Parenting: Big city vs. small town

At our house: Mom/author Emily Schultz reflects on her split-personality lifestyle.

Photo: iStockphoto

This year I became two things I never expected to be: a mother, and an author who “splits her time” between places.

Work on my new novel brought me to New York City, my husband and infant son, Henry, in tow. Along with an apartment in North Williamsburg, Brooklyn, we’ve also set up shop in my hometown of Wallaceburg, Ont. Navigating small-town versus big-city life can be jarring enough, but with a one-year-old you learn quickly which place you can leave the stroller trustingly outside, and which place you have to lug it up three flights.

When we’re in Ontario, I feel like I could never go back to New York — such are the charms of backyard barbecues and the endless helping hands of family. But in Brooklyn, I become something else — a writer — an identity I occasionally shrug off while interacting with old friends and relatives back home.

Both Wallaceburg and Williamsburg are referred to by residents as “W’burg” or “The Burg,” and both are recovering post-industrial areas leaving behind bad environmental reputations while becoming populated by young people. But other than that, the differences are as glaring as the one between Wallaceburg’s old three-storey clock tower and the Empire State building. (We have an excellent view of both buildings.)

In Wallaceburg, where nothing is more than a few blocks away, a parents’ night out is easy. For $50 we get drinks and a great steak dinner at Oaks Inn Hotel, a.k.a. “the nice place.” Grandma watches Henry for free, and if we have any energy we can tack on a movie — via a short drive to a neighbouring town — for another $20. In Williamsburg, a low-key night out requires planning…and $130. This includes $80 for a sitter with a degree in early childhood education. Drinks are free at the Word bookstore reading, our usual entertainment, and if we’re not pressed for time, an incredible Japanese meal can be had for $50 at Samurai Mama.

In Wallaceburg, my favourite daytime activity is the mommy-baby swim at the local pool for $3. In Williamsburg, we opt for the free baby swings at McCarren Park, and pray the seats are cleaned once in a while.

Our two cities also view our parenting roles very differently. Both my husband and I work from home, but in Wallaceburg — a place where men pull 12-hour shifts at the factory while women juggle part-time jobs and the kids — he’s known as “Mr. Mom” for his bizarre readiness to change diapers and wield a bottle. In Williamsburg, a Saturday in the park is a daddy festival of men carting babies around in Björns. They’re as worried as the moms about hitting those developmental markers. “Does yours have teeth yet?” a father inquires anxiously as we swap baby names and ages.

Both cities have their glamorous side. In our Brooklyn neighbourhood we once strollered past actress Marion Cotillard slurping a coffee, and in my hometown we can pass the sign that recognizes our contribution to the NFL, Shaun Suisham. It hangs on the high school we both attended. (I’m holding out for the library plaque.) But on either walk, celebrity means little to Henry. What he notices are the birds, the sky.

No matter where I am, I feel a bit like I’m cheating on my other home, and with a 10-hour drive between the two, it’s no easy affair. But Henry has turned into a seasoned traveller, and, if nothing else, he’ll develop a unique accent as he explores his first words. Which will he master first: “give’r” or “fuhgeddaboudit”?

Read our Deputy Editor Leah Rumack’s thoughts on city vs. small-town parenting>