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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)

Whew! I just finished reading all the opinions!

Here's mine:

I was a bored, lonely teenager in small town and suburb America. I had to be driven to the mall, to a friend's house, to the movies.

Now I live in Canberra, the capital of Australia. I love the fact I can get on the bus and go anywhere, ANYTIME I want. I ADORE the fact we do not have to buy a car, spend money on petrol or insurance. I love that I can get a bus ticket to Sydney (about 2.5 hours North) for *$15.*

Last weekend my huz and I took the bus to the city centre, walked around the the lake, and the carillion. We saw people on bikes and these 4 wheel cart/bikes things with kids in the front. People were out walking their dogs, roller blading, mums pushing their prams. Later we took the bus to the art gallery and it was ALL FREE (except for the bus).

They have a theatre here that only shows OLD movies, and there is a film noir night! The War Memorial, the museums, the art galleries are free. I can pack my lunch, stroll through the National Art Gallery and then sit my arse down and feed the swans by the lake. I have been waiting for this type of CULTURE all my life.

I would stay in the city. I wish I'd lived here all my life.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterStephene
Without adding my own opinion at all, because I'm not you, I think that if you have a whole list of pros but the only thing on the con list is anywhere else is Not Here, you should move. It sounds like the only con is that you are nervous of the change (understandable - I'm change phobic myself).

I guess you need to ask yourself if your comfort zone is getting less comfortable and if so, find a new one, get all nervous, scared and anxious, get over it, and viola! New comfort zone!

Only because you asked!
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterEm
A small part of me died when I moved to the (relative) suburbs but every time I see the backyard and don't have to hear people above me and below me, I remember why I did it. Plus, it's not like you couldn't go into the city whenever you wanted.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterEFG
Hi Alice,

I feel your pain. We are in a similar predicament, having before us the opportunity of cashing in a less adequate, but extremely valuable, irreplaceable property for a grander place in a less desireable area.

Just remember, the grass is always greener... Where do suburban people go for fun, culture, sophistication, excitement? Compare the resources you have at hand: museums, parks, local shopping, an actual living, breathing neighborhood (yeah, so sometimes it could stand to brush more frequently or use a little mouthwash, but, still.) Even if you don't frequent museums or other cultural offerings of city life, you can bet you will see less of them once you move away. You will feel like a visitor when you return, no longer a resident. And the worst part is knowing that once you leave, you can never afford to go back. Can you accept that?

My MIL, a knowledgeable realtor, has advised us, "Get the best address you can afford, even if you have to live in the basement." Your property values will obviously always be higher in the city.

If your worried about your son missing out on a typical suburban-style childhood with the bikes and the barefeet, maybe you could wait until he actually voices some dissatisfaction with your surroundings. Believe me, living in a suburb today is no less dangerous than living downtown. He's not going to be running around carefree anywhere.

I've grown up and lived most my life in the suburbs. If I could afford a place in the city I'd be there. But like I said above, the grass is always greener... Good luck with your decision.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLynne
I love Brooklyn. My neighbor moved to the burbs to be near a family member who was widowed in the attacks. They still miss Brooklyn, even though they have tons of space, a backyard, etc. Their toddler daughter keeps asking when they are going home.

March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterYo No Se
I grew up in the suburbs and loved it until I became a teenager and realized how isolated I was, how much I wanted to be able to walk to a movie, donut shop, etc. But as a kid I didn't care, and loved being able to ride my bike for miles and miles and miles and lie in the grass and look at the clouds.

Husband grew up in NYC and got mugged for his lunch money every day. However, he's one tough motherfucker now. Life lessons and all that.

