE next morning, Kelly found herself at home with a positive test result and five guests who had come from Los Angeles for a fashion event. After learning what happened to the twin towers, she sprung into action. She told her visitors to stay indoors; she warned them against drinking tap water and going anywhere near ground zero. And she wondered if her maternal instincts were kicking in.
“Hang on,” she told her guests. “I am going to make popcorn!” She made the popcorn, along with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everybody, all the while knowing what would come next: single motherhood and a scary new world, one under constant threat of terrorism. But like me, Kelly didn’t really stop to ponder what kind of world she would bring that baby into. It seemed obvious: life had to triumph and she had it inside.
Kelly compares us single mothers to farmers. We are like manual workers, carrying everything ourselves: the stroller, the baby, the groceries, the bills. We must be one-woman whirlwinds who plan birthday parties, quash temper tantrums, and still have enough energy left to fire the baby-sitter if necessary. Hillary Rodham Clinton is probably right that it takes a village to raise a child. For us, make that a capital V.
URBAN TACTICS Mariane Pearl is the author of “A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband, Danny Pearl.”