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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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Let's Panic

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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. → 

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Questions, questions.

How can you tell if a place just isn’t right for you?

When do you decide you’ve had enough?

At what point do you tell yourself, I’ve given this a fair shake, and I don’t like it, and at least now I know?

We don’t like it here. We just don’t. It’s not the house. We love the house. It’s everything else.

We’re terrible homeowners. The constant deterioration of one’s home and the resulting need for regular maintenance fills us with panic. We resent the weekends being used up by trips to Home Depot or the nursery.

We’re farther from both our families. Our days of getting free babysitting from the grandparents are over. Henry misses them.

I never realized how much I would hate not being able to walk to something.

There’s so much else. But in the end what it comes down to is: it’s not Brooklyn. Which I knew, moving in! Didn’t I know that? Why am I so surprised? I suppose because I lived in the suburbs growing up, and thought I knew what I was getting myself into.

We’re thinking of returning to Brooklyn and renting. Finding a place we can afford in a good school district may actually be impossible for us, but we’re looking into it.

I feel like a failure. We will undoubtedly take a loss on this place. All I can think is, why did we move? Why did we listen to everyone else telling us we had to leave the city, and not to ourselves?

Or are we being premature? Should we tough it out? When do you really know something isn’t right?

Reader Comments (160)

This is the first time I've read almost every commenter, to see what the group opinion was (a la Malcolm Gladwell.)

Totally across the board and completely unhelpful.

I do think there is something to listening to your gut. Apparently - and I read this somewhere too - probably the other Gladwell book - the more you think about things the worse decision you make.

But that's just for the "where to live" question. The logistics of it - renting out your house v. selling, if you move back - probably can stand more analysis.

Personally, I do think it takes about a year to really know. You're just at the stage where all the work of moving is over and now you have the time to look around and say - so, we live here? What's here?

August 7, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKrisco
Alice, just a different perspective: Economically, winging it out for a year and then - if you still don't like NJ - selling the house is not a good idea, in terms of housing market forecasts for the next two years. If you are looking to sell, you should do it soon before the slowdown really begins to take the toll on real estate prices. Of course, numbers don't belong here but Roubini, deLong etc. give a decent analysis of this on their weblogs.

Whatever you decide, good luck and don't beat yourself up about a possibly bad decision...we've all been there.

Love your blog.

August 8, 2006 | Unregistered Commenternat
I moved to Germany a few years ago knowing no one except the lady I found online to rent a room from. I'd been wanting to for a while, so my brain wanted to love it, and I did -- though it was pretty lonely at first. It didn't feel homey to me until about 8 months later when I got a job in an English-speaking company and really started to make friends.

About a year ago I moved to England knowing no one but my boyfriend. I'm sort of working but sort of not, and the uncertainty has put a huge strain on my psychological resources, and tremendously hampered my ability to relax and make friends.

I really miss home. I miss my family and my friends, and I miss being able to choose NOT to go to a cookout on the weekends.

I'm beginning to realize that a place is just a place, and that your life absolutely depends on the people around you. Are your neighbors all Twilight Zoney, chirpy, lame-o's? Are there a few gems? It takes me a long time to make friends even under the best of circumstances.

If you're serious about getting back to the city, then don't second-guess it. I don't remember: is Henry at school-age yet? The school year is about to begin. Why not let him have a full year in the burbs, and you can consider the place a bit longer and decide in Spring whether to make the move or not. But if you try to move NOW in order to get Henry back to the city for the start of the school year, you'll just double your moving stress.

And if he's not school age, then forget all that. :)

Please accept my biggest warm wishes for a minimally stressful resolution! It sucks when you feel like you can't relax in the place where you live. Time really does help, but people help more, and sometimes it's just wrong no matter how good everything should be.

Isn't that helpful? Same wishy-washy as everyone else!

