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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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« The Verdict | Main | In which I don't bother coming up with a conclusion. »
Tuesday
Mar222005

I leave the tough decisions up to the Internet.

I can’t stop thinking about real estate, Internet. Specifically: should we stay in Brooklyn, or should we beat a shameful retreat to the suburbs? I need you to tell me.

We bought our two-bedroom apartment a few years back for a quarter and some old gum wrappers, and it is now worth billions. While this is lovely, it also means that if we hope to buy a larger space in our neighborhood—well, we can’t; it’s not even worth talking about. Our space is not quite large enough for us, and will definitely Not Work if we have another child (NO I’M NOT PREGNANT). With the crazy inflation of real estate prices in NYC, we will only be able to afford a lean-to on the banks of the Gowanus, and Henry and his imaginary sibling will develop extra limbs from all the fumes coming off of the fetid waters. So that’s probably not the best option.

So it comes down to this: either we stay in our place, which in addition to being on the small side is dark and loud (we’re on the first floor on a main avenue—in the summer people walk up to our window and ask for money. We’re like an ATM! An ATM for crazies!), or we move to an As Yet Unnamed Suburb. We’ve found a couple of areas that seem to suit our needs: we could probably afford a smallish house in one of these towns, which are close to the city and artsy/liberal. However (need I add this?) they’re Not Brooklyn. We would not have the library, the museum, the park, and the Botanic Garden all within a few blocks of our home. We would have to own a car (gasp!). On the other hand, we would have a backyard. And a decent school district. And amenities within walking distance. On the other hand I will be dead inside (probably). My youth gone, I will spend the days watching soaps and drinking Chardonnay; when Husband arrives from the city I will greet him at the door with pies made of Play-Doh and cigarette butts. Isn’t this what you suburban types do? Yes?

In a nutshell, I am driving myself bonkers. One moment I think I can never leave Brooklyn how could I even think such a thing and then in the next moment I’m dreamily picturing mornings with Henry and Scott in a sunny breakfast nook instead of our dank living room/dining room/kitchen that is periodically infested with vermin. I would give up a lot to never have to worry again about stepping on a waterbug on my way to the bathroom. And don’t try to tell me about the cicadas or grasshoppers or whatnot you have in the suburbs--they are not the same thing.

Basically what it comes down to is there are many pros to moving, and one big con: we wouldn’t live here anymore. We feel superior to you non-Brooklyn people. Now you know.

Opinions. Yours. Let me have them.

EDITED TO ADD: Before I get more defensive comments: do I really have to say that I'm being facetious when I say I feel superior? Do I have to say that? I guess I have to say that. Sigh.

Reader Comments (203)

We left the city. We could not face suburbia. So, we picked up and moved across country to the country! I sometimes miss museums, shmancy restaurants and good shopping, but there are no more crack whores, no crazies (o.k. there are a few confederate flag waving crackers...), no rats the size of jack russel terriers, and no one has stolen my car in a whole year! We do have a bear that visits every now and again, but he doesn't carry a gun. I get to sit on my porch every morning, drink my coffee and look at the mountains. Just wait, in a minute the theme song to Green Acres should kick in....What I guess I'm saying is that there are always options...
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermaggie
OK, I grew up in NJ before moving to Manhattan as a young adult. There are three towns that you can live in in New Jersey and not want to kill yourself:

MontclairMorristownRed Bank

The first two have the added advantage of not being so whitey-white. The last one has the added advantage of being 5 minutes from the beach. All three have train stations, downtowns, and good schools.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterlynn
2 words: fort greene. still brooklyn, probably not out of your price range, lots of street parking, gorgeous brownstones and wood frame houses, great park. walking distance to the slope. 5 minutes by car service or bus to the museum, quiet and pretty safe. maybe if you lived in manhattan or queens you could survive the shock of moving to the suburbs, but not after living in Brooklyn.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterlulu
The city vs. suburbs debate is for me, less about comparing what activities or amenities are available, but more about what you value. What experience is more meaningful to you.

You could look at it this way. On one side, suburban living is about quality of one's *own* life (comfort, convenience) whereas city living can be about valuing that neighbourhoody feel of the place, the mom and pop shops, the character of the streets, and yes, the more community-minded nature of city-dwellers.

