I read another “goodbye NYC” post on Facebook today. I should know to skip these by now — they sting. The therapist I am seeing says that we only react negatively to other people's news when we are “wobbly” in our own life decisions. If I had complete and total peace about living here then I should be able to wish them well and go back to throwing my rent out the window like a good New Yorker. But I don’t. I sit and I worry and I wonder because I am good at that.
So as my worrying and wondering turns to real processing and understanding, (takes a minute) I realize it stings because when our friends leave the city, part of their explanation is their desire to “put roots” down. In these scenarios, NYC defaults to a place of planting and pruning, cultivating and growing, and yet somehow remains rootless. The ultra sensitive (and perhaps a bit cynical) part of me wants to suggest that perhaps one way to have roots is to stay planted where you are.
YOU HAVE TO STAY IF WE ARE STAYING.
DIDN’T YOU SIGN YOUR LEASE IN BLOOD LIKE I ASKED YOU TO?
And then I realize I really need to check myself and my own eye because there just might be a gigantic log in it. My little sermon on staying just might be directed at this choir of one. ( We tried to leave two summers ago, but it wasn't to be. That story is for another post.)
There is an anxious thought that loops continually; What if they are right and we are wrong and the proof is in the pudding?? The pudding in this scenario would be our grown kids taking a break from their financially stable, personally fulfilling lives to say: “I sure am glad I grew up in New York City. It was worth all the hardship and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. THANKS, MOM AND DAD.”
But who among us loved every moment of the place and context in which we grew up? While I am certain this city is shaping my kids, it can never be the ultimate deciding factor in who they become, though you can be sure I will blame the city if they end up making terrible life choices. #wasntme
But I have short term memory problems, so when the next friends inevitably announce they are moving to put roots down elsewhere, I will begin to worry (again) and wonder (always) if the only way to establish roots is through the purchase of a home that your family will live in for most of their lives? Because if that’s true, it means we have been rootless since 2006.
My kids do an impression of me and in it, they pretend to be driving a car and looking out the window exclaiming, “Where are we? Let’s live here!” It's accurate. I have a strange form of wanderlust in which anywhere and everywhere could be my potential home. I like to think it’s my off the charts adaptability and not my propensity for discontentment.
To date we have rented four different apartments in nine years of living here. Prior to that we owned two homes in NJ when the kids were really small, and rented a small house there before moving back to the big apple. We have had the yard, the 4 bedrooms, and the mortgage. We also had the commute and it nearly killed us.
We chose closer quarters and quality time together in lieu of the lovely life we had in Princeton, NJ. We sold most of what we had and packed up our three kids ages 9, 5, and 3 to begin a very new way of living in Manhattan. While me and my husband both had lived here prior to having kids at different times in our lives, residing in New York as parents was completely new territory.
As I write this, our two youngest just left for school together. They ride the city bus that picks up in front of our house and drops off a couple blocks from their school. It’s her last year of middle school, and his first. If you had told me when we first moved to New York ( enrolled in a private, Christian school) that they would both someday attend a public charter school in Queens, I never would have believed you. Life is always full of surprises, and life in NYC is essentially one giant improve exercise: adaptability and continually saying Yes being the keys to success.
While we have never owned a home here in the city, and short of a windfall, don’t suspect we ever will, I can see clearly now that we have indeed placed roots here. Instead of isolated roots at the base of our “tree”, they span across a city and include three boroughs. ( Bronx and Staten Island, we owe you a visit.)
Our roots include:
St. Catherine’s playground on E. 67th where Anabel broke her arm.
Pier 40 where Gabe began competitive club soccer.
Randalls Island field where Ben discovered he loved football- the American one to my husband’s surprise.
NY School of Interior Design, where I took one course and realized I love decorating but hate drafting.
Carnegie Towers, where Adrian’s office was perched high above the Central Park treetops.
Calvary Baptist Church, where all three kids attended Geneva School and made their first NYC friends.
Bohemian National Hall, where we met a community of friends who would be instrumental in us moving to Queens.
CityLights, our first home in Queens where we watched Hurricane Sandy from the 31st floor.
51st Ave, where I opened my first business.
P.S. 78, where Anabel and Gabe made their NYC public school debut.
Harlem, where friends that are family hosted more Sunday night dinners than I can count.
E. 67th where we hosted friends in “Club Bed” (our bedroom) because there was no other place to gather.
The Met, where I occasionally drag the kids to appreciate art and remind them how lucky we are to live so close to such beauty.
Bushwick Inlet Park, where we watch the sunset over NJ as Gabe practices soccer three times a week.
Queens Plaza, where we experienced a school miracle at the Department Of Education (sorry, family welcome center).
The Elks lodge in Elmhurst, where we worship with people from 73 different countries.
The Queensboro bridge where we always look for one specific window in a high rise building that has a red toy horse on the window sill.
Home has taken many forms here. Some day I would like to live in a home that doesn’t require constant negotiation on whether or not we can actually fit inside. I would like to hear birds chirp and not the growling motors of trucks. I would really enjoy a small outