Last week I dropped in on a little neighborhood party where I met a nice young family who were about to leave Brooklyn. They live (or rather, lived) very close to us, which means they were in the PERFECT family neighborhood: right next to a library, a school, a playground, a pizza place, an ice cream shop, a dance studio, a sweet little wine shop, a coffee shop, a gourmet takeout shop, and, hello - Prospect Park. All those things are a few short blocks from each other, with an F/G subway stop smack in the middle of them - twenty minutes to Manhattan going one way, twenty minutes to Coney Island going the other. Why would anyone leave?
Turned out they were tired of how expensive everything is here. They felt like their money was spent before they even earned it. They wanted to drive to a grocery store, park in a driveway, and be near family who will babysit for free. They crowed about moving to a house (a real house, with a yard and a pool) that costs less than half their Brooklyn rent. They said that life here was just too hard. I smiled sympathetically, but inside I was screaming, "Yes, but you are in NEW YORK CITY! You'll have a house and a pool and you won't have to step around dog piss every day or ride the train with schizophrenics or smell the garbage baking on the curb in the morning, but you won't be in New York! You'll be in the middle of NOWHERE!" The place they are moving, as far as I know, is mostly renowned for snake handlers and incest. (Oh fine - I guess it has pretty countryside - that sort of thing is lost on me. I always think a serial killer will get me when I go to the country, and there will be no one to hear me scream.)
It ate at me for a while, that this couple would move away from urban family nirvana into the backwoods, just because they were weary, and then I thought of all the people who warned us not to move to New York. Along with the usual cocked head/concerned squint combo and the general disbelief and confusion, there was some begging and pleading, and one or two DIRE WARNINGS not to move to Brooklyn. Everyone told us it would be too scary, too expensive, too mean.
Guess what? We love it here. True, it hasn't always been easy. True, I told Tom that if I had to do it over again I couldn't, because the move nearly killed me (for the record, I feel the same way about getting my belly button pierced). But it's also true that every single day, I thank my lucky stars that we're here. The risk, the struggle, the heartache (not to mention headache and backache) and all the wrinkles and gray hairs (I swear I've aged ten years in the three we've been here) have been completely worth it. I'm not usually a woo-woo type of person, but it really does feel as if some mystical force guided us to the exact spot we're meant to be. When I step outside, it's like Sesame Street - always stopping to chat with neighbors, always feeling that sense of community, of "we're all in this together" that you get in New York, because yes, it's hard. It can be dirty and demoralizing, expensive and exhausting. But most of us have chosen this life for a reason, and we've got each others' backs. It's also vibrant and beautiful, alive and loud and FULL - full of everything. You'll see every sort of person, experience every emotion: I've never been anyplace so real and so bold. I can't imagine a better place to raise my kids - but no, it's not for everyone.
If you're thinking about moving your family to Brooklyn (or starting a family here), I created this simple quiz to help you decide whether it might be a good fit for you:
1. Imagine that you live in an 800-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment with your partner and two small children. Take a few minutes and really picture it. How are you feeling?
A. Pulse is racing, mouth is dry, nauseous, panicky.
B. Excited to simplify, declutter, and hit up IKEA for awesome small-living solutions.
C. You're joking, right? That's, like, third-world or something. No thank you!
2. You decide to visit a new playground a couple neighborhoods away. On your way out of the subway station, your toddler picks up a used Metrocard and puts it in her mouth. Trying to coax it away from her, you don't notice the dog shit on the sidewalk and you step in it. At the playground, you go to work on your shoe with a baby wipe, then look up to see that some kid is peeing off the top of the jungle gym and your kid is pretending she's in the shower, laughing hysterically. What do you do?
A. OMG, what DO I do? I don't know! Is that really going to happen? Just let me breathe into this paper bag for a sec; wait, I'll get right back to you.
B. Roll your eyes, sigh, break out the Purell, grab your kid and run through the playground sprinklers, and think about what a funny blog post this will make later.
C. First of all, I would never even take the subway in the first place. Gross. Second, I wouldn't let my kid play in a public sprinkler. They could catch some kind of fungus. Ew.
3. There are sirens blaring outside your window, the dog upstairs is barking his head off, your neighbors across the hall are screaming obscenities at each other, your daughter has put on her tap shoes and is shuffling off to Buffalo on the hardwood floor, and your downstairs neighbor is now banging on his ceiling/your floor with a broom. Can you handle it?
A. Maybe . . . got any Xanax?
B. Yes, definitely.
C. This quiz is insane. NO.
4. You're freelancing and work has been slow. Your partner is starting his own business and it feels like he's bleeding money. Your savings has just run out, you have no health insurance, and you have a week to come up with rent. Whatcha gonna do?
A. Shit. Call my parents? Sell stuff on eBay? Ask my landlord for an extra week? Go to work in an S&M dungeon? There must be a way . . . right?
B. Remain calm. Sign up for Family Health Plus and food stamps, redouble your efforts to find freelance work, exhaust all avenues of support, and keep the faith. This too shall pass.
C. That is totally irresponsible. I would never allow myself to get into that kind of situation. And I would never take charity -those people are leeches on society.
5. You take the kids to Coney Island for the first time, excited to dip your feet in the ocean. You arrive only to find there is broken glass all over the beach, garbage everywhere, seagulls flying in your face, and a man standing on the beach masturbating in full view of your children. Are you sorry you moved here?
A. Oh, man. Is it like that all the time or did I just pick a bad day? I really don't want my kids to see jacking weenies at the beach. There are other beaches in Brooklyn, right? Can't we just go someplace else?
B. Hell, no. This is what we moved here for! Let's go have a beer at Ruby's!
C. I'm sorry, I stopped taking this quiz when The O'Reilly Factor came on. What was the question again?
Okay, folks - time to tally up your responses!
Mostly A's: Brooklyn might be a good place for you. Maybe you want to move here, but you're nervous. Go to therapy for a while and sort yourself out, then revisit the idea. Good luck!
Mostly B's: Come on home to Brooklyn! What are you waiting for? Need me to help you find an apartment? Text me and I'll meet you at the playground when you get here.
Mostly C's: I don't know where you should live - probably the suburbs - but could you please make sure it's somewhere far, far away from me? Great. Thanks!
P.S. Big thanks to Nick, from CityBeams, for finding my blog and asking me to write something - I guess that's what it takes for me to post these days! I like to be sought out.