I rent in a neighbourhood that is one of the most politically-active in Canada. It has the highest voting population of any riding in the city. This neighbourhood has rallied and fought out Starbucks and other chain franchises who were trying to take over old mom-and-pops. And I *really* value that. I live around people who value the same things as I do, and therefore, the coffee shops and stores are there because the neighbourhood wanted them there.

It's the uniqueness of all the various neighbourhoods in this city that I love. Variety, variety, variety.

I love your writing, btw. Thanks and keep it up!

March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline
Fort Greene! Not out of our price range! Oh, you're adorable.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Well, I'm probably a little prejudiced because I grew up in the burbs and now that I have kids, I'm back.

Honestly, I think it's the best of both worlds! I have a huge fenced yard yet I live within walking distance to a bus stop! I can see most of the stars yet I'm only 5 minutes away from a movie theater!

I do love to drive, (especially in my snow slaying Subaru!) but were close to a fairly large city (15 min), there's a park around the corner (for when we get bored with our own backyard) there are two libraries within two miles of me, there's a fantastic book/music/cappucino store within 5 miles. The list of amenities just goes on and on!

We don't have pan-handlers but we do have Jehovah's Witnesses, so that's a bit of a trade off. But if your worried that you won't be able get to sleep without the lulling sounds of traffic, have no fear, the Cicadas are here! ...and the the snow plows, and the barking dogs, and the kids with the vibrating trunks, etc. so it's not like the silence is deafening!

If commuting isn't an issue then I don't think the burbs are so bad, so come on over, we'll have some drinks and sear some dead cow on the grill, it'll be great! ;)
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBeth
As I've been talking through this dilemma with Alice offline, you'd think I wouldn't feel the need to comment, but here I am anyway. I'm also very torn. I grew up in the worst kind of suburb, just a blob of very ugly Levitt-designed housing developments and strip malls, with no town center. It WAS racially and economically diverse (except no rich people), whatever that's worth. And I do have early memories of sledding in my backyard and playing outside with the kids on my block. But past the age of eight I felt trapped and lonely most of the time. There was NOTHING to do. I literally used to hang out with my friends at the K-Mart parking lot at night. Totally pathetic and depressing. I promised myself that I'd never move back to the suburbs once I was an adult, and so far I've kept my promise.

That said, this city (even Brooklyn!) has become nearly impossible to live in with children. The places with OK public schools are too expensive, and the places that are OK to live in but have crappy schools are still too expensive to make private school affordable. (This is coming from someone who already owns an apartment in Park Slope, BTW). I may be able to buy a slightly larger apartment (like, 50 extra square feet) in a slightly worse neighborhood, and keep our nice park and good takeout options and people and things happening all around us. But we're talking a two bedroom apartment, max., and if we have more than one kid they'll have to share a room.

I love the art and culture and the options to go to great shows/concerts/museums/etc. here; that's what makes me feel happy and alive. But quite frankly I haven't been able to do anything like that since my baby was born. I spend most of my time at home, in my tiny apartment. I might feel differently once it's warmer outside and we can spend the day running around outside in the park. But for right now the idea of having a house with enough space for me and my kid(s) and my husband and our home office/studios, with a little yard, within walking distance to some stores and a cafe and maybe even the train station, with acceptably good schools and like-minded folks around, well, it's mighty tempting.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenters-way
all the way to the end i was thinking oh good for her being the kind of person who can say she feels superior (mean it or not). good for her being a woman of her own mind. good for her expecting her reader to be of a certain intellect.

hopes dashed. justification offered. silly insecure people have reduced you.

you did not have to say and in future, don't. silly insecure people can hush their mouths.

move. you'll be less superior but fewer water bugs is so worth that. let the water bugs go. tell them goodbye. you'll write.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterhonestyrain
I moved from small town IL(where I was raised) in 1980 to Phoenix, AZ for 7 years. Met a man who landed a job in a world wide known band..moved to San Francisco. Four years later (and many younger blondes), I moved back home with some divorce (nasty) money and alot more hope. Small town/city/suburb living is a connection that stays! There are people in these places that make you feel a forever! Does that make sense? It does to me, 14 years later, and 6 months later, a new husband of the same small area values. It's the best thing I've ever done!!! Good Luck In Your Choice!
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterjudy
Hee! Oh, honestyrain--I just didn't want all the comments to be about Me Saying I'm Superior. I can take a few insecure people, honest. Hell, I'm one of them!

