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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Chicago Review Press

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

« The Verdict | Main | In which I don't bother coming up with a conclusion. »

I leave the tough decisions up to the Internet.

I can’t stop thinking about real estate, Internet. Specifically: should we stay in Brooklyn, or should we beat a shameful retreat to the suburbs? I need you to tell me.

We bought our two-bedroom apartment a few years back for a quarter and some old gum wrappers, and it is now worth billions. While this is lovely, it also means that if we hope to buy a larger space in our neighborhood—well, we can’t; it’s not even worth talking about. Our space is not quite large enough for us, and will definitely Not Work if we have another child (NO I’M NOT PREGNANT). With the crazy inflation of real estate prices in NYC, we will only be able to afford a lean-to on the banks of the Gowanus, and Henry and his imaginary sibling will develop extra limbs from all the fumes coming off of the fetid waters. So that’s probably not the best option.

So it comes down to this: either we stay in our place, which in addition to being on the small side is dark and loud (we’re on the first floor on a main avenue—in the summer people walk up to our window and ask for money. We’re like an ATM! An ATM for crazies!), or we move to an As Yet Unnamed Suburb. We’ve found a couple of areas that seem to suit our needs: we could probably afford a smallish house in one of these towns, which are close to the city and artsy/liberal. However (need I add this?) they’re Not Brooklyn. We would not have the library, the museum, the park, and the Botanic Garden all within a few blocks of our home. We would have to own a car (gasp!). On the other hand, we would have a backyard. And a decent school district. And amenities within walking distance. On the other hand I will be dead inside (probably). My youth gone, I will spend the days watching soaps and drinking Chardonnay; when Husband arrives from the city I will greet him at the door with pies made of Play-Doh and cigarette butts. Isn’t this what you suburban types do? Yes?

In a nutshell, I am driving myself bonkers. One moment I think I can never leave Brooklyn how could I even think such a thing and then in the next moment I’m dreamily picturing mornings with Henry and Scott in a sunny breakfast nook instead of our dank living room/dining room/kitchen that is periodically infested with vermin. I would give up a lot to never have to worry again about stepping on a waterbug on my way to the bathroom. And don’t try to tell me about the cicadas or grasshoppers or whatnot you have in the suburbs--they are not the same thing.

Basically what it comes down to is there are many pros to moving, and one big con: we wouldn’t live here anymore. We feel superior to you non-Brooklyn people. Now you know.

Opinions. Yours. Let me have them.

EDITED TO ADD: Before I get more defensive comments: do I really have to say that I'm being facetious when I say I feel superior? Do I have to say that? I guess I have to say that. Sigh.

Reader Comments (203)

Alice I love you. In a good way. That doesn't involve body fluids, but instead admiration.

I posted on our move yesterday, and a couple of others have done the same thing in the last week. It must be contagious.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLisa V
Another de-lurker, popping in to say: my husband, two kids, and I moved out of Manhattan to Queens (near the border with Nassau County, so definitely suburban) nine long years ago, and just recently moved back to Manhattan. Moving back to the city felt like coming home, like returning from exile.

We also could not afford to buy here, so we're renting. It may not be the wisest decision financially, but whatever -- I plan never to move away again.

When we moved to Queens, our kids were two- and five-years old, so I know about raising little kids in the city. I don't know about Brooklyn, but there is SO MUCH to do with kids in Manhattan. There are parks and playgrounds all over the place. (We were on the UWS, near Riverside Park and not that far from Central Park, so we were lucky that way. We used to go "playground hopping" in Central Park.) And then there are all the things you won't find in the suburbs, like museums and shows. Sure you could come into the city, but the logistics of that with little kids is . . . a drag.

It sounds as if you love Brooklyn as much as I love Manhattan, so my vote is: don't go! But I read all these posts from people who love the suburbs, and they do make it sound nice. It's a tough decision. But for me, those years out in far eastern Queens (the suburban part) feel a little like lost time. If I had to do it over, we never would have left the city.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith
You are having a problem? Here's the solution:

Milford, CT

You will live happily ever after.