Good luck!
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkatie

I tend toward the listen to your gut side on most things in life. But, having just moved into our first house, the money thing is something to consider well and plan for. At the end of the day, you don't have to stay there. But if I were your mom I would tell you to give it a year, reap the tax benefits of homeownership next spring, and plan for a move back to Brooklyn for when Henry is starting school (is that now or a year from now?). Another option to consider is renting your home out. I don't know how you feel about becoming a landlord, but maybe that would kill two birds with one stone and allow you to rent in a good school district in Brooklyn?

If you know in your heart that Brooklyn is for you and you make the decision to do it you are not a failure. Life is too short.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHeather
That's a tough one. It's still pretty new and you may settle into it, but that's not guaranteed. Whatever makes you all the most happy, I guess, is what you should do.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJessie
One of my gurus said the other day: you don't honor a commitment by sticking with it come hell or high water until you die. You honor a commitment by examining it periodically and re-evaluating your relationship to it.

(Come on home. We miss you.)

Your former neighbor
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWeeze
When I started college in a place 10 hours from my hometown, I hated it. Hated the people, hated the weather, hated everything. I told my parents at Thanksgiving that I wanted to transfer, and my mom flat out called me a quitter. She told me 4 months was not long enough to really know a place. So I stayed. And she was right. I cried the entire 10 hour drive home for the summer because I didn't want to leave.

That said, you might just need a little more time to adjust. Whats a few more months in the whole scheme of things?

Best of luck in whatever you choose!

August 8, 2006 | Unregistered Commentercassie
It may take a little while to find a new place that you both love in Brooklyn and to get a buyer for your home now which you can hopefully get a little more for then you paid considering the work you have done on it. I'm sure by time those things fall into place you will feel certain of what to do. It will either feel right or it won't. I think you already know what you should do and what you want. Good luck, Alice! I hope things work out.

Just don't move to the Poconos. A lot of people from the city move here to get away and I know for a fact all their kids hate it here.

P.S. - This is completely unrelated, but I saw some picture of you at BlogHer and your hair looks fabulous. If I could pull it off I would get it myself.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSparklieSunShine
Life is way too short to spend time in a place that you dislike.

It's not giving up, it's doing what you know to be right.

Best of luck! :)
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAshley
As a lifelong suburb dweller, I can't imagine giving up the burbs for the big city. It's all in what you are used to. That said, I think you should at least give yourself through the holidays before you decide. Yard work grates on those of us who are used to it too, but this great thing happens in the fall. You get to stop giving a crap. Your yard can look like hell and it is okay. Sure, you might have to rake, but that is not an every weekend proposition. You get this feeling of peace when the days get shorter, the pool is closed, and there's no more weeding to do. And then the snow falls, and it is beautiful, and unlike the city, it can actually stay that way. You'll have this whole beautiful new canvas in your yard where Henry can play and make snowmen. Maybe you even have room in your new house to host big holiday dinners, have a big Christmas tree (if you're into that), and places to stash gifts without being seen. And, bonus - when it gets all cold and wet and gross out, you will like not having to walk everywhere. It might take a little getting used to driving in bad weather, but a warm car will feel pretty nice on a crappy sleety day.

And then maybe, just maybe, next year you will look forward to spring, and maybe even get excited to get out into the yard, and appreciate that beauty all over again.

So, there ya go, maybe at least a few actual items you could put on the pro list for staying there.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer A
We moved from Florida to Houston in October, and we're just now feeling like we're 'home.' When you love a place, it takes a while to get over leaving it.

I'd give it a few more months, and if you still don't feel settled, try renting out your house. Depending on the market there, you might make enough on rent to not only cover the mortgage but also pay a property manager to take care of the landlord duties.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh
I spent most of my childhood moving from country to country, and just over a year ago moved back to the UK after being away for decades. I always tell anyone going anywhere new that they should expect to hate it for the first year - we always hated the new place for at least that long.

What I do is look at the reasons I'm unhappy and whether they are things that can be changed - for example, I'm unhappy when I don't know how things are done in the new environment, or even stupid stuff like where to shop or what buses/trains I need to know about or the fact I have to walk everywhere in London (because driving here is the quickest way to a heartattack from the stress).

