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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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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)

Mary: Yes! Sidewalks, absolutely! We're looking in an urban suburb.

These comments are overwhelming but fascinating. What interests me the most is hearing not necessarily the opinions (SUBURBS ARE EVIL vs. THE CITY WILL KILL YOU) but the personal experiences.
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Well, since you asked for more personal experiences, I will delurk and give mine...

I live in a small CT town (like 1500 people small). Many of the people are transplant NYC folks who wanted out of the city, but didn't want suburbia either.

From my house I can walk to the downtown area which has the post office, library, playground, couple of restaurants, two coffee shops, a theater (not a movie one, a real one)and a LIQUOR store (thank you sweet jesus;-))and it has other perks like being able to let your kids ride their bikes to the corner store alone with their allowance to buy candy.

The town has a nice feel to it. I don't want to go into too many specifics because I don't really want anyone IRL reading my blog. If you want to know what town it is email me.

But it is a trade off. Unfortunately you can't just punch people (but your husband's comment made me love him) because you are stuck seeing this same small group of people *all* the freaking time. That can get really old. I miss the anonymity of big city life. And yes, we have to drive to go anywhere.

Also, water bugs might be bad... but we had a weasel in our house last weekend. Yes, a freaking weasel. I'm still not over it.







March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterchris
It's true, there is less anonymity in a small town, but that can go either way depending on what kind of attention you attract. I have a p.s. to my comment above b/c I forgot to think of Henry in this earlier. I know you worry that he'll be bored and hate you when he's 14 because you gypped him out a life in Park Slope. I worry that my son will hate me for moving too. But I grew up in a small town and it's actually kind of fun to be a disaffected, bored, you’re-all-stupid, I'm-going-to-blow-this-town teenager. I remember how my boyfriend and his friends could cause discomfort and clucking among the middle-aged townsfolk just because they were young, loud, bored, and cuffing each other as they crowded down the sidewalk.

I loved that. I was bored too, but I knew I could leave someday. Feeling trapped actually made me eager to look at colleges, and to travel.

Let Henry go on a travel exchange program to someplace like Holland or France for a year or a summer when he gets bored at 14. Take him on trips to good universities during his breaks when he's 15 and up. In between, let him feel full of himself and enjoy the small scale celebrity a kid can attract in a little town. In my youth I enjoyed, ahem, reputation as not only the smartest but also the prettiest girl in my class (okay, it was a really small town)—-and while I never attained that level of grace, of course, after I moved to NYC I still felt the confidence that comes with having been, simply, noticed. And having been heard. Now that I'm back in the burbs, I bask in the glow of having lived in the city. See, it all works out.

Of course, there was an ugliest girl too when I was growing up in my small town, and it sucked for her. I don't have an answer for that one. Does anyone have stories about growing up scorned in the suburbs? I do worry about that since there are some acne genes and social-nebbish genes in my family that haven't surfaced in my son yet, but god knows, for having gloated about how I'm So Pretty at this finslippy rave my son may now be smote with early baldness.

March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterellen
Hmm, we're facing something similar. We're Americans living in Vancouver Canada. That's right we're living the dream of every blue stated person. We moved here three years ago from Oakland, Ca and can't wait to get back to the states. People it is not all Roses here. Yes, Vancouver is SUPPOSED to be liberal, and cultural. HA! It is so MEDIOCRE. Yes, their are beautiful mountains, and oceans. But it is sooooooooo bland here. We thought we would move and have a child and raise it in one of the true good places left in our world. Yes, I have given up on fantastic varietys of food for an entire aisle at the grocery store of Cheese Wiz. No joke. We love our little house of 3 bedrooms with a deck and yard that we pay the same rent for as our 1 bedroom in Oakland. We have the most amazing parks for our daughter to play in right at our door. Alas, we can't take the blandness anymore. I would rather live in Bush country, and back in an apartment if it meant I could be back with my people, and a little bit of culture. So Portland, or Seattle here we come. My advice to you is do as some others have said. Rent out your apt. See how you like it. It only takes a year to find out. Give it that much time to adjust. We are so happy we didn't buy a house. Now it makes it much easier to go back. As for the water bug thing Alice. You might think I'm crazy, but I was terrified of the Earthqakes in Ca. I truly would wake, and practically head for the door every time my husband would roll over at night in bed. I have never slept better now that I live on solid bedrock. I understand your pain.
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAmie
Hi Alice!I had to chime in here just because I was a city kid. I grew up, until I was 7, in Manhattan. I loved it. We were lucky enough to have a house out in the 'burbs (Monmouth County, if we're technical). I called it the Country House. We permanently moved there when I was 7, but kept the apartment in the city for the next few years. My father commuted (about an hour) everyday. I have to say, I am a Total City Girl at heart. I do admit, though, growing up with yards, a barn nearby to ride horses at (I rode, obviously), and all the other 'burbie things were great fun as a child. It was adjustment at first, but we loved it for 18 years at which point we moved to Florida. Um, yuck. No offense, Floridians. It has been a huge adjustment period. Although I will say Miami does have a lot of what you seem to be looking for, but I don't think you were talking about moving that far away. Alright... Babbled enough, but that's my $0.02.
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria
Nyack, New York
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterWentbacktothecitybut...
I don't know if anyone has mentioned this (too many comments already), but my husband and I recently moved from Williamsburg in Brooklyn to Jersey City. We got a nice big house for closer to the national average price than anywhere you would find in Bklyn. We are blocks from the PATH train, still in an artsy city and Manhattan-close (my commute time is exactly the same as it was). We're expecting our first kid and don't know yet about the schools, although we do know that NJ's public schools are among the best in the country. We're thinking about moving back to my home state of California, going really suburban and living in the Valley. But in the meantime, I think Jersey City is a great alternative to NYC real estate. The only downside: snobby New Yorkers who think Jersey is a different planet.
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermel
Move to the suburbs. Give your kid something to rebel against.
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle
Sorry, Amie, Portland is full. :)
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterZach
Well I moved from a suburb to the city, but that's rather irrelevant because we went from an urban-ish area to a suburban-ish city area. So it's (sort of) the same thing. The noise and 3 flights of stairs use to drive me crazy. Now the isolation drives me crazy.So it just depends on the type of crazy you prefer, really.Helpful, no?

