I love New York City. The museums, the restaurants, the theater, the boutiques. I love the idea of walking out my door and having everything I could possibly want or need within walking distance. I love the country too, but I always reserved communing with nature for weekend hiking trips or relaxing vacations.
Still, a few years ago my husband and I left the city to give country living a whirl. It was just an experiment. We kept our place in the city so we could hightail it back if things got ugly.
Soon after, I got pregnant, and friends and family nodded knowingly, "We knew that's why you left the city."
Were they out of their minds?
"We've got to get the hell out of here," we replied. "The country is no place to raise a kid!"
I didn't want to be stranded in the middle of EBF (that's short for "East Bum very bad word") with a baby. So we starting looking at real estate. We'd show up at open houses in the city, and the owners would invariably tell us they were moving because "The city is no place to raise a kid!"
Friends who had left the city with their kids trembled and spoke in hushed tones of drug paraphernalia in the park; the agony of carrying a stroller, grocery bags, and a kid or two up a 5-flight walk-up; people swearing loudly in the streets in front of delicate little ears; maneuvering the subway system; the nursery school application process; the big classrooms; the huge expense of city living.
I wasn't convinced. Clearly, they'd never heard of ticks.
A relative's city-dwelling 7-year-old daughter was shown the high-rise we were thinking of moving into. "Why?" she cried, appalled. "Why would they leave that beautiful place? Why would they leave Bambi?!" (She had been very taken with the deer in our yard.)
That got me thinking. So if my daughter had a choice ... but then I got distracted by a glass of wine, or something like that.
At the same time, a friend was raving about "Last Child in the Woods," a book by Richard Louv, which sets forth the theory of nature-deficit disorder and the impact too-little contact with nature has on kids. That made sense to me, but I knew that if we lived in the city, we'd spend more than our fair share of time in the country. We're very outdoorsy city types.
So we made a decision to ... do nothing. For the past two years, we've looked at apartments in the city; we've looked at houses in the country. We haven't committed to either place. And by "we," I mean me. My husband will live wherever I tell ask him to.
I've spent those years taking my daughter on daily hikes and walks by the river, where she sees deer and fox. As we walk, she mimics the sounds that different birds make. She runs her fingers over moss and thrusts her chubby hands in the muddy river. Her pockets are always filled with rocks. She chases rabbits around our yard. For two years in a row, she watched as a bird family made its nest on our porch; she saw the baby birds breaking out of their eggs and days later, learning how to fly. At night, she wishes on stars that shine brilliantly in the black velvet sky. She's seen the seasons change right in front of her eyes. She's happy.
I grumble about having no place to buy cool clothes or get my hair cut and colored. I haven't seen my friends in ages. There are no cafes, no bookstores, no theaters. I'm isolated; it's boring. There's nowhere to buy fish. Fish, for pete's sake!
My daughter has been to the city, and she always has loads of fun. She enjoys riding the train. She likes the museums, and she loves cafes (translation: croissants and hot chocolate!). After one tiring trip there, when we missed our train because it took thirty-seven days to walk six blocks (we identified every single object in every single window ... I didn't want to be a bad mom and discourage her "curiosity"), I realized my life in the city wouldn't be the swinging, carefree time it was pre-toddler.
Light dawns on marble head.
By God, I'm a mother! This whole country versus city thing isn't really about where I'll live, but how I live. When I yearn for the city, I'm yearning for my old life. But things are different now. Sure, I could pack up and move back, but I still wouldn't have time to shop leisurely in boutiques, get my hair colored the second the roots were showing, or spontaneously meet a friend for a drink. (But I'd probably be able to make fish for dinner.)
Yes, living in the city can be great; living in the country, too. It's living with a toddler that's hard.
Have you moved for your kids?