Sunday, January 12, 2014

Suburban Moo Cow? Not Exactly

In August 2012, three months after we moved to Brooklyn from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I walked past a chalkboard sign in front of a store in my neighborhood.

Since then, Truman Capote's words have been my motto, whispered under my breath whenever I find myself dragging a stroller up three flights of subway stairs or plunking quarters into a broken laundry machine in the basement of my rancid building:

I live in Brooklyn by choice. I can leave.

I have lived in the five boroughs for over 13 years. I love the buzz of the metropolis; I thrive on its energy. My love is for the urban landscape is not theoretical. I grew up in the suburbs and bristled at its tunnel vision. I went to college in the middle-of-nowhere New Hampshire, where I was routinely afraid of the woods and allergic to everything.

I fit here.

Before Henry, Rayne and I sucked the marrow out of New York's hearty bones. We went to all the hot restaurants, saw all the great Broadway shows, had season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, ran countless races in Central Park and brunched our little hearts out.

The perceived costs of living in New York -- lack of personal space, crazy cab drivers, chaotic sidewalks filled with self-important people, crowded grocery stores, pollution of every kind, fear of getting hit by an agro driver on your bike, distance from real nature -- were, for me, obliterated by the aforementioned benefits. It wasn't even close.

Space or Place?

In New York (and increasingly so in Brooklyn), space and location both come at an exorbitant premium. And when you have a family, location -- and therefore school district -- becomes an even greater concern.

Some New Yorkers can afford neither space nor location; the very lucky ones can choose both. When we moved to Brooklyn, we had the funds to choose one. We prioritized space over location, as we had always done, assuming we would cross the school bridge when we came to it.

This choice turned out to be a mistake.

We live in a beautiful apartment in the wrong neighborhood and, more importantly, in the wrong location of that neighborhood. Our spacious loft is in a loud, polluted, post-industrial area of gentrifying Brooklyn. We are far from convenient public transportation; "the dining scene is still catching up to the real-estate boom," according to a recent New Yorker article; there are few stores that I care to frequent within reasonable walking distance.

Artisanal Mayonnaise Is Not Enough

What is more, our life is radically different than it once was. Parenting is a transformative experience, and nowhere is that clearer than how you spend your time. Going out requires a level of planning previously unimaginable as well as significantly more money for babysitters, money we don't really have now that I don't work full-time.

Without the restaurants, brunch, shows and convenience of a central location, what is left?

I don't care about micro-brewed beer, handmade scarves or artisanal mayonnaise -- things Brooklyn seems to specialize in these days. I don't like rummaging around the Brooklyn Flea. I don't dress funky or smoke organic cigarettes. I am not an artist or a hipster. I am a part-time writer, true, but not one who sits in a coffee shop with a MacBook. Nor am I a skinny, stay-at-home mom who makes her own nut milk and runs marathons while six-months pregnant with her third child. (Think I'm exaggerating?)

The truth is, I don't fit here anymore.

How do other young families in our neighborhood do it? They, too, live in Brooklyn by choice. How do they continue to drag their laundry down the street and carry their strollers to third-floor walk-up apartments? How do they stay sane? Why aren't I as cool?

I imagine the benefits -- the hyper-local economy, the international Brooklyn brand, the quirky bike shops -- continue to outweigh the costs for people who choose to remain.

But for me, artisanal mayonnaise is not enough. The costs outweigh the benefits. By a lot.

A Compromise

We discussed another city altogether, but Rayne's finance career limits our options, and my family is in the New York metro area. Moving elsewhere just didn't make sense.

We discussed the real suburbs, but I truly believe my soul would shrivel and die there. A lot of people are happy in the suburbs. I'm not judging; I just know myself too well.

For now, we have found a compromise. We are moving to Riverdale, a quasi-suburban, upscale neighborhood in the northwest Bronx.

We bought a house -- a small but honest-to-goodness, single-family detached house -- with a yard for my son, my grill-deprived husband and my poor, put-upon pup, who has despised Brooklyn -- with its noise and utter lack of dog runs -- from the moment we set foot here.

The local public elementary school is very good. I fell in love with and signed Henry up for a reasonably affordable pre-school program in September with very little drama. We have a car and a driveway, but within a 10-to-15-minute radius on foot are a small shopping center with the essentials, a gym, a dog run and a park with a playground.

The commute is much better for me, since I work in Connecticut, and is also better for Rayne, oddly. My fear of moving to the suburbs and never ever seeing him will not be realized in Riverdale.

Why All the Angst?

I can hear your confusion. Why all the angst? I will still be a New York City resident. In fact, my address will be BRONX, yo. I will still send Henry to his Italian preschool in Manhattan once a week; we are keeping our doctors.

So I haven't quite figured out why this perfectly logical decision has been so gut-wrenching for me, while simultaneously feeling so right.

Perhaps it is because I had been so sure Brooklyn was the answer. How could I have been so terribly, terribly wrong?

Then again, it's not the first time a five-pound-seven-ounce little boy has rocked my world, nor will it be the last.

So, what do you think?

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Mayonnaise Jar image courtesy of artur84 /