About a month ago, my little family and I sold the tiny townhouse we’d lived in for just five years and ditched Brooklyn. We packed up and moved about one hour north of New York City, into the heart of the suburbs, in the middle of winter. We always move in the winter.
It would be easy to say that the decision to unceremoniously desert New York City was all our daughter’s fault, but it’s important to admit that the thought has crossed and uncrossed our minds several times, washing over us in tiny waves, over the course of the entire decade my husband and I have been together. The reasons were always the most obvious ones: space, crazy real estate prices, bad air quality, space, traffic. There were always reasons to look around and think, Maybe somewhere else will be different, or better. There are always reasons to look around and think maybe somewhere would be better.
Then Zelda was born, and my Brooklyn neighborhood — a radius of approximately twenty blocks — became our entire universe. From her birth in February through the following autumn, I made it to Manhattan fewer than a dozen times. New York City with a baby is equal parts unparallelled conveniences and unrelenting, brutal misery. You can walk out the door and see people and friends in a moment. You can get to a store in even the worst weather without having to travel too far and you never need a car. But the downsides are also unavoidable: there are so many people. When you’re one person walking down the street it’s manageable. When you’re two, one of whom is in a stroller and needs serious luggage just to leave the house, it can quickly become exhausting. Going anywhere with a baby is a trial, a commotion. In New York City it can be devastating.
We made a short trip alone to the Central Park Zoo in June, only realizing much too late (G train to the E train to the C train) that it was far too hot, and far too crowded. My normally sunny baby was cranky, and with her strapped to my chest, we were both sweaty and unhappy. After lugging a fifteen pound baby and ten pounds of gear in a bag only to find that the ticket machines for the zoo were broken and the lines an hour long (at least), we retreated to the park on a blanket to try to catch a breeze. A bird shit on my shoulder as we stared at the park I have happily sat in so many times. After fifteen minutes or so, we trod back down into the subway. I could feel the baby’s drool dripping all the way down my chest and into my belly button. I felt defeated, three hours later at home, with a cranky baby who had missed her nap.
Over time I became an expert at maneuvering my giant stroller around the tiny aisles of the tiny grocery store, and even more of an expert at not noticing how annoying we must be to the babyless. I started to feel bad for Zelda, sitting in the parks for our daily dose of “green” when I noticed that the green of the grass was burned out by the piss stains of too many dogs on the lawn. I felt worse when her new-found skills of rolling over led into cigarette butts. I felt bad rolling her stroller through piles of garbage, more than once narrowly avoiding feces or urine. She didn’t notice, of course.
At three a.m. one night, our baby stirred. We were laying in our room, and I looked at her on the monitor. She didn’t wake up much at night, so it woke us up, too. “Do you smell something?” Josh asked me. “Like, something being cooked?” “Yes,” I said. “I hear people talking, too,” he said, getting up and walking to the back of the house to peer out the window. Our neighbors were outside, grilling burgers in the middle of the night. What we’d tolerated and joked about for years, “only in New York!” — our quirky, fun loving, sometimes-annoying neighbors — now seemed like a constant nuisance. We took to texting them at early weekend hours: “Hey can you turn down the Sir Mix-A-Lot? I know it’s early but, ha ha! sleeping baby.” They always complied; they were always nice about it. And slowly it hit us: We felt like the annoying neighbors.
A slow, building sense that I wanted a change had taken root. I began to consider a full range of options I wouldn’t have dreamed of years earlier. When, a few weeks after Zelda was born, Josh had found a house he wanted to “just check out” — we’d always done this every so often — I sent him alone, stubbornly refusing to even consider a move. But in July, during a crazy hot and long walk around our neighborhood, I saw a building which had been a church in a previous life but now appeared to be condos. Just three units, it seemed. Condos had never been appealing to me. I scoffed at the idea for years. But there were things I didn’t like about our house, hundreds of years old, now that there was a baby around. The boiler sometimes stopped working in the dead of winter. The floorboards had wide cracks in them that made “babyproofing” seem pointless. I now felt the urge to peek at a condo, up the street from my own home. That Saturday we all went over to an open house. We looked at the second-floor unit. It had some things which our home didn’t: It was all one floor — so very desirable when you’re slogging a baby around — and an elevator. Everything seemed so brand new, because it was. “You’re going to be able to hear the neighbors,” Josh said to me, or maybe the Corcoran agent showing the apartment. “Oh no,” she said, “this is solid construction.” “Humor me and go upstairs, just bang around,” Josh asked her. She kindly did so. And of course, you could hear her, clear as day, just walking around upstairs. The condos were being rented for ten thousand dollars a month, possibly to be sold at a later date for around $3 million. And yet, you could hear the neighbors above and below.
We kept peeking. We couldn’t afford three million dollars for a condo we didn’t want to live in anyway, but we started to think and look at what we could afford elsewhere. Not “elsewhere in Brooklyn,” but “out there.” A lot of our old trips to suburbs of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, came back to us. Where would we go, should we want to go? We had a short list of places we thought we might like to live in. We kept peeking around, so very lazily.
A few weeks later, we found it. We found the house. I knew the moment that we pulled up to it that I could, and would want, to live here. We came home. We went back during the week, a few days later, to look again. This house was, for our new purposes, perfect: it was all one floor. It was larger. It had a large yard with trees and grass and woods. It was in a very good school district. It had extra bedrooms so that we could have family come and stay or — gasp — house a second child should one suddenly appear.
We sat in our Brooklyn backyard one sunny late afternoon while the baby slept. “It’s nice here,” we agreed. As in all of our IMPORTANT decisions, I am the ultimate decider because I dislike and am consistently resistant to change. I was tired from the long summer though, and realized that I did want a change. I thought about the coming horror of trying to put my daughter into school in New York City. I had grown up in a suburb myself, and had loved it as a child, hated it as a teenager. But I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, this was a suburb of New York. I knew I would have trouble finding people “like me” in the suburbs. But I also thought that maybe Zelda would like to have a big yard. A garden. A tricycle. A quiet place to think and to be a child. I thought of all of this as we sat there. “I want to go,” I said, “but what if it’s terrible?” “Well, then we’ll come back,” Josh said. “Or go somewhere else.”
“What if it’s terrible?” I asked again. “What if it’s not?” he replied.
The Parent Rap is an endearing column about the fucked up and cruel world of parenting.