Burbs Bound----then Back Again



I’m one of those crazy people you hear about that attempted to leave city life for suburban pastures, and returned back with her tail between her legs.
— Jess Davis
Jess and Hays back in Brooklyn

Jess and Hays back in Brooklyn

Five years ago I moved out of New York City to a picturesque, up-and-coming, “feels like Brooklyn” river town that was only a 27-minute train ride from Manhattan.

I moved back to Brooklyn a mere 2.5 years later.

And before I spill the beans let me do my due diligence PSA: This was MY experience and I know TONS of people who happily made the move and never looked back. But let’s be frank, it’s the people like me you don’t really hear about. So here’s my story.

Why I moved to the suburbs

I wanted more space, nature, less noise, less "city kids grow up so fast", etc. You see, I'm originally from a small town in upstate NY but have lived in Brooklyn on and off since 2001 so I’m basically a country mouse and a city rat. Toss me in the mountains with a bunch of  crickets and shooting stars or a vile east village dive bar with bad cover bands and $2 pizza and I am equally happy. But after having my son I started having dreams about raising him outside the city. Mostly because when he was 2, he learned the only way to be outside was to beg me to go to the neighborhood park because we didn’t have outdoor space. A few pajama-laden 7am playground trips and I was ready to return to all the stuff of my youth.

How I decided on my suburb

I love a crunchy vibey type of scene. For the New Yorkers out there - think Greenpoint, Red Hook, East Village. After exploring any place within 45 minutes of Manhattan, we landed on the river towns because they were less built up and had the mom and pop feel I knew I would miss in my neighborhood. This is also the fabled area the New York Times was regularly writing about at the time….hipsterville upstate, the new Brooklyn, an oasis for the creatives outside of the city. Our real estate agent also told us there were loads of ex-NYers in the area and LOOK! A brewery and a new coffee shop! Oh and housing prices were increasing daily. How could we say no?!

Hays living his best burb life

Hays living his best burb life

What we found

A BEAUTIFUL home with river views from wall to wall. A place to sled in the winter. A fireplace. An extra bedroom. Fireflies. A driveway! A yard….front and back. A neighborhood full of folks with interesting backgrounds, cool jobs, and great kids. And an express train (1st stop outside of Manhattan) getting us in and out in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

We moved right in!

Burb life was amazing…until it just wasn’t

Burb life was amazing…until it just wasn’t

Fast forward 2.5 years later….

Why I got the hell out of dodge

Becoming a commuter changed the dynamic in my relationship with my then husband. Yes, it’s only 30 minutes when you’re on the train, but you need to account for getting to the train, the schlep, the turmoil of Grand Central Station, and the palpable energy of the defeated commuters who’ve been doing the schlep for decades. God, it was depressing. I’d see the workaholics who never looked up from their computer - essentially utilizing the train as another office. The affairs that blossomed on the train with the premonition of a life about to blow up. And the sad parents who were calculating how much time was being eaten up away from their kids - often an hour on both ends that they weren’t getting with those they loved.

For my marriage, the drudgery  turned into lots of after work alcohol on the train or “honey, I’m staying later in the city” while the other parent was home with the kids. A lot of passing ships in the night. A lot of tag team and isolation. Even though we did meet people with cool jobs and interests, after they left their working world in NYC -  they usually wanted to leave the city mentally behind while they focused on their kids. This led to conversations...mostly about the kids.

I love my kid a lot, but he is not the only thing in my world and I found it REALLY hard to make friends. There were playdates and sunset drinks but it all felt oddly distant. As if we were a bunch of transplants with no desire to really get to know one another outside of our children.

The schools I quickly discovered were not that great. Being a wealthy suburb just north of the city meant that schools had all the best and newest tech but gone were the loud and messy boisterous schools I had grown up with and the diverse student body I had witnessed throughout NYC.  We started to look into private schools which is crazy because that's why we left - to avoid doing that - only to realize one of the things we loved and missed from city life….you couldn’t wear your wealth on your sleeve. Basement apartment and no car? Could be a millionaire or not. Who knows! But in the burbs you were able to see the status on the cars, the size of the homes, and more. Yes, I know many urbanites rock a thousand dollar stroller and puffer coats that could pay for a months rent but hell - those ARE our cars.

We discovered that suburbs (even on the river) are not country...even with all that green. Had I had it to do over again maybe TRUE country with one foot not half in and half out of the city - I would’ve had the escape dream I so desired. But what I got was straight up burb life.

I drove everywhere and hated it. I stopped walking and bike riding except when we loaded them into the car for trail riding. Our NYC friendships suffered and we became "out of sight out of mind" for many. We also were all of a sudden surrounded by a lot of people who had never lived in an urban culture  and resented the gentrification, had values we didn't always share, and political views that made us uncomfortable. And while I value differing opinions and the neighborly conversations around them, I did not want my son being raised to think some of these views were ok - or worse yet - his parents’ views.

I missed strolling around in ripped jeans and tees and flip flops without getting looks from people. I missed all my coffee shop options and running into friends on a whim. I missed the balance of being a mom in her 30's with a job and a life and friends. I just couldn't get all three to work in synch in the burbs.

Not even this view and all this space could keep us away from city living

Not even this view and all this space could keep us away from city living

Even though we loved the house, the nature, the neighborhood kids, the downshift, we became suburbanites. Not that there's anything wrong with that but for us it wasn’t right.

All the farmers markets and patio cocktails and river views in the world couldn’t replace me losing my identity – and it took me losing it to realize how much urban living was a part of who I was as a human.

The reverse commute

Before my son started Kindergarten I made the VERY hard decision to move back and I've never looked back. Though I did learn a thing or two about what I needed to live in the city - mainly outdoor space and a diverse old-school style public school.

Fast forward to today, I hop in and out of my house all day with a flexible work schedule and meet friends for drinks. When I was still married we did this together. When I became single (conscious uncoupling not due to commute or moving! Don’t worry) I could date a bevy of available and interesting men. Found a keeper! I now make friends at the playground with strangers but gone is the small talk about our kids and being known only as “Hays’s mom.”

Moving back to Brooklyn put me with my people again. People raising kids in NYC stay for a reason. Maybe we came to dream up big possibilities, follow passions, build companies, make art or change the status quo. Somewhere along the way we had kids and for me that didn't change the other parts of me….in fact it made them better. When I left NY....somehow I lost that.

No massive backyard, BUT you can eat pizza out of a fire escape!

No massive backyard, BUT you can eat pizza out of a fire escape!

But what does my son think?

Kids are resilient and the move was not a big deal for him but I thought I’d go ahead and ask him if he likes living in Brooklyn (he’s in 2nd grade now) and here’s his list of favorites:

  • Saturday morning bacon egg and cheese from his favorite deli guy

  • Scooting and biking everywhere

  • Soccer with the best views in the world

  • Dinner at our favorite taco shop

  • Walking the dog and meeting the neighbors. He’s throwing a dog birthday party in Cobble Hill Park for a bunch of strangers at the end of the month.

  • The school “yard”

  • Walking to his dad’s house (5 blocks away)

  • The butcher who gives him a lollipop  and a bone for his dog

  • Wandering and running into people we know

  • Stoop sessions

Stoop hanging. Basically like cul-de-sac hang

Stoop hanging. Basically like cul-de-sac hang

So I’d say we are good. More than good.

I gave it a good college try. Now I’ll just stay in Brooklyn til he goes to college.

And then maybe try the country.

Who knows.