Six years in suburbia

A few weeks ago I made the somewhat surprising discovery that I had subscribed to Apple Music. I can’t remember doing this, though obviously I must have, so about a decade after everyone else I have been discovering the joys of streaming whatever music I want. I mostly do this while running on the treadmill. This AM I got in a few quick miles while listening to Taylor Swift. She was singing “Welcome to New York,” musing on how everybody there wanted something more, and everyone there was someone else before.

I realized it had been almost exactly six years since we bid goodbye to New York. On a June day, we loaded our family of four into our newly purchased car — something my husband hadn’t owned in 15 years and I had never owned — and drove from our apartment in midtown Manhattan out to suburban PA. I moved to NYC in 2002, at age 23, feeling much as Swift describes. I left at age 32, with more pedestrian concerns, such as where I would stick the third baby who was then on her way, and navigating the treacherous shoals of the NYC schooling situation for my then 4-year-old.

I do miss New York, though I think New York with four children would be a very different experience than New York as a young, unencumbered person. In particular, I miss singing with a really good choir. I still need to find one here. Fortunately, we didn’t move out into the total sticks. I’m 20 minutes from Philadelphia, which has great restaurants, and professional (albeit not-so-great) sports teams, and some good art museums. Philadelphia has an international airport that I think is nicer than Newark or JFK (if the flights to a few places aren’t as frequent), and a train station that beats Penn Station, and gets me on a train that gets to Penn Station in a little over an hour.

I still hate driving. I have spent far more time and money this year dealing with the joys of car ownership than I would have liked. Home ownership has its own woes. Anyone who thinks suburban living is cheaper than urban living should build line items such as “tree trimming” into their budgets. However, there are also some aspects of suburbia I have found surprisingly nice. Partly it’s that our yard is in full bloom now. Roses and lilies and hydrangeas make for quite a scene out my office window. Also, note that phrase: my office window. I have my own dedicated office in our suburban house, something that was unlikely to happen in Manhattan. In my first NYC apartment, I worked in the kitchen. In the second and third, I worked in part of my bedroom. Having my own professional space makes me feel more professional. I love being able to send the kids down to the basement, and not be on top of all their toys. I have taken the big kids into our pool (a big perk of the house that lured us out of the city) twice this week during the evening. Unless we suddenly became billionaires, we were unlikely to have our own private pool in NYC.

The school thing has been good. We moved to our community partly for the schools, and they haven’t disappointed. The kids have all attended a nice preschool that is half a mile from the house, and the local elementary school is a mile away. The other day the 7-year-old came home with a book he wrote on Pearl Harbor. The school helped him “publish” it through Book Nook press and he was so proud of it. Curiously, our district has recently been sued over what someone claimed are too high property taxes that are over-funding the schools. From our perspective, it is such a bargain vs. paying tuition for four children.

(Other interesting local news: the Bill Cosby trial is going on at our court house, where we do jury duty. But they didn’t pull a jury from around here — they brought one in from Pittsburgh.)

Anyway, I have liked suburbia more than I thought I would, and I do think it was the right move for our family. It’s only when I visit NYC sometimes that I get wistful about it. But probably I should just set it as a goal to go visit more often. And then come back here and sit on my porch and look at my flowering back yard.

In other news: Speaking of other things that have happened in Junes past, I Know How She Does It came two years ago. If you haven’t read the book yet, would you consider picking up a copy? In it, I show that women with big jobs can have far more balanced lives than the popular narrative conveys. It really is possible to have it all — and this is how it’s done.




14 thoughts on “Six years in suburbia

  1. I live in the sticks. Our whole county has one traffic light. We don’t have a full sized Walmart or more than 4 fast food restaurants. It’s different for sure, but I love the sense of community. I never worry about my kids because I literally know everyone in town. Recently, a family moved in from Pennsylvania. I have enjoyed helping them transition from city life to rural. They had to buy a car, and the mother had to learn to drive and get a license. She had never bothered because she could walk/use public transit. Their children have had to make some big adjustments, but seem to be enjoying the much slower pace and the smaller schools.
    I think we all want different things at different times in our life. When I was young, I wanted excitement and to explore. Now I look forward to afternoons on my porch in a rocking chair watching the sun set and looking for the lightning bugs.

    1. @Jennie – I’m not sure I could deal with a place with few restaurants, but yes, different things for different people at different times! I do still want to travel more, though. I think it will get easier as the kids get a little older. Already traveling with the 3 big kids has been pretty good.

      1. I do get to travel a lot and that has made it manageable. I visit Memphis (nearest city) 2-3 times a month and probably take 4-5 bigger trips a year. Living in such a rural area has probably afforded me this luxury due to the low cost of living. My house payment here is the same as my rent on the apartment I lived in and the difference in size is crazy.
        Travel gets easier and harder. Easier to manage air ports and just be in the car with. Harder to get around schedules.

  2. Just mentioning a typo in your last paragraph:

    In it, I should that women with big jobs can have far more balanced lives than the popular narrative conveys.

  3. Can’t believe it’s been two years since I Know How She Does It. I preordered it, and it finally convinced me to just have kids already. I’m home from my big job with a sick six-month-old now. But always keeping your perspective in mind helps me weather the challenges without feeling guilty. And I live in an urban suburb of D.C., where we have a car we don’t need to drive. It’s a nice balance for now!

      1. Your writing helped me make the jump to baby #3, and we are considering #4 in the near future 🙂

        1. @Victoria- oh, wonderful! I like being a family of 6 (with 4 kids). A little crazed sometimes but I like the bustle, and I’m looking forward to future years of big family gatherings. If you can handle 3, you can handle 4. (And yet I look at moms of 5 in awe – go figure!)

  4. Laura, I was in Seattle this week visiting our son who is interning out there, and we visited the Amazon bookstore, which stocks only books with high ratings on IKHSDI was featured in the Self -Improvement section. They display all books with the cover out, instead of the spines.

  5. I imagine you’re spot on about city living as a childless person vs. a person with four kids. I’m happy visiting cities with just my husband and me, but I always imagine that living in one with kids, especially small kids, would be super challenging.

  6. I listened to a podcast just this week (Annie F Downs and Andrea Lucado) where she spoke about how she loves NYC and the way she gets around it is by asking herself, what is it about NYC that I love that I’m not getting here (Nashville)? There were a number of things which she’s built into her life now and made the hankering almost disappear 🙂

    1. @Marcia- that is a good question to ask. Though if the answer is “being 25 years old” then that’s a hard thing to recreate. I suspect I’m missing the memory of a stage of life, not any specific thing!

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