As long as it's the small things making me unhappy, that's fine because I know over time they will disappear. If it's the big things, it's time to move on/back.

August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLondonMisfit
Oh Alice, sweet Alice. I can so feel your pain! I personally would never want to live in New Jersey and your gut does indeed seem to be telling you to run back to Brooklyn. However, I will say that I do agree with the others who suggest riding it out a bit. My advice in this area is merely practical. I don't wish for you to "take a bath" and my hope is that after several more months you may find that it might be OK to stay for 3 more years so the financial hit isn't so ghastly.

When we first moved to Evanston, IL (suburb of Chicago) from Manhattan I freaked out about homeownership. We went from a 550 square foot apartment in a doorman building to a 4 story Victorian farmhouse. I was so overwhelmed by all that needed to be done to the house to make it mine and to make it look "right" and now I realize, for it to be "perfect". The feeling was like being on this crazy roller coaster with images of Martha Stewart shaking her finger at me whizzing by. It was exhausting. And HOUSEWIFE took on a whole new meaning. I was bitter and annoyed that I was responsible for the upkeep of this beast and so crazy all the time about it. And then I just shrugged my shoulders one day and realized that it will indeed take YEARS to get done all I want done. And it's presentable and clean now and totally liveable. And so what that I still have crappy furniture from Ikea. Slowly but surely we'll get window treatments and rugs and real furniture. For now I love living outside of the city, I love driving now, love that I can scoot into Chicgao when I want but can leave it behind and go home to my yard with bunnies and fireflies and little bluebirds that circle over my head while I sing.

But my neighbor who just moved from her city pad in Chicago which is literally 20 minutes away in traffic, finds our little town sterile and creepy and hates it. Just hates it. I can't even imagine her point of view because for me it is such paradise. I'll let you know over time if she hates it as much in a few months. I hope she doesn't. I hope she learns to love it. I hope that for you too.

But I would in NO WAY judge you if you decided to leave tomorrow. I understand that panic attack feeling and the shoe not fitting. I mean, if New Jersey were a boyfriend - would you stay with him even though he smelled a little funny and his idea of a big adventure is a yearly trip to the city to eat at the ESPN Zone in Times Square? Tough call Alice, tough call.....

Vacation in Brooklyn and get in touch with all those things you really miss and those things you've forgotten that made you want to leave in the first place. Good luck!
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEmi
I am a longtime lurker who has an opinion just like everyone else. And you know what they say about opinions, so take it with a grain of salt. We recently suburbanized, and have been here about a year. I HATED it for the first 8 months, it has since gotten a little bit easier. You also have many other things in your plate right now, so my only advice is to really make sure that if you make the decision to go back it is for the right reasons and not based on trying to undo what has been going on in your life. Take it one day at a time Alice. Enjoy what you have right in your own back yard. The constant house stuff does let up after a while. It just takes time. Most importantly follow your heart as cliche as it sounds :)
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJanice
It definitely took me at least a year to get used to a new home. I moved from NJ to IN, then IN to NYC, then NYC back to IN and I'm still sad sometimes and miss the city, and the east. I have a friend who is from Brooklyn (really, I swear!) and she moved to Ireland for finishing school when she was a teen, and met her now husband. They're married now, for like 22 years or something and she still lives in Ireland. She said to me one time, "I don't love living in Ireland all the time, I miss Brooklyn. But my husband and children live here". And that's how I feel about Indiana, a lot of the time. I say give it a year.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne
You shouldn't LIVE somewhere you HATE. You could work a job you hate. You could eat a meal you hate. But when you come home at night, that should be a place that gives you comfort. You should be able to leave all the days worries and frustrations at the door and just be...home.

August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJamie D.
It will take you longer than another month to find an apartment in a good school district in NYC, so you'll be in New Jersey longer than three months regardless.

