At twenty-one, my son has none of his mother’s fears. This summer, he started his dream job: a Manhattan-based internship in web design. Now, back when I was twenty-one, I, too, dreamed of working in Manhattan. Back in the Sixties, women could be secretaries, nurses and teachers, and without college, hairdressers and sales clerks, but the actual job hardly mattered.
The idea was to leave my small town and move to New York, three hours away. I would work in a tall building and push through its revolving door each morning in my long skirt and high heels. A peppy Gershwin tune would be my soundtrack as I joined a crowd of busy pedestrians pushing through that door in herky-jerky fashion, just like the people in the black and white newsreels at our hometown movie theater. That would be me, right there, headed for the elevator, and up to my office high above the sidewalk.
I kept my dream alive through college, but by graduation day, my parents’ fears had become my own. In New York City, my mother said with disapproval, a “career girl” could be robbed, hurt, and worse, with no one to turn to for help. All my girlfriends were engaged in our senior year, and it was easy to fall in step. We married and followed our husbands’ draft-deferred jobs, the Vietnam War a looming shadow.
I went in to “the City” to see Broadway shows with my husband and friends. In later years, I became a librarian and went there alone for conferences, staying in hotels or with a colleague who lived on the Upper West Side. I always prepared before I hit the streets: over the body shoulder bag, money in inside pockets of clothing, no eye contact in the subway.
My son has none of my anxiety. My husband and I drove him to his apartment on a tree-lined Brooklyn street with lovely brownstones, little pubs, groceries, cafes, a used bookstore, pocket parks, and smiling friendly strangers. I loved it all. I worried needlessly about his ability to navigate the subway, make new friends, and be safe. On his first days in New York, he went to the obscure movies he loves, to the Met, to Central Park, to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into lower Manhattan. The following Sunday, we were back to deliver things he needed from home. His dad and I were thrilled to watch him lead us around, our son one of thousands of other young men and women confidently hitting their stride in the Big Apple.
I have no regrets about not moving to Manhattan when I was twenty-one. My life has been good and I have learned to deal with my myriad fears, but as my son takes the next step into the working world, I am pleased to see he has not inherited any of them. Did I mention, his building has a revolving door?