Pittsboro, NC would welcome you also.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAunt Gail
Shockingly, I have no good assvice to offer. Only commisseration - of sorts. See, I live in the country (the REAL country, on a farm ... can you tell I feel superior, lol?) and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

To me, the thought of moving to the 'burbs is terrifying. Stepford Wives! An SUV in every drive! No clothes lines! Uniform postboxes! Kerry signs! (whoops ... promised myself I wouldn't go there ;) )

You get my drift. I'd be so unhappy living with my neighbour's homes looming around me, where they could see in my windows, check out the contents of my garage every time I got my car out. I'd hate their kids new go-karts on xmas morning and their dog shit on my yard.

If I was forced to move to A City I'd probably simply expire during a mysanthropic siezure.

What the Blue Fuck does this have to do with you, you ask? Well, just that I understand. I'd stay put. It's very clear that you're a city dweller. You sincerely love it. Water bugs and crazies are REALLY no more upsetting to you than fire ants and redneck fire works are to me. Just small stuff. 'Cause you really love where you live. You'd be no happier in the burbs than I.

HTH and good luck!

-Blue /
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenter-Blue
Delurking for the first time because I think this is such an interesting topic.

I've lived in the center of major cities and in the suburbs. My husband grew up in the country. After evaluating our experiences we decided on the suburbs for our family.

Our suburb is a small city with a downtown that we walk to. It's probably best described as an urban suburb. If we want to go to the city, we can walk to public transit to get us there. We live across the street from a huge park and have a dog and three cats. My son will attend the Spanish immersion program at the local public school so he'll learn Spanish fluently. We walk to the grocery, to the farmer's market, to the library, to the park, to go out to eat, to bars, etc., so I feel that my son will get one of the best parts of living in a city: its walkability. Well, maybe not the bar part. But the rest.

I know nothing about NYC, but here in the San Francisco Bay, my husband and I found the suburbs more diverse and interesting than the city. Due to the expense of living there, the city is increasingly populated solely by homogenous, terribly chic, and ethnically bland twenty-something yuppies with no families of their own. Maybe you will find that you don't have as much reason to be superior as you think? Certainly that's what we found. I'm embarrased to admit how wrong we were.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentertransmogriflaw
Montclair, right? It's gotta be. I worked there for a while and LOVED it. It's got some nice downtown bustle, some wacky unpredictable folks, some public transportation and lots of lefties. What's not to love?
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermc
I too live in Brooklyn and have struggled with the same dilemma. Our solution is to make a temporary foray into the 'burbs--subletting our apartment in the city and renting for 6-12 months. My fear--if we sold out now and moved whole cloth to the suburbs--is that we would hate it, prices in Brooklyn would have continued to climb and that we couldn't afford to return at all. I think too that the only way I can even contemplate a move is by comforting myself with an escape hatch.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterUnion Mom
Hey Alice,

You rock! I lurk!!

We just moved from the suburbs to the city. We pay double (!!!) to live in a 2 b/r condo in a funky area of the city with parks/museums/kids classes etc etc within minutes of my door step. On the con side, her wheelie tricycle has taken my living room hostage, my postage stamp patio is full of her crap - and I heard it only gets worse as she gets older.

We moved from a 5 b/r 3bath house which was a bitch to keep clean but the plus side was kicking her butt out the door to play in a safe fenced backyard....and babysitters galore on the block who LOVED her and considered it pure joy to take her out and REFUSED to be paid!!

BUT on the other hand, in my single days I lived in Brooklyn and (apart from falling in love and moving back to Canada) I would never consider moving from the greatest place on earth!! "An ATM for the crazies" - that's gonna be the title of Henry's autobiography
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth
stay as close to the city as possible. before we moved to baltimore i spent a season in hell (well, two years) living in the DC netherburbs and was absolutely miserable. the community you live in matters enormously; go for liberal/artsy no matter what, even if it means living in a smaller place than you could afford in a more provincial burb. you don't want to find yourself suddenly wearing anne klein and drinking white wine spritzers or anything, if you know what i mean.

my humble opinion, but space is good. light is good. green, leafy things are good. 2cents.

March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersweetney
That Aunt Gail,SHE said it,I didn't......However, while we're on the subject,please consider only "burbs' within a reasonable commuting distance for "The Deetz" a/k/a The Mother-in-Law. Grumps and I PROMISE not to throw pebbles at your windows first thing Sunday mornings, just because we want to see The Boy!!
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDeetz & Co.
I am living proof that you will NOT, necessarily, love wherever you live. Grew up in 'burbs, was miserable, fled to NYC three seconds after graduating high school. Moved to LA a few years later and would have stayed forever has spouse not gotten what seemed like a great job offer in a small town. It's an artsy, liberal, college-containing small town, so we figured it'd be cool.