I don't think many of the pro-city realize just how horrified I am by waterbugs. I think about them every day. And I haven't seen one since last August. I can't believe I just wrote that oh god I'm going to see one tonight I just know it OH GOD--
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
I feel like I will be buried in all these comments...but I have read most of them and feel confident in replying.

It's all about the kid. We lived in a small city until our kids were 12 and 8. Then we noticed that the kids started travelling in packs, and we wanted more control over them and their friends. We moved to 11 acres in the country and, lo and behold, our kids friends's loved coming to our house and hanging out...which was the point all along...create a place that our kids will want to bring their frinds to. So when they grow up (they are now 16 and 12) and move out, we will probably get a place more in the city...I have always wanted a converted loft. So bottom line...it's all about the kid(s), cause you can go back to what you want when they go on with their own lives.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLiz in Maryland
VERMIN??

Sell. Now.

just my humble opinion...
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBecky
Here's the thing: If city and suburb are two more or less equal options with differing (yet equally compelling) pros and cons, I would choose suburb. Why? Because if I didn't, I would have to wake up tomorrow and NOT move to the suburbs again. Then I would have to decide the next day that it still wasn't time to move to the suburbs. And a week after that I would have to ask, "Okay, NOW should we move?"

Resisting temptation involves making the same decision over and over again, whereas you only need to decide ONCE to give in, and then you're all done with the annoying decisionmaking process. Man, I can resist ANYTHING but temptation.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterImpulsive much?
Alice of course means she hasn't seen a waterbug in her own apartment since August. She sees them every time she visits my vermin-infested place. And when they aren't in my actual apartment, they're in the hallway or the vestibule. *shudder* I mean, not to make this about me. But I forgot to mention the bug issue in my earlier comment, and boy howdy, it's an issue.

And have I mentioned the beer dripping from our ceiling during our asshole upstairs neighbor's most recent party? Yeah, beer water damage plus bugs = fun. No wonder I'm leaning toward the suburbs...
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenters-way
Move to Hawaii. AAAHHH!!!!!!
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterKelly AKA Fat Housewife
J. - MOVE TO OAK PARK! I love Oak Park. You can go to Parky's hot dogs all the time.

CursingMom - I think that's a myth about the housing prices in the city vs. the suburbs of Mpls. I work in affordable home ownership in Mpls and my experience is that unless you're talking Shoreview or Wayzata (like Stamford or Lake Forest) it's overall cheaper in the 'burbs.

I just want to say thanks Alice for your indecision and everybody for their thoughts. We're right in the middle of this dillema as we face a huge relocation and it's been great to hear all the different takes on it.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLRM
It's hard. I'm a definite city person, although I own a place in Chicago that IS large enough for me, husband, and kid (and prices in Chicago aren't as insane as in Brooklyn). We too lack a yard, but I think I've got the school thing figured out (fingers crossed). Right now I wouldn't trade walking distance to Indian food and good public transportation for a yard, however much I'd like one---but I think I'd feel differently if our place was cramped. Space is a good thing for family harmony.

In your (cute and extremely fashionable) shoes, I would probably either stay or try to move someplace very close to the city. Someplace on a rail line. Driving all the time can wear you out.

There's my worthless opinion. Had enough yet, Alice? That's what you get for asking the Internet.
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermimi smartypants
back again. you know, kids can share a room. that's an ok thing. sometimes, even in the suburbs kids do it!

god, i don't want all my interesting nyc bloggers to up and move!
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersantosha
i can in no way sympathize with your desire to live in the city, i live in missouri always have enough said, but i can offer a tiny suggestion on the schooling; have you thought about homeschooling?
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterkari
It sounds like you are worried about the move b/c you may lose your cultural identity, but on the other hand, I think you want to do it—and not only b/c you believe it makes sense. If you didn't at least half-want to do it, it wouldn't be the dilemma it is. You'd just find a way not to go.

You know though, if going makes sense to you now, it will also make sense to like-minded people soon. If you don't find yourself immediately surrounded by the kind of culture you have in Park Slope, it won't be far behind. So move, and bring your brand of culture to town while you wait for the other cool people to show up. Your family will cozy up in observations about local kitch in the mean time. It'll be fun.

Plus, if we don't integrate into the suburbs, they'll never change. Move, and start a local arts org.

