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Feb 7 2012

In What Town Will We Find “People Like Us?”

By at 2:36 pm

We’ve outgrown our apartment. We rented it almost two years ago, when I was not-yet-pregnant, and Jon was not-yet-convinced that Brooklyn was the place to be. Now, he is convinced, and we have twin baby girls, and we have to move.

The home-hunting process is hard. I could gripe endlessly about the seriously gross places we’ve visited, houses “priced to sell!” where sellers didn’t bother to take out the trash before a viewing, simply because their home sits on prized New York City real estate and therefore, buyers will swoon even if a roach or two creeps out from hiding.

I could chat endlessly about how seriously unjust it is that Nassau County, what with its short commute times to Manhattan and its decent schools offers precious little housing stock for under a million. I could tell you that we love Brooklyn and we don’t want to move but we need to be closer to our families (Read: babysitter always ready and willing and free!) and we need a yard for the girls and the dog and we need more space because more physical space will give us more mental space and make us healthier and happier and able to host dinner parties.

But really, we’re just worried about fitting in.

I grew up on Long Island. Say what you will about the stereotypes. Joke all you want about the accents. I had a great childhood. I remember the smell of wet leaves in October, birthday parties in my parents’ backyard, trips to the diner for cheese fries, chasing my dog down the block, garage sales in the cul-du-sac, and the sound of cicadas in summer. My parents before me made the pilgrimage from Brooklyn to the suburbs and embraced suburban life with all the fanfare you’d expect of Mr. Jefferson and Ms. Lafayette (each voted most popular by their Brooklyn public high schools, they were city kids through and through). They raised me and my two sisters in a middle class town where materialism wasn’t much of an issue and I had Jewish friends and Italian friends and Asian friends and lots of friends. I have no reason to believe that my kids wouldn’t flourish just as I did.

And yet, I do not want to live where I grew up. I don’t want to live in the neighboring towns, either. Jon doesn’t want to live where he grew up (Queens, a stone’s throw from my parents). In fact, I’m pretty sure Jon developed hives when we first searched for a place in Forest Hills (just a stone’s throw from his parents’ home) about a year back. Then, his response in the car while riding to meet a broker in Queens was so visceral he literally shut down. Mute for the duration of the day. A big fight ensued, needless to say. When we had calmed down and we were back in Brooklyn, he simply said, “this isn’t what I wanted. This isn’t where I thought I’d be.”

I understood. I also imagined us somewhere else (Upstate? On a farm? Except near a cute town with fellow city expats who are cultured and smart and at least some are Jewish? And a farm that’s near our parents except not on Long Island or in Queens? That would be good. Oh, and we’d love it if the homes were well priced but in a good school district. No aluminum siding. Near a nature preserve. Lots of neighborhood dogs. Friendly ones, not rabid street dogs. Rescue Dogs! At least one coffee shop like the one we used to go to in the Berkshires, before The Babies. A short commute time to Manhattan, naturally. A house that looks like the one Zeek and Camille live in, on the show Parenthood. Any of the houses any of the characters live in on Parenthood. A town where people read what we read, where people care about what we care about. A town with People Like Us. Yeah. That would be perfect).

So you see our conundrum. What does that even mean, “people like us”? Have we combed the towns in the tri-state area and determined with scientific data that there are no people like us outside of Brooklyn? No. Have we frequented the community centers, soccer games, coffee shops, yard sales and synagogue services in any of the towns I’m averse to? Nope. Are our aversions rooted a bit too firmly in (immature?) fears about growing up and change and finality? Probably. But still, no one wants to knowingly walk into a potentially bad situation. What if we move, and we have the house and the yard and short trip to Grandma and Papa’s but we have no friends?

Moving would necessitate that we both—me, a mostly social being and my husband, a person who usually prefers talks with our dog to talks with others— become joiners. Sure, having young kids will make awkward social situations a bit easier but what if we do go ahead and join—the neighborhood temple, the JCC, the gym, the library, the town beach club—and all of the people we meet spend their Sundays at the mall and snap their gum and drive sedans with My Kid Is An Honors Student bumper stickers?

I’m guilty of stereotypes myself.

I know there comes a time when you have to compromise. And I know that in addition to our fears of change, bundled into all of this are our fears—sorry Jon, MY fears—that I don’t even know who I am as a mom, as an adult, as a wife. How can I identify and seek out People Like Me when I’m not even sure who I am?

I’m getting carried away. I know just how I’ll identify them! By their shoes! By their haircut! By the book they’re reading in the imaginary coffee shop in my idyllic town in the sky.

Or rather, in my fantasy, I’ll know them by a look on their faces when they wave us in from the edge of the room at the synagogue mixer we’ll be forced to attend. In my fantasy, the look will say “hi! Come on in. We get it. We were skeptical too. But it’s okay. We’re happy here.”  They will mean it and we will begin to talk and regardless of where they work or went to school or what they read or wear, we’ll find something familiar in their faces and the way they speak. We’ll bond over something surprising or something commonplace and with an exchange of email addresses and a promise to make a date for our kids to meet theirs, we’ll begin to relax. Jon’s hives will clear up, the knot in my stomach will loosen and we’ll inevitably learn to love the ones we’re with.


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