City Centered

I wanted a hip urban lifestyle for my family—just like my grandmother.

Millennials are (finally) having kids. So what kind of parents will they become? These stories from our millennial parenting issue reflect six distinct experiences and reveal that generational divides aren’t always what they seem.

On the first Friday night of every month, when Clevelanders are summoned to “Walk All Over Waterloo”—a stretch of locally owned bars, galleries, and restaurants—my 2-year-old son, Max, is way more into galloping than walking. One night in March, he joyfully sashayed past the R & D Sausage shop, past the Trinidadian Callaloo Cafe and Bar, past the art exhibit housed in a defunct phone booth, and down a flight of stairs to the basement of the Slovenian Workmen’s Home for the annual fish fry.

As polka blasted from the speakers, the waitress placed a bowl of sour cream on the table. Max shoveled it into his mouth like ice cream, proclaiming: “I like that, Mommy.” Later, he was less enthused to learn that the two fried slabs of meat on his plate were fish and not chicken, but he perked up when he spotted our neighbor, Scott. He hurled his 30-pound frame at Scott’s legs, laughing as Scott swung him around, copter-like. “More again,” Max cried. “More again.”

When friends and relatives ask what my husband, Geoff, and I were thinking when we uprooted our toddler from the suburbs and moved into the city, I cite scenes like this. My husband and I both grew up in the ’burbs (Cleveland’s for him, New York’s for me), where everyone shopped at the same supermarkets and bought the same type of tomatoes. We wanted a different sort of life for Max. We wanted him to live side by side with people of different races and income levels. We wanted him to walk outside and find a friend to throw a baseball with—without having to call their parents and schedule a date ahead of time. And selfishly, we wanted not to eat in chain restaurants all the time.

Becky, her husband, Geoff, and son, Max, at Waterloo in Cleveland.

It felt very hip to us, this desire to raise our child in the city. But to my grandmother, who died a year and a half ago, well, it just felt like we were choosing something closer to her life. She grew up in a Jewish enclave on the east side of Pittsburgh. On Sunday nights, she and her family would join other cousins and siblings for dinners that featured rice-filled porcupine meatballs and Grandpa’s “special cookies” (day-old cookies, hard as a Frisbee). The local kosher butcher and bakery owner knew her by name. Weekdays were spent with her best friend, Thelma, dancing with veterans at the VA hospital or volunteering at the synagogue. When my grandfather died in 1986, leaving my grandmother a 63-year-old widow, my family assumed she’d move to New Jersey, where all three of her children were living at the time. She looked at them like they’d served her a rotten apple. Pittsburgh was her home.

That’s how we felt, too—or at least we did until our house alarm went off at 2 a.m. six months after moving to Cleveland. My husband crept downstairs with a knife while I huddled in Max’s room, second-guessing our decision.

If anyone was trying to break in, the alarm must have scared them off. Still, after our security company told us that one-third of the time robbers return to the same house, and another neighbor reported that they’d had cash stolen by burglars disguised as cable repair guys, I began looking through listings in the suburbs.

But it is Max—and the network our family has begun to create—who keeps us put. Two doors down is a family with three kids, the youngest of whom is only three weeks older than Max. Many nights, they call out to each other from our backyard stoops, frustrated at the fence for keeping them apart. On other days, Max likes to skip down the road to our scientist friend’s house, whose backyard is a breeding ground for exotic plants. “What that is?” he asks, listening politely to long explanations  about Asian lillies before moving on to the next flower—and same question.

Instead of moving, we’ve started researching dogs. Our neighbors are excited about the possible new addition but have warned us that the pet competition at next year’s 4th of July parade is shaping up to be quite fierce. We’ve assured them we’re up for the challenge.

Rebecca Meiser lives in Cleveland. Email her at

Still life photography by Desiree Espada, portrait by Justin Clemons

Originally Published April 2017