We bought This Old House five years ago, and even though I love it, I'll be shocked if we make any money on it. Life is not always about coming out on top financially. My beloved is earning 1/3 of his former salary to try to become a self-made man. It's been rough financially, but it's worth it to him to be autonomous, and I'd rather have him happy than extra money in the bank.

After making some major financial BAD MISTAKES, I think the money, it sort of just grows back. You eventually dig out. It's much harder to dig out of the emotional stuff. It was hard to come up with the money for graduate school. It was hard to come up with the money for the wedding on the beach. It was hard to come up with the money for my husband's new job. It will be hard to come up with the money for another child, if we ever have one, or for me to cut back on work, like I will do, dammit, as soon as my beloved is settled in his job - but I think you have to base your plans on what you want out of life, not on what you "should" do.

Get out those want ads RIGHT NOW.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDorothy
I didn't read all the other comments (the comments! many!) but I think you seem to know yourself pretty well. And if it feels wrong, it is wrong. When I was 21 I moved across the country, was there for 9 months and then turned around, and came back. All because it felt wrong. It was one of the hardest things I have done but also one of the smartest.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEm
Personally, I've never "settled in" to a place in less than a year... in fact, it's always been a total year, give or take a couple of weeks.

If you still hate it in a year, definately move. But I would encourage to to try to tough out the year.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterwookie
My favourite comment on here was one line - Almost anything can be undone.

Sometimes you do just know. I think you really know it when you've thought about it for a whole month non-stop, looking at all the possible angles, have almost convinced yourself that your initial feeling was wrong, then bang, you wake up one morning, feeling pretty good, but knowing and feeling exactly what you felt at the very beginning.

Saying that, I would probably wait another six months before making any big decisions. And I mean wait, not sitting out the six months like purgatory, focused on the end of it, but letting little things slide, living the suburban life and seeing how well or how badly it fits you when the extraneous stuff like home repairs and homesickness wear off.

Alice, you know best.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
For me, it always takes over a year to start to adjust to anything new. I don't know what that means for you but adjustment to new places often takes a lot of time.

Just wanted to say I'm sorry that you aren't happy there and that you have this dilemma. I wish it had been a great change for you and for Henry. I totally understand the allure of the suburbs and you don't have anything to regret in the way you thought about it. You couldn't have known.

I also regret buying a house--for different reasons than yours it's a thorn in my side. And I'm not sure what to do either.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterozma
Been there, done that...We are from IN and moved to NC back in Jan 1999. After we had our son in Dec. 2001, we decided to move back to IN to be near family. We lasted 11 months (long enough to get pregnant and have drama queen). We knew it wasn't right for us while we were renting and having a house built. We kept saying, after we are in our house, we will feel different.

But we didn't and we moved back to NC when drama queen was 4 weeks old. I have never regretted it. I just wish my family was closer or could visit more often.

So, the short of it. You will know. If you both feel the same way, do what you need to make it right. And, it's ok to take a loss on the house. We did. It's only money. Your happiness, and your entire families happiness, are worth way more.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMary
I've left a comment to this effect on more than one post of a parent worrying about new york city schools... so maybe you've read it before. but I just want to reassure you that, from this teacher's point of view at least, it's totally possible to get a wonderful (and wonderfully unconventional, if you like) education for your kid in the nyc public schools. it'll take a fair bit of effort, but I think it's worth it to get the schools you want in the city you love. (if you decide to be in the city, of course.)

also, there are some people who just need to be in the city. I don't know if you are one of them. if the suburbs seem like something you like in theory, maybe it's worth sticking it out for a year.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterrabi
Alice, we're doing the EXACT SAME THING. Selling at a loss and renting in the city. Trust your gut. I'm a city girl. There's nothing wrong with that.

So are you.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLena
Living in a place where Henry can have a close relationship with his grandparents is worth a good bit of $$. A house is a house, but grandparents are irreplaceable. I'd move back to Brooklyn for that reason alone.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRobyn

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