My husband and I lived in Bklyn Hts for a decade before having our first child. We picked a town that was clean and pretty where kids seemed aplenty. It's not culturally progressive now but neighbors welcomed us with chocolate and introduced their kids, and we soon found people on our block who had decamped from Cobble Hill and Park Slope for the reasons we did.

We now have yards, the beach, nearby horse stables, and yes--laundry rooms. We do not have to amass quarters and run down 3 flights of stairs with our baskets. We sometimes put the recycling on the curb in our pajamas. There are provincial minds around who say things like, “I keep my kid in the play pen most of the day, he can see the TV from there,” and there are no great restaurants—-but we invite their kid out of the pen to our house for a playdate. And we learned to cook. Watching my husband learn to cook has been a good substitute for BAM, in fact, with his howls and dancing.

I think, and actually hope, that our town will become more urbane and sophisticated in the future b/c of its easy commute to midtown. And I hope to be one of the people who helps bring about change...

Although, come to think of it—-how many people like yourself do you need to be happy?

For now I'm enjoying this small foray into a different lifestyle. I'm not braving rocks through my windows or being hissed at on the street, but I do feel trailblazing. And that's pretty cool. Move, and enjoy a departure from your own brand of sameness. That, and love being the hippest mama in town. For a while at least.

March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterellen
Well, you know, what s-way said. I would be heartbroken if both you and she moved (with their respective families) to NJ. Who would I visit in the city?? You're also making me rethink my recent decision to move to Brooklyn myself. Don't forget that the perfect NJ town you're all thinking of has $12,000 in property taxes each year. I hate, hate, hated where I grew up. I was bored most of the time; I watched 8 hours of TV a day. There wasn't anything to do, and unlike the parents I know now, mine didn't take us to ballet class or art class or really attempt to keep us busy outside of the house in any fashion, so we were really stuck inside a hole of nothingness. Remember that if you want Henry to keep busy you'll be doing all of the driving to such places. I would have loved to be able to walk out of my house and down the block to go buy a magazine when I was a kid. Just everyday interactions with strangers would have made me grow up to be a healthier adult. I really do believe that. I think the city teaches you to be a better person; because space is tight you HAVE to learn how to get along with a wide variety of people. And you have to be confident enough to, you know, talk to people. It's a good skill to have.

I just wrote a long long thing about my New England town, its pros and cons, but it has nothing to do with your decision. I think you should look for a bigger, brighter place a little more on the edge of the gentrified areas of your neighborhood. Yards are seriously overrated; go to the country on vacation, go to parks when you're in the city. I think you hate your apartment, not the city. There have to be better apartments out there. Set a time limit for looking. If you can't find a better affordable place after that time, then you can move to the suburbs.

p.s. Both of you are making me want to not have children. What a mess they make of your life!
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterdebl
Alice-you will probably end up moving to the suburbs, you don't really want to, but deep down think it will be better for your family. If your thinking of moving now you will think of it later and eventually wind up moving.



March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermojavi
p.s. We lived an easy 40-minute train ride from Manhattan and we very rarely went in. I go more frequently now that I live 3 hours away! It's just harder to do things like that with children. Much better to be living there already.
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterdebl
p.s. We lived an easy 40-minute train ride from Manhattan and we very rarely went in. I go more frequently now that I live 3 hours away! It's just harder to do things like that with children. Much better to be living there already.
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterdebl
More $.02. I have the feeling that you're talking about an actual mid-sized town, Alice, not a classic soul-killing, car-dependent suburb. If so, you may be surprised what a good fit for you it could be. I have friends in a little Hudson River town (commuting distance to NY) and there's a cultural life on a small but comfortable scale and an active community to be a part of. It's not Brooklyn, but there are great things about that too.

My vote would be to consider the presence or absence of sidewalks the deciding factor. If you've got 'em, I'd say go for it. That means there will be places you can walk to and some semblance of neighborhood life outdoors, instead of everyone tucked away in their yards. If not, it seems like a recipe for isolation, loneliness, and classic American alienation and Weltschmerz. Maybe this is just me projecting ... but I know that in those early months of my daughter's life I would have gone stark raving mad without places to walk to and adult faces to see. (I live in a biggish Western city in an urban neighborhood, which in some ways might be close to what you're considering. We have a house, though a small one; a yard, though a small one; and the PO, a grocery, and several restaurants and cafes all within stroller reach.)

As many have said, the school district is the biggest deal of all, though.

March 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMary

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