A disturbing March 2006 report by Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, "Families Struggle to Stay: Why Families Are Leaving San Francisco and What Can Be Done," reveals that we have the lowest child population of any American city. And of San Francisco's 100,000 children, most reside in the city's poorest districts including traditionally working-class neighborhoods that are becoming increasingly chic. Coleman Advocates also estimates that 39,000 families with children are in need of affordable housing.
"The issue is not if there is a baby boom trend in San Francisco," Coleman Advocates' Ingrid Gonzales e-mailed me. "The real issue is whether these [lower-income] families stay or are eventually pushed out of San Francisco because of a lack of affordable family housing or access to a quality public school education. Stats show that families leave when their children reach kindergarten age. Coleman Advocates and our families say that this is not OK families should have a right to stay in the city they call home."
Somehow I doubt the parents buying the $1,890 Cabine infant dresser at Giggle on Chestnut Street are too worried about making rent. In fact, a May article in the New York Times reports that San Francisco is second only to Manhattan in toddlers born to wealthy white families, defined as those that pull in an average of $150,763 per year. And consider this Coleman Advocates finding: there was a 45 percent drop in the number of black families with children in San Francisco from 1990 to 2000, while around the same time 90 percent of the people moving into the city did not have children and surprise, surprise were mostly rich and white. This development pretty much paralleled the period of the dot-com boom. At the risk of making light of an alarming situation, is it safe to posit that the dot-com bust inspired semiemployed white professionals to buy a lot of lube?
CLASH OF THE CODDLERS
So what creates this illusion of a baby boom? Probably an uptick in showy, hyperactive parenting. Weekends at Children's Playground in Golden Gate Park provide insight into the phenomenon. There parents can be found earnestly one might even say aggressively parenting. They really put their all into it ("it" being what our parents haphazardly did with us) as they push their bewildered offspring in swings, making sure to "Wheee!" with more enthusiasm than a redneck at a NASCAR rally an apt metaphor, because this brand of parenting is a competitive sport. "How old is she? Is she standing on her own? Can she walk yet? Does she speak French, and can she crap in the can?" someone always wants to know, hungrily eyeing your baby as if she were a delicious wild Alaskan king salmon fillet.
But blessed be, developmental superiority is not the only way to make other parents feel like shit. Fleets of luxury Dutch strollers are parked around the playground's grassy knolls, each exceeding my share of rent by $300. I've seen nannies pull toys from Coach and Louis Vuitton diaper bags, kids scale the jungle gym dressed in Little Marc coats, white babies in $40 organic cotton T-shirts emblazoned with a grossly ironic image of a black woman's face.
This excess of money breeds paranoia. Even on the warmest days, Caitlin-Courtney-Penelope-Emily-Aurelia-Shiloh-Mackenzie can be observed crawling in the playground's cool sand, fully dressed in the very best of Zutano's and Petit Bateau's wide-brim hats, thick socks and booties, long-sleeve shirts, and pants in order to prevent the wretched elements, formerly known as blue sky and sunshine, from attacking the child's not-so-invisible bubble. And rest assured, many of the playground's nannies almost entirely middle-aged mothers and grandmothers of color have been fingerprinted and subjected to invasive criminal background checks.