That was four years ago. It's hard to describe how bad a choice this was - and now we can't get back out! I have made not one friend - and maybe you're thinking, well clearly she's an antisocial loser, but I've always been the kind of person who can go to a new city for the weekend and meet four or five people I stay in touch with forever. I miss things it never would have occurred to me I even liked. I watch TV every night (it only came on about twice a week when I had a life). There's just nothing to do after the first few months.

Of course, this is a far cry from anything that could be considered a suburb of NYC, so my experience may be totally irrelevant - but I tend to think that if being a city person seems like a big part of who you are, you really, really need to stay in the city. If I'm ever lucky enough to get back to ANY real city, they'll have to bodily drag me away.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermercybuttercup
Read your update, and want to clarify, this being my first time commenting and all:

I DID feel superior as a hip city dweller. I wasn't facetious at all. I totally fell for the suburbs are bland, boring thing. And OMG I am so embarrassed now to recall some of the things I believed. At least I managed to not spout off too much.

No place is perfect. IMHO you'd do well no matter where you lived.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentertransmogriflaw
You may never get to this post with so many good ones ahead of me, but here's my little aside. I grew up in I guess the country. My public school bus let me off at the end of my road--it had no place to turn around further up the line. There was a soybean field across from my house which became 36 houses when I got into high school. It was like having your toes stepped on. I got married to a Yankee from Louisville and he took me away from all that to live in the East End (ooh la la)and fix up our little house. It's part of a subdv. built to house the 1940's servants of the big houses up the street. I get a kick from seeing their snowless SUV's turning in front of this row of little single story starter homes. Reverse superiority? Fox and grapes? Who knows--when we get in from our commutes and we lock the door behind us and the digital TV comes on and the microwave starts supper, I am glad I am not back in that little town with Waltons reruns and the cup of bacon fat on the stove.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
You may never get to this post with so many good ones ahead of me, but here's my little aside. I grew up in I guess the country. My public school bus let me off at the end of my road--it had no place to turn around further up the line. There was a soybean field across from my house which became 36 houses when I got into high school. It was like having your toes stepped on. I got married to a Yankee from Louisville and he took me away from all that to live in the East End (ooh la la)and fix up our little house. It's part of a subdv. built to house the 1940's servants of the big houses up the street. I get a kick from seeing their snowless SUV's turning in front of this row of little single story starter homes. Reverse superiority? Fox and grapes? Who knows--when we get in from our commutes and we lock the door behind us and the digital TV comes on and the microwave starts supper, I am glad I am not back in that little town with Waltons reruns and the cup of bacon fat on the stove.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I've read all of the responses and feel some sort of crazy need to add yet another one. I grew up in the suburbs, moved to the country after college; moved to the city after 8 years of the country and back to the country after 3 years of the city. In my opinion, the suburbs are a fantastic place to be a child. Don't know how they are for adults; I never was one there. But for a child under 14 say, the suburbs are great. Lots of kids to play with right there within walking distance. Outdoors. Maybe even on the street or at least in the backyards. Lots of families in general having their neighbors over for a cookout or what have you. Maybe this has changed since I was a kid, but we had serious freedom. We would be outside, unsupervised for hours, just being kids. All the parents knew each other so we would be in and out of each others houses and our parents knew we were taken care of. It's a great life for a kid. After 13 or 14 however, the suburbs suck bigtime. And as for you and your husband, you might be surprised by the people you find. And you might make it a point to find a house with a small grocery down the street. They do exist, even in the suburbs.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersimplegirl
Forgot to get a dig in there using the word "McMansions." God I hate them. 400 identical houses with identical landscaping and street names like "Windswept Hilltop Covered in Live Oaks and Sugar Maples." Until they chopped em for hard wood flooring by the foot in front of the mini bar. Grr.I'll add a smiley so you know I'm not mean, just up late with mouth pain.:)
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
I feel your dilemma...I lived it. We were living in London (England) AND there were no ATM machines at the time AND we lived on the third floor of a rowhouse which meant that instead of shooing crazy people away, we just lived above crazy people. Then we moved to Lymington and I truly felt that I could breathe again. Many moves followed but from my grandmotherly perch I will offer you some advice. There are cool people everywhere...I swear, they pop up in the most unexpected of places, but you have to be proactive and find them. They are there. There will be even more smart, interesting people around if you buy a house in or close to a university. There also will be better public schools and better, cheaper restaurants.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLinda
Friends. Stay where you have the most friends. Backyards are great!

