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How I Know City Life is Right for My Kids

“We bought a house! We leave for New Jersey in two weeks!”

When a mom friend I’ve known since the prenatal yoga class we took at the YMCA told me she was moving, I was sad. But not really surprised. The two first mom-friends I made when the twins were newborns had both left New York – one for Long Island, the other Massachusetts – to be closer to their families. This latest was another in a long series of friends with kids who would leave our charming Brooklyn neighborhood for greener pastures.

Having grown up in suburbia, I never wanted to go back. New York City beckoned me from a young age – the theatre, the music, the rush of excitement trying to keep up my pace while walking among the crush of people who were all going, I didn’t know where, but I'm sure it was somewhere! When I got pregnant, the thought never crossed my mind to trade MetroCards for a minivan. My husband and I would continue to visit cute cafes and restaurants, spend afternoons hanging out in Prospect Park and enjoy exploring the sights and sounds of vastly different neighborhoods, all with our babies in tow.

But when the twins came home with us, we immediately felt the squeeze of life in a two-bedroom apartment. We began to wonder if city life was the right kind of life for our little ones. I remembered seeing a girl, no more than seven, riding the subway by herself, looking like a mini Tina Fey in her designer eyeglasses. When the train pulled into the West 4th Street station, she barely glanced up from her homework as she disembarked. This girl was savvy! But maybe too savvy. My kids have their whole lives to become hardened New Yorkers, I thought. Should I really be starting them out so young?

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So when the twins turned one, we did a home search of our own in Stamford, Connecticut.

A luxury SUV-driving realtor met us at a house we’d seen listed. A pack of deer ran past us on the street. What did deer come in, anyway, I wondered. Herds? Throngs? The closest thing we had to this in Brooklyn were the deli cats – a bunch of strays that hung out around the corner bodega. In Connecticut, the air was crisp and still, and the block was so quiet we couldn’t tell who the neighbors were. At home, we constantly heard the neighbors above us and on either side screaming at each other, having sex and living life loudly (and I’m sure they heard us too!).

Stepping foot inside the stately colonial, what struck me most was the amount of space. There was a formal living room, a sunroom and something called a family room. This room had letter blocks on the shelves that spelled out the word “family.” I liked how literal that was. Maybe life out here would be simpler.

Having our actual family together was even better than a family room.

I started to fantasize about my new family room. I would throw all the kids’ crap in there. The living room would be adults-only, like certain pools at the Hyatt. I pictured myself lounging on a divan in my adults-only living room, sipping bourbon and reading Oscar Wilde, while my kids battled each other with toy cutlery just out of earshot.

I looked at the expansive Connecticut kitchen and imagined myself building banquet seating around the table, like I had seen on Pinterest. Never mind that I didn’t know the first thing about American Gothic furniture crafting – this would be a minor challenge on my way to creating the perfect family home.

I was falling in love with the idea of country life, or, more aptly, a semi-rural suburban existence. I stopped fantasizing about sex and became consumed with the idea of customized cushions. The best part about it was my son and daughter would have their own rooms and an acre of land to frolic on. I knew that they had played, and even gamboled, but had they ever really frolicked?

“Our kids need to frolic!” I told my husband frantically. We began to seriously consider putting in an offer.

What stopped us in the end was my husband’s proximity to work – his business is here in Brooklyn. Although the twins would have to share a room if we stayed, the trade-off was that their dad was around when they woke up and before they went to bed (and sometimes even made surprise cameos right in the middle of the day). Having our actual family together was even better than a family room.

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Our decision made, I started to fall in love with Brooklyn again. Yes, there were drawbacks to raising city kids, but there were so many good things too, like the crazy characters right on our block. If we moved, I would miss the guy who sat on his stoop every day, eating a big salad out of a glass bowl (I mean, who does stuff like that in the suburbs?). I’d miss walking everywhere – not just for the exercise but because it makes me feel like part of the community.

Instead of stocking up at Costco, we pop into the meat store, the wine store or the farmer’s market, and many of the shopkeepers call us by name. In Stamford, “exotic” cuisine consisted of one florescent-lit strip mall store that served both Thai and Chinese. I love that my kids will be raised on really good pizza, and that when we play together in Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Manhattan skyline is the backdrop for our random Tuesday afternoon.

Standing by the stroller with my daughter, I watched with pride as my almost three-year-old participated in a West African tradition, moving his little body in time and slapping his little hands on the djembes joining in with other percussionists, black and white, young and old.

But the moment I knew we were truly in the right place was when, walking through Prospect Park, we happened upon a drum circle. I pushed our stroller over to the Drummer’s Grove and saw my son tapping his feet in time to the rhythm. Instinctively, I reached down and unleashed him from his seat. He boldly made his way into the circle. Standing by the stroller with my daughter, I watched with pride as my almost three-year-old participated in a West African tradition, moving his little body in time and slapping his little hands on the djembes joining in with other percussionists, black and white, young and old.

Leaving New York City is the right decision for some people. But as the pulse of the music moved everyone who stood there, I knew that we were home.

Image by Ronnie Koenig

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