I have a lot of parent friends who are making their way out of the city in favor of greener or more suburban pastures, and I get it. Though it’s possible to live in a borough of my city, New York, for a somewhat affordable amount of money, you don’t get nearly as much space as you would outside the city, for even less money.
Living in a city can be inconvenient. If you, say, have a car and like to park your car in the same spot every day, or if you don’t like to lug your groceries on the bus, or if you don’t want to think too hard about what school your kid is going to attend and whether you are zoned for it, or whether you need to move ASAP, or if you’d rather deal with rush hour behind the wheel and not in a subway car.
When you stack it up, living in the city with kids is a slog for most of us. So why do we do it?
I do it, in part, because basements and spare rooms scare the crap out of me. Look, I know I’m in the minority, but hear me out. It’s not a monsters-under-the-bed kind of fear – although when push comes to shove and I’m by myself in a large home… yeah, I can be convinced that there are otherworldly creatures lurking under bed frames and around corners. Really, though, for me it’s more of a how-do-I-fill-the-abyss thing.
I’ve written before about how I’m not so into saving stuff, so I’ve always considered small, efficiently laid out apartments to be dream living spaces. In my current apartment, there is a place for for all that I need but no more.
A house, however, demands more. You must furnish all the rooms, even the ones you hardly spend any time in, and if you’ve got a basement, a garage, an attic, then by god, you better have a bunch of boxes ready to store that you won’t look at for years, even decades.
Also, I like chasing my kid around city streets, those precarious, sometimes icy, sometimes crowded, never dull city streets. But chasing my kid around a house, through the basement and the spare rooms and the hallways, all those hallways?
On city streets, you can employ a stroller, a baby carrier, whatever, and nothing needs to be cleaned up because nothing gets rifled with or taken out in the first place. There are store windows to peer into instead of cupboards to deconstruct, and trees to stare up at instead of curtains to yank down. Managing my children in a small corner of a larger metropolis is the only way that makes sense to my compact sensibilities.
You parents who can confidently occupy a dwelling that has more than three closets and any number of sets of stairs have my respect and awe. I don’t know how you do it, how you know where everything is and where it will go? Why would you want to know such things?
How do you not feel like a child yourself wandering through an oversized Wonderland on a day to day basis? How do you vacuum that many rooms? I can hardly get it together to vacuum monthly and I live in the kind of place where if I stand in a certain spot, I can see every room.
To be fair, I grew up in a big house three and a half hours from where I live now in Brooklyn, and I loved it. My sister and I spent many an evening marching an army of Barbies around a massive basement made up of several rooms, only one of which was under-lit and terrifying.
Sometimes on Sundays, we used our dad’s Camcorder to film short experimental plays and dreadful infomercials about Tupperware in a pristine and rarely occupied living room and dining room. We ran barefoot around a backyard with swings and a hammock and easy access to all our neighbors’ yards.
I had a blast, I realize now because I wasn’t responsible for taking care of a slip of it. I could chuck handfuls of Barbie dolls into a bin at the end of the night, but I never had to scrape up the centipedes that gathered like a garnish around the perimeter of the basement carpet. I probably will never have to do that.
Maybe I will. Maybe one day, I’ll wake up, climb out of bed and immediately slam my foot against the dresser that stands just a few inches away. Maybe, the stub will be the final straw that ejects my little family from our Marie Kondo-approved urban existence out into the sprawling suburban dreamscape.
Until then, in our cozy shoebox, we remain. Someday, I’m sure, my son will buy a farm the size of two avenues and the generational living space cycle will begin again.