March 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMs. Polkadot
DO NOT DO IT!i did it and it's a living nightmare. all i do is scheme about how we'll get back to the city.
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commenternicole
Wow! you can change your whole blog into a city v/s suburbs discussion
March 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSamanta
Wow. I've never commented on your blog before, and it took me at least 24 hours of ruminating over your post (and the captivity of a sleeping baby and rain) to screw up the courage to post, but during that time almost 200 other comments were posted.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here is my experience. We lived in a big west coast city where we were surrounded by others of our same political bent, we never drove, we reveled in the fact that we could eat delicious food of almost any ethnicity within 5 blocks of our house and for under $10 a person and we pretty much felt sorry for everyone else in the country. We even owned our own house in that city, though we couldn't have afforded to buy it from ourselves. Our problem was less with urban living than with the fact that we had to work 80 hours a week to support our urban living.

Once we started thinking about having kids, the 80 hours a week thing just got to be too much. I knew we couldn't deal with the suburbs (no offense to people that love the burbs, but I hate driving in a quality-of-life-altering way), so we lit out for a smaller town on the east coast where we could afford to live in the "downtown." Now, it's not the big city, but at least we can walk to a couple of decent restaurants, all of the theaters in town, a great bookstore, and a non-Starbucks coffee shop. And, importantly, the supermarket and my job are both within walking distance, so I rarely have to get in the car.

And we're starting to like it here, but honestly, for at least the first year we were here, we both hated it and spent months scheming to get back to the city. We miss the diversity of people in a city, which, let's all be honest, you cannot get anywhere else. We miss the cheap eating options, though at least we now have time to eat at home more often. We miss being able to randomly meet people and know that they almost certainly believed in the same things we did. We miss the high-powered jobs that made us constantly feel important.

But, at this point, even if we had the chance to move back and get more low-key jobs, we can't decide if we'd take it or not. We like the pace of life here. We like our jobs. We like that people here think working late nights and weekends makes you lame, not important. We like that we have a small circle of friends that we actually get to see once or twice a week, and that we can imagine ourselves being close to them for along time, and all of us watching our kids growing up together.

So I guess my point is this: In our experience, there are wonderful things about the non-urban life, but I tend to think it's a pretty even trade-off.
March 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterdelurkorific
Hi Alice - You don't know me, so who cares what I think? However, I moved to Kansas City from Chicago (not quite the same, eh?)because after growing up on a farm (yes, now I've really dismissed myself), I got used to this crazy idea of space. In Chicago, I found myself routinely walking into parking meters after being forced off the sidewalks by larger people. And remember when I e-mailed you asking what New Yorkers did about carseats in cabs? Really,these questions bothered me.

I moved to a smaller city instead of a suburb, but basically same thing. Yes, you have to own a car. HAVE TO. And that kind of stinks. Yes, you may be more frequently forced to eat at cheesy chain restaurants. However, you do gain the benefits of knowing your windows are far from the street corners and knowing your child will probably not learn to avoid eye contact earlier than he really needs to.

Parenthood. Really, they're only home with you for one-fourth of your life. Then you can move back to the city and tell them they can't live with you after college, because you simply don't have room. ha!
March 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterRita
Personally my husband is good with the play-doh pie, but I'm afraid cigarette butts and/or the smoking of cigarettes themselves have been from the Western Chicago Suburbs. Instead, we meet our husbands at the door with real-estate ads screeching about how WE will NEVER be able to afford a 3 bedroom that includes a studio for US because real estate prices are out of control. Is it like this everywhere?
March 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
Hey, what? I got a message saying that my post wasn't posted because someone/thing thinks it's comment spam! It's not spam! Maybe it's b/c it's really long. Is there a length limit? Maybe I should try splitting it up.
March 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy
Have you ever read Three Sisters? A cautionary tale.
March 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSonya
I selfishly want Alice to stay in Brooklyn because I'm still secretly hoping to meet her on the street and become her best friend. But also, as a fellow city-lover (I'm currently asking myself the same kinds of questions about the move from Manhattan to _Brooklyn_, for God's sake), I really objectively feel like you'd be sorry if you left the city.

