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Jun 29 2012

Will the Suburbs Make My Kids Boring?

By at 12:56 pm

suburban house and duskMy parents (like many, many Jewish parents before them) are partial to telling me that things happen for a reason (or more accurately, that just about everything is bashert). So it was no surprise that following the heartache of finding a house we liked, signing what we thought was a binding contract and then discovering that the sellers hadn’t actually signed and instead went with another deal, my parents comforted me by saying that this house wasn’t meant to be, and that our bashert house was just waiting for us to find it.

We moped about for a little while, and then we got back in the saddle and found another (even better!) house. And just last week, we signed a contract (for real, all parties!) and now, with money and papers flying everywhere, we barrel towards closing on our bashert house, the one that’s meant to be, the one with the white picket fence, the one that’s in the suburbs.

I grew up in the suburbs, and there’s a reason we’re moving our young family back there. We want more trees, more space, less noise, a basement! But as I try and decipher the language of mortgages and as my husband and I try and plan for new commuting times and paint colors, I can’t help but think about how much I love living in the city.

First, things I will miss about Brooklyn:

Friends and neighbors, friends who are also neighbors

Stoops

Bodegas and fruit stands

Early evening on the block

Dogs

Walking

Prospect Park

Prospect Park

Prospect Park

I was raised in a suburb not far from the one I’m moving to, and yet, this city is home and always has been. As a kid, we drove to Brooklyn on Sundays, for dinner with my grandmother (things I won’t miss about Brooklyn: the Belt Parkway; the BQE; the Kosciusko Bridge approach; traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, traffic on the Manhattan Bridge; traffic on the Prospect Expressway).

Sometimes, before dinner, we’d detour past the apartment houses in Brownsville where my dad grew up and the apartment in Sheepshead Bay where my sisters were born. We’d sit and gaze at the spot on Ocean Parkway where my parents broke up and got back together. Then we’d descend on 74th Street and sit on the stoop where my mother sat as a teenager, watching the boys play stickball. Somehow it was okay to sit outside late at night in the city, something we didn’t often do in the suburbs. Somehow, everyone else was awake and outside, too. It wasn’t quiet; it was very much alive, and being there made me feel very much alive, too.

As a teenager, my folks gave me space to explore the city on my own. I’d travel into Penn Station and climb out of the subway and greet the city block and look up at the sky and check which way was north, or south, and walk for hours. I riffled through the cafes and bookstores downtown, met friends on the Great Lawn in Central Park, listened to music, drank at bars, sat on benches, and rode the train.

Like so many others, I moved to Manhattan after college and rented a too-small apartment and jogged along the Hudson on Sundays and squinted across the river at New Jersey. I met my husband on the corner of Broadway and 79th Street and together we made a home in a slightly larger apartment near Riverside Park. We bought fruit on the street for dinner and took the dog for walks late at night.

I do not know if we will like living in the suburbs. I do not know if we’ll make friends. I do not know if this house is our bashert house or if this move is bashert, at all. I do know, however, that this city is good for kids, was very, very good for this kid. The noise and the dirt and the color and the way it demands that you pay attention. The city made me more interesting and more interested. The city forced me to keep up.

I want my girls to know an independence that only comes with getting intimate with a city. It doesn’t have to be New York City–I’ve grown up in cities as disparate as Jerusalem and Madison, Wisconsin, and I’ve loved them all. Living in a city–or getting really close to one–will expose them to people and ideas that they might otherwise miss. Very soon, they will be treated to more space, more trees, more clean air–and most likely‚Ķ less variety. I think I know that they will be happy, and I’m pretty sure that ultimately, we will be, too. But for a while, it will be up to us to spice up the suburban life for them, and I have a feeling we’ll do it by coming back to the city. And I have a feeling the city will welcome us back each time, open arms.


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