Monday, July 27, 2009

Dreams and Houses and Dream Houses

Not a day goes by when I don’t think about where are we going to raise the girls. Yes, right now we are raising them just fine in NYC, and they enjoy the city life as much as two-year-olds can (playgrounds; Central Park Zoo; long walks). There are glitches here and there, but the experience is mostly positive, diverse, electric. We get cramped sometimes and get a little stir crazy on rainy days and oh how I am dreading the winter this year, but this is mitigated by the fact that on the weekends, we stretch out on Long Island, where they get to experience life as Country Children, running in the backyard and riding ride-on toys and watching birds and sliding down the basement doors, their makeshift slide. (Yes, they have a real slide, but they like the basement doors better). However, this Best of Both Worlds life has an expiration date, and that date is rapidly approaching.

The question is: Stay in the city or move out to the suburbs. And it is a really difficult decision to make.

There are many reasons to stay in the city: Nicole’s office is a five-minute walk from our apartment, which whittles her commute to a whopping ten minutes a day, total, and allows her to spend time with the girls in the morning and after work and occasionally have lunch with us, if her schedule permits. And, it is New York City, a place I love and have called home for the past twenty years, where I feel most at home in the world. But City Childhood is very different here and the schools are not so great. And private school runs about 30K a year per child, which equals about 720K on education BEFORE college.

And then there are many reasons to leave. The burbs have much better schools, more green grass, and if we lived on Long Island we would be significantly closer to friends and some family. That is huge. And I think it is fair to admit that we no longer take advantage of what the city has to offer. In twenty years, I have racked up my fair share of museum trips and Broadway shows and evenings at the Met and other quintessential NYC things. But these days, not so much. I beat the same paths to playgrounds, zoos and food stores, with the City That Never Sleeps at my fingertips, but just slightly out of my grasp.

What would make moving to the suburbs easier and the transition smoother, more palatable, would be finding our Dream House. Who doesn’t dream of a Dream House?

Making our lives even more complex, I want just ONE move to the Dream House that we will spend the rest of our lives living in. I am not the type that likes to move a lot. I know, I know. Boring to some, but safe and comfortable and right for me. So that means there is a lot of pressure on finding a house that we feel like we can live in for a very long time..

But this is not an easy task by any stretch. Give me, oh, ten million lottery dollars that I MUST spend on a home and I am all over the place. I could buy a brownstone in the Village or a modern, sleek apartment high in the sky or a shingled Colonial on three acres or a saltbox in the New England woods or an oceanfront bungalow with big windows and a natural waves-crashing-on-shore sound machine. My tastes are ridiculously diverse, to say the least. I am shabby chic and modern minimalist with ocean cottage sensibilities, all wrapped in one Real Estate Agent’s Nightmare package. My dream house has a checklist, which includes things such things as a rocking chair porch, built-in bookshelves, a fireplace, hydrangeas and a big, sunny kitchen with white marble countertops and one of those faucets over the stove for filling up pots because why lug it to and fro the sink, if you don’t have to? I have books filled with pages I have ripped out of magazines, so many ideas and inspirations. I challenge anyone to find one house, with my complete list of desires, in our budget. I dare say it is not possible.

But what I am wondering now is, is there REALLY a perfect dream house? Are we ever going to find it? Even if we had ten million lottery dollars to spend? And I wonder, does anyone ever really get their dream house? Because if they did, it wouldn’t really be a dream home, would it? It would be reality, and no one ever seems to be completely happy with that.

We humans are conditioned to never be happy with what we have, so no matter what we have, we will want more or better or different, right? There is always a better kitchen or a bigger yard or a sunnier living room. Obviously it would be hard to find one home with everything, but I wonder, is it time to shelve the Dream House Dream? I have watched friends house hunt and even with budgets up to three million dollars, no one is completely, utterly “I’m in my dream house!” happy. I have seen families miserable in 10,000 square feet and families deliriously happy in 400 square feet.

The lesson here? I could spend my entire life looking for my Dream Home and maybe I am just supposed to realize that there is none. Home is where the heart is, and all that. It’s who am I with, not where I am. It’s family dinners around the table and Movie Nights. White marble countertops, after all, are not really going to make a big difference in my life. It is just a pretty package.

I thought, somehow, that having children would make big decisions easier to make. If anything, having kids makes it seven hundred times harder.