I don't know what kind of non-suburban suburb you're thinking about (and I wish you'd just tell us! Why protect the privacy of a place?, but I can't imagine it'd offer the texture of life that Brooklyn does. Like a lot of people posting here, I grew up in the suburbs, and always resented that my very hip, city-liking parents decided to raise us in the most sterile, bland, un-diverse, un-fun suburb imaginable (outside San Antonio, Texas)and then, the minute we were all moved out of the house, high-tailed it to an interesting life in a more urban area! I guess they thought it was good for us to be in the suburbs, but all I ever wanted was to leave. The public schools were officially "good" but, as one parent writes above, really just factories for producing kids who could succeed at passing standardized tests -- no creativity or freedom at all.

Maybe if you can stand your place a couple years longer, you'll be able to sell for a bundle and invest in a fixer-upper in an up-and-coming hood, or, as some people have suggested, rent your place out and try the suburbs for a year or two with an option to return. But I do disagree with the people who say, hey, it doesn't matter where you live, you'll all be happy anywhere. Location and architecture and transportation are very significant factors with profound effects on people's experience.That's why these stories are so interesting to read. (I've just spent my Friday lunch hour scrolling through every one!)
March 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDana
Hi. I've never written before-I don't think. But, I live in a suburb of Seattle because I can't afford to live in the city-and I advise to not do it.

Especially with kids, I think they lose out. Sure, I can take my daughter into town for museums, libraries, etc. but it's a trip to somewhere else, not a great place where we live and are a part of the place's fabric. But then again, Seattle suburbs have tons of meth labs so we could find something to do if we wanted to.
March 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterCorrine
Okay, I'm sure you're not reading anymore, because I couldn't even be bothered to read all these comments to see if I'm repeating someone else. But whatever: here goes a shout into the void to a total stranger.

Have you considered moving to Staten Island? I hear it's up-and-coming the-next-brooklyn etc. etc. It's still cheap, and it's definitely got more soul than montauk.
March 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterdonut
At the risk of adding even more clutter to this already cluttered list of comments... from a professional suburbanite who was raised by a city boy and a suburb girl - I say, choose suburbia for now, but choose carefully. Can't tell if I'm being redundant (too many postings), but I do agree with Montclair for artsy, lefty types. Personally I'm an artsy middle-of-the-roader, and I love Ridgewood. We picked it for the train and we both grew up nearby. Snobby, superior, etc. if you like that. Also great friends & neighbors, 90 something restaurants, free concerts in the park in the summer (walking distance to town) and tons of crazy shops. We have munchkins and we love our excellent local bookstore - they get fantastic authors all the time. (Bookends, probably has a website). The town next door has a kids-only bookstore with so many author visits that they refer to J.K. Rowling as "Jo" and knew her when. Anyway, we love NYC (and visit frequently) and my husband promised in the prenup that we would retire there. For now, we've got a tiny patch of grass and a house that has tripled in value in five years. (Apparantly the city folk think the tiniest houses are a steal... so come on over!)
March 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterKathy
How about Riverdale or Queens? Best of both worlds...
March 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNancy
Aha! I think I might officially be the last person to comment on this topic.

Now, if you are going to move, it is ashtrays made with Play-doh and broken glass. Everyone knows that cigarettes are bad for your health.

I will take suburbia any day over the city, although my city is LA, not NY. Seriously, I think young children can really use all that room to roam. And if you are thinking about having another (as we are) it seems that it will just be too darned cramped where you are living now. I guess the perfect thing would be a suburb that is close enough to pop into the City when you felt like it. Sorry, I can't be of any help on that one. But, I can commiserate on the outrageous home prices! Try about 555,000 for 1100 square feet, and that is not even by the beach.

Best of luck to you, it is a tough decision.

March 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterGina
Could you do a trial period - rent out your Bklyn apt while you try out the 'burbs for a year or two?
March 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAndy
Stay THERE! I live in the sprawling Metropolis of Vancouver, BC and having spent a good painful deal of my life in the suburbs (which all sucked), I would cut off my right leg if it meant I could stay in the City. It's not Brooklyn mind you, but it does have the art gallery, the giant public library and some forms of entertainment that are nearby. Heck I can even walk into the downtown core if I feel motivated enough! Don't leave Brooklyn! Sell your blood or other body products for extra cash to get a bigger place!! And don't worry - we have the indigents going through our recycling for cans, so I understand the whole drive-up ATM thing!
March 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

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