But maybe you are the type who makes friends with strangers. If so, ignore that advice.

Yowza. Would you look at all the advice?
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSuper Turtle Girl
My parents moved to the burbs from a small, dark, rent-controlled apartment on West End Avenue, when I was 5. They did it for the usual reasons: schools, yards, trees, space. It was a "good" suburb in Bergen County, unusually walkable, racially diverse, with frequent buses to the city.

I hated it. I only recently (sort of) forgave them. That apartment they left? Still rent-controlled. I? grew up a suburban kid, couldn't hack it in the city when I tried to live there after college, moved to Seattle, am here forever now and miss NY perpetually.

Everyone's experience is different, but based on mine, I say, stay. You won't get that steeped-in-humanity feeling anywhere else. And it's just as likely to be better for your kid(s) to grow up in the city as to leave it.

Also-- the suburbs may or may not be a great experience for (some) kids, but my experience and observation is that NYC is much better for adolescents-- they have more autonomy and a richer environment, and don't have to depend on a driver's license or parental chauffeurs to get where they want to go. I felt miserably trapped in the suburbs as a teenager.

(But all that said, if the bugs etc. are making you nuts, of course try somewhere else. Could you rent out your place and try NJ for a year?)
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterelswhere
Well, I have not sold my soul, I live in a trendy part of a city (not a city as trendy as NY) and have not moved to the suburbs. I sneer at my suburban friends. But just now I am looking for a school for my daughter and, um, I must say, I'm beginning to wish we lived in the suburbs. I'm not sure my child is tough enough to survive our local schools. So I have a dilemma here - say is the internet any good at resolving these things?
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAnne
I think you already have a sense of pretty much everything you've read in all the comments you've received. No new news there. I think probably you wish to remain in the city for yourself, but you feel moving out of it would be best for your child (and in future, perhaps children). I'm a firm believer in "if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." So on what do you place your happiness, if you had to distill it down to, say, 10 things?... 2 things? 1 thing? (or person) There's your answer.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJulieT.
Don't I always hike down to see you when I am visiting? I turn my back for two seconds and you threaten to move. For the love of all that is holy, stay in Brooklyn. You can home school Henry and have bunkbeds. You've experienced the suburbs already and once was plenty. David Lynch knows, the suburbs are scary. Full stop.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterIrene
Being a former Jersey Girl who moved south, it sounds that you are looking in the right areas of NJ.

Besides, if you move to NJ, think of all the good material you would have!

March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterkelly
Why do I feel compelled to de-lurk and add a comment? I just don't know. I grew up in northern MN, in what couldn't really be called a suburb, but not really a rural area either. Suffice it to say we were way out there. My husband & I moved to Cambridge MA for grad school for him, and now we live in a 400sq ft apt in the middle of an urban center. We're constantly torn with the question of where should we live when he finishes school & gets a real job. While I really miss having a yard and puppies and not sharing any walls of my residence with strangers next to or below me, I really like being close to everything and, interestingly, getting take-out burritos from the same place three nights a week.

The completely unsatisfying conclusion is that we will be crabby and miss whatever we don't have - if we moved to the burbs, we'd grumble about driving everywhere and how we have to mow the lawn all the damn time. If we stayed in the city, I'd bitch about not having a puppy and how all of our storage is wedged in giant boxes under the bed. The grass will always be greener - in the short term. I'm sure you'll thrive with whichever decision you make.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterGretchen
There once was a nice young couple who had lived in the city since before their five-year-old son was born. One day, they decided to move their family to the suburbs, and started looking at houses in earnest. After several disappointing weeks, they finally stumbled across a lovely four-bedroom colonial with a huge backyard and a tire swing hanging from a 100-year-old oak tree.

“What do you think?” they asked their son excitedly. “Should we buy it?”

“Sure,” he replied. “But how will we get it home?”

(I can't remember where I heard this story, but it sure sums up my vote nicely.)
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterdeborah

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