Pictured above, this comes pretty close to my Dream House. Beautiful kitchen, almost two acres, four bedrooms and guest quarters above the garage and a finished playroom in the basement. Big enough to raise the girls in, but not so big that the house seems enormous when they eventually leave us. This was Nicole’s sister’s house, but they sold it about five years ago. Back then, we didn’t have the girls and I didn’t even think about leaving the city. Now I look back and think, what was I thinking? That room on the second floor, on the left, is where Nicole and I used to sleep. Also pictured, Leif and Skye in Taiwan. How cute are they?


Anonymous said...

Wow, given the reality for many people these days, this is a little bizarre to read. I say this as someone who has a secure job and is, like you, far too often unsatisfied with my privileged life --- but really, this post does illustrate the question you raise --- can anyone of us (especially Americans) live with more gratitude than materialistic yearning? Perseveration on "bigger, prettier, sunnier, safer, upscalier" is what contributed (caused?) to the economic crash in the first place --- it would be worthwhile spending some time in shoes of the family who just hopes they can hang on to their 2 bedroom ranch house with a leaking roof.

No blog so can only leave my name.
Lynette Dutten - Wisconsin

K J and the kids said...

That is now my new dream house too. :)

I wish I had the answers. I of course love the burbs and if it were only a decision of where, vote there.
Nicole throws a whole different and important bone in to the mix.

Good luck.

Oh and why is there a time limit to this issue ?

After Words said...

I'm still adjusting to life in the 'burbs so I have no answers. I think I'm finally willing to admit that on a daily basis, things are easier for us here than they were in the city, but that's not to say I don't miss it.

As for dream houses, I think they are made when you live in them, not found.

Molly said...

I thought that house looked familiar!

School is still a couple years away...and you can strech those LI weekends out until November at least...fall, your favorite time of year!

btw, I had to nominate you for a lovely blog award : )

calliope said...

wow. that house is stunning!

When I lived in NYC and was a nanny I was so skittish about being out of the apartment with the kids. I was a nervous wreck! So in some weird way I always equate NYC as a place to live for one era of your life and then when kids are part of your life you have to live somewhere else.

Oh & then I saw that documentary about getting kids into preschool in NYC and about died. Good fucking lord!

Jennifer said...

Hi Lynette- I understand where you are coming from. I am very well aware of the state of the world and its affect on everyone, including my own friends and family and us, as well. We mother was inches away from foreclosure before we bought her house. Of course I am incredibly grateful that we were able to do that, and realize how lucky we are. But, as I always say, we all have issues to deal with. Ours aren't necessarily financial. The overarching theme here is not the size of the house or the type of house but where to raise a family.

Jeannine said...

I must sound like a broken record, because I have said it a million times before, but if you have the option, get out of the city. In my opinion, and having been both a city and suburb dweller with young twins, life in the suburbs is so much better (not to mention easier) for a family with young children. Instead of packing my kids in the car with all their stuff just to give them a few moments to play in the grass, I now open my back door and they are free to run. We have a virtual playground back there, with a swing set, a fort, a sandbox and inflatible pool, so we never have to leave. But, if we want to go out, every day of the week, there are free, fun things to bring my children to all within a few minutes drive. I have found a lot more at home moms out here too, and organize regular playdates for my kids so they get to enjoy other children (and their toys) which breaks up the monotony, and I get some adult conversation. The commute does suck for my husband who drives 30 miles a day each way, but the kids get up early enough for us all to eat breakfast together before he goes to work, and some nights he makes it home before they are in bed (they go between 6:30 and 7, so it is hard for him to make it), but as they grow they'll be staying up later and we'll all be able to have regular dinners together soon. I know LA is not the same as NYC, but our life has improved so much by leaving the city. And, as you said, we really weren't enjoying the things we loved about the city anymore anyway, so leaving it all behind was easier than we thought.

boo said...

I grew up in NYC and loved it so much that I absolutely cannot imagine raising my (future) children anywhere else. I loved growing up spending sunday mornings in chinatown eating dim sum, and afternoons after school playing in central park, and I loved the freedom to travel around the city as a teenager (by bus and subway) when all of my suburban friends had to ask their parents for rides everywhere.

I know that it is really hard for you right now to be raising the girls in the city, but there are so many wonderful parts about growing up here for them. So much freedom and wonderful diversity and delicious food. I think that spending weekends on long island is giving all of you a really nice balance between city and suburban life- is there any way you could keep doing that?

My other thought is, have you ever though about moving to Brooklyn? Neighborhoods like Ditmas Park offer beautiful houses and huge yards all accessible by subway. It may be worth it to spend a day walking around the neighborhood (because it is the most beautiful neighborhood ever) and seeing if it might be a nice compromise for you.