There are trade-offs.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. Kennedy
My husband's parents left NYC in the 70s for a small town in Bergen County (NJ). His cousins stayed in Manhattan (first Murray Hill then moved on up to the UES). 30 years later, it seems like his aunt and uncle made the "right" decision. Big-city upbringing vs. suburban-upbringing leads to very different outcomes, like you haven't already grasped that. (granted, a small sample group).We currently live in one of those towns in NJ (Union County) that families turn to after leaving NYC. It's a great place to raise a family....but, it's also got an overpriced housing market, a long waiting list for a parking permit at the train station and obnoxious suburbanites who think they're something because of the zipcode they live in. And that part about being 20 minutes from the Holland Tunnel? Yeah, not so much on a Saturday afternoon/evening.I don't envy your decision one bit. Let me know if you want my town information .... it's right up there w/the Montclairs, Millburns, Summits and Chathams.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteraf
Well I can't really comment on how "great" Brooklyn is because I live near Boston and well I hear there is some kind of rivalry between the two cities... :-)Anyways, I understand about not wanting to leave the city for reason of convenience and culture. BUT, there are two things to think about: your children and the type of suburb you choose. I think it woudl really benefit your son to have space to play in the backyard and to have a neighborhood. Before anyone gets defensive, I'm not saying it's impossible to raise a happy healthy kid in the city. However, I do think that there are definite benefits to raising kids in the 'burbs.There are so many different types of 'burbs. Some burbs are very close to an urban area and others are very rural. I live in a Boston 'burb and most things that I need are within walking distance. Of course I have a car and drive to work...although it would be possible to take the train. I think I have the best of both worlds because I have moderately sized house with a backyard and also all types of commerce surrounding me.I think if you spend some time really researching different areas you could find a 'burb that fit your needs.Good luck. (you'll need it)
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLizM
I am in the same boat re: the location question. I'm a renter in a great neighborhood in a great city (Chicago) that we can barely afford to rent a parking space in, let alone buy a two bedroom condo. Though public schools here have a bad rap, we have a good elementary school and high school nearby, and crime is not bad (and took a serious dive lately, with all the cops swarming the 'hood after the Lefkow murders down the street). But, real estate here has gone through the roof, and the condo conversions are making the neighborhood less diverse; more and more we are getting gourmet shops and fancy restaurants instead of stores that provide basic services--places where you can buy socks or a trash can. We are looking at a near west suburb that is also expensive (though less so than where we are now) but has a fantastic school system, a reputation for diversity, is next to the (underfunded and not so great) district my husband teaches in, and has CTA L stops (so I won't have to buy a car to get to work in the city). Though I know I will really miss the lake, the shorter commute, and the position of moral superiority (however false) one enjoys living in the city, if you look you may be able to find a suburb that has some of the advantages of city living like diversity and decent Ethiopian food, and is a place where, even if you have to pay through the nose, you'll be paying for good schools.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJ.
Here in MN the closer you live to the city the cheaper it is...unless of course you live in one of the "good" neighborhoods or with one of those coveted lakeview lots. I've never lived in the city, and commute from one suburb to another every day, so I can't speak to the difference in living; but I can tell you that there is a lot of fun to be had in the suburbs too.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterCursingMama
from one city dweller to another: don't do it! if you like living in brooklyn, you will not be happy in the suburbs. find a way to make it work for all of you or follow the advice of cecily, who beat me to it.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteresme
p.s. - i am speaking as someone who grew up (bored) in the suburbs and is married to someone whose parents moved the family out of manhattan to bergen co., for which he has never forgiven them:)
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteresme
I LOVED growing up in Bergen County. Granted, it was 25+ years ago, but at the time it was a wonderful place to be a kid. I had trees to climb and a safe street on which to ride my bike. But I also had all the benefits of the neighboring city, e.g. my ballet instructor performed with the Joffrey, my Girl Scout troop went skating at Rockefeller Center, and our class toured places like CBS studios on field trips.

As much as I enjoyed doing things in the city, what I remember most about those times is running around my backyard with my dog and having snowball fights with all the other kids in my neighborhood. (I can't speak to my parents' experience of moving from the city of Boston to the Jersey 'burbs, but I don't recall any cigarette-Play Doh pies, either, so I think they were OK.)
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterjen
Milburn is a great suggestion, to whomever made it way back up there. I have a number of friends who live there (and thereabouts) and it's got all that good stuff you mentioned.

I myself live in a more urbany suburb, and my parents live in a more exurbany suburb. So, Slippy and fam, if you ever need an overview tour of various suburbs and types thereof, shoot me an email and we'll do a Sunday drive. (If you want to throw in some excitement I also know where the Soprano's house is.)

One more note -- If you move to the suburbs your children will move to a city, at least and especially after college. This is the natural order of things. Sometime after college but before old age, they'll have to make the same decision you're making now.

So, for what it's worth, I'd discount all the "I moved to the city as soon as I could" comments. Of course you did. Everybody does. But not everyone stays.

March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterFrumDad
Have you considered an area like Riverdale? We can be in Times square in 30 minutes using the 1 and 9; we've got a deck and backyard, but can still walk to the corner for a quart of milk or to one of at least 15 nice restaurants. I know it's not exactly "hip," but it's a nice way to live.

Or how about Woodlawn . . . it's awesome there (although very hard to find a place because people tend there not to list things with realtors.)
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMari
I say stay.

I live in Jersey, about 1/2 hour away from Manhattan by train. My boyfriend's parents moved from Brooklyn when he was 3.

I can't tell you about LI, but if you're planning on moving to Jersey, and you work in NY, then you're going to have to pay 2 sets of taxes, and the suburbs around here are definitely soulless.

On the one hand, there are still the 24 hour Quickie-Marts for your favorite smokes and post-party burritos (but they don't sell beer). On the other hand, you would have to drive for everything. Oh, and GAWD help you if you move into a development. Want soulless? You got it there.

The housing prices aren't that great here either. Condos sell for just as much as houses. With property around it.

And if you think you'll get back to the city on a regular basis, you won't. It happens. I hear constantly how Andy's parents don't go into the city anymore (where relatives still reside) because it's just a pain in the ass.

