The weather is warming up and here’s a piece of advice for anyone thinking of moving to the suburbs: do it when the weather is nice.
Through the long winter months, I thought a lot about how living in the city forces you to be a part of the community in a way that the suburbs do not. Back in Brooklyn, I could easily spend a day alone with the kids but not feel lonely for adult company, because wherever I went, I was surrounded by people. If I sat on a bench with the girls at the park, other parents and their kids were inevitably doing the same at an adjacent bench and suddenly we had our own adult version of parallel play without meaning to. Lack of space indoors meant people were pushed out of doors, even in inclement weather.
Moving to the suburbs in the winter and after a major hurricane, however, means people go indoors for many months without emerging. Thankfully, that is changing now.
Where we live on Long Island, people are finally coming out of their homes. I see Adirondack chairs on front lawns. I hear children’s yelps and the theme song of the suburbs–lawn mower hums. Life! We have sent the girls out into the yard a few times in recent weeks and they especially like collecting rocks and moving sticks (who needs landscapers? Also, we don’t have a swing set yet.)
Being outside and smelling cut grass makes me feel a little better about the whole suburbs experiment that we’re undertaking. So did our field trip to the driveway on Tuesday night, where we watched the space station pass overhead (yes, my husband has an App on his phone which alerted him to this event). We were able to do that because we could see the sky clearly, just far enough away from the light pollution of the city that it was totally visible, as were most of the constellations. It was peaceful. No neighbors emerged from their houses to witness the aerial wonder along with us, but Jon and I were content to be alone.
This might be part of the problem, part of the reason why we haven’t made any friends. We’re not always content to be alone, but we’re alone a lot, though our Long Island community offers countless opportunities to get out and be social with the kids.
Rabbi Hillel and my mother have both urged: “Do not separate yourself from the community.” I recognize that this is especially important advice when you’re new in town.
And so off we went a few weeks ago to a PJ Library dinner hosted by a lovely and relaxed congregation called the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore. I have twin toddlers and getting anywhere on time takes colossal efforts, but on this day, we were early. And since we were early, my girls finished the art project planned for the start of the event before anyone else arrived. As the other families trickled in, I chased the girls around the synagogue sanctuary, effectively missing the opportunity to “shmooze.”
No matter. My mom was there, too, and she quickly took a survey and then unabashedly introduced me to the parents she had interviewed. One woman had moved to the area two years earlier, from the same neck of the woods as us, in Brooklyn. Another guy had just closed on a house a few blocks away; he and his wife had been die-hard Queens residents and seemed stressed about the move for the same reasons we were/still are. And the rabbi of the congregation, effervescent, young, with four young kids of her own, was welcoming and friendly. Avi and Maya were only slightly better behaved than miniature hellions but between the Passover story and the songs and the pancake dinner and the art project and the really nice people, it should have been a great night. But I still came home feeling lonely.
It will not be news if I tell you that making mom friends is often painful. Like dating–an analogy drawn by millions of other parents in my position–there’s awkward small talk, there’s judging based on appearances, there’s sizing up, there’s a rush back to middle school so swift you could get whiplash. I want my old friends, the ones I already worked hard to find, the ones who are living somewhere else with different schedules and zip codes. The ones I would bump into in grocery stores or at the park. The ones who made me feel a part of the community.
Hillel and my mom: Do not separate yourself from your community–your new community. (Or else, what? Or else you’ll have no friends.)
So this Friday night, we will try again. We will go to the local JCC for a Tot Shabbat dinner and as instructed we will bring a vegetarian or dairy side dish. Jon is going to make it home from work in time and we are going to throw caution to the wind and skip bath time. We will join our community. We will wrangle babies even though we will be tired. We will want to order a pizza and collapse on the couch but we won’t do that. And though we might not see anyone wearing sneakers like the ones we wear and we will probably judge based on appearances and we will probably be judged based on appearances, we will make small talk and we will fight against our respective natures and we will go to this dinner and we will stick our hands out to people and hold doors open and say hello and maybe, if the stars are aligned and the space station is passing overhead, we will make a friend or two.
And maybe we won’t. But it won’t be because we’re not trying.
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