As for the kids playing in the backyard and running all over Hell's Half-Acre and not coming in until dark, like when we were kids, it doesn't happen anymore. People are too scared of their kids getting snatched off the street, that there are no more kids playing in the streets.

After counting up all of the hands in my opinion, it comes down to this:

The reasons you want to stay are that you will miss intangible things that you won't be able to get in the suburbs (because people move to the suburbs to escape the things that you love). Henry will be happy wherever he grows up, and as far as I know, lots of children growing up in Brooklyn are well adjusted, and decently educated.

I also know that you must be happy where you live, otherwise it will be twice as hard (at least) to find peace in the other parts of your life. Yes, there are museums and plays and nightclubs in the suburbs, but let's be honest, they're nothing like what you get in the city.

Maybe when you two (and a half) get older, and want to slow down, and don't need the excitement, and bustle and feeling of aliveness surrounding you would you want to move to the 'burbs, but now, stay where you feel a sense of connectedness to your community.

(Listen to the king, but also never let him forget who handles the Bishop)

March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh
The 'burbs make me shiver. Have you seen "Edward Scissorhands"?
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterschmutzie
Boy, I wish I had an answer for you. I know that it's a tough choice.My husband and I moved to NYC 15+ years ago. We're in our 3rd apt, which is 2 blocks each from out 1st and 2nd apts (What can I say-we like the neighborhood-Morningside Heights!). And we would never leave. For some reason it just never came up for us. Our 6 yo daughter is in public school, which was a pain in the a** to find (we went out of district) but suits all of us. Now, had our housing situation been different EVERYTHING might have been different, but we own our own apt and it cost us very little. So that let us stay here. When we want suburbia we go vist our best friends in NJ!Good luck.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAbby
i guess it depends on which suburb you want to move to. i am a country girl at heart. living in a place where i am surrounded by trees and birds and grass and flowers and an ocean i can swim in does wonders for my life. i can't imagine not being able to get up and take a hike without having to plan it in advance. your kid(s) would really be the ones to benefit. they'll get to stay small and innocent a little bit longer, they'll have more freedom to play and explore, they'll have a backyard where they can build forts and burn ants with magnifying glasses.

of course this decision is up to you. the city has a lot to offer families as well. and, you are right about the burbs being so much less exciting and cultural. i guess my advice would be to follow your gut, only you and your hubby know what's best for you.

March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBrita
How about Rockland, NY? Nyack is nice. We live in New City, only because my parents gave us their house. If we were trying to buy now I would look into the Nyack area. It offers a nice downtown and you could find a great old victorian type house close to town. The commute over the TZ from Nyack is no worse then getting through one of the tunnels from Jersey. Come visit one weekend.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSTILLHEIDI
Delurking as well. We bought a rambling old house in South Orange and, as much as we dig the short commute and urban-suburban flavor of our town, owning a house, particularily an old "charming" house, is a full time job in itself. Feel free to email me about SO/Maplewood if you've got questions.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAmie
Good grief 121 comments; I guess we're never short on advice. Here's what I would do: make a list. Not a list of pros and cons, but a list of what matters most to you in a home/neighborhood. Resale value, school system, space, ambience, convenience, etc. Then sit down with Scott, and prioritize. It should make your decision for you. Wherever you go, I wish you happiness--even if you are an elitist bitch ;)
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSheryl
Can I say one more thing? I've never been farther north than Indianapolis and that was scary enough, but anyway. Every comedian I see on TV starts out with I'm from Brooklyn. Then they talk about their years in therapy.
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
When I have 27 extra hours, I will read through all of the other comments. Forgive me if I repeat anyone else's. You should keep your apartment in the city as a rental and use some of your equity as a down payment on a place in the 'burbs. Live there for a couple years. If you absolutely can't stand it, move back. You won't have lost your place in the city and you will probably have made a nice profit off of your house in the 'burbs. If you love the 'burbs, you can keep your place in the city as an income property or you can sell it and put the rest of the proceeds to your house in the 'burbs. Easy as pie. Why all the angst?
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPeeved Michelle
We live in Amherst, MA, and I have to say, I super dig it. We are about 3 hours from Manhattan, 1.5 from Boston or Hartford and New Haven. There is even a train to the city within walking distance from our house. We have a great little pocket of liberalism, thanks mostly to Smith, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, etc. all being within throwing distance of each other. It's pretty outrageously expensive, of course, but where isn't? And the outlying towns are much cheaper if a larger yard is a priority. I don't know if commuting is an issue, but if not, we love it here. We have the convenience of stuff to walk to and a downtown area without the crazies and traffic. Our one homeless guy is certifiable, but in a good way- he cleans up the sidewalks in between the impromptu chanting and kneeling down in the middle of the street. New England is so charming even our homeless are sweet. Can you stand it?

But, as everyone else has said, go with your gut. Good luck!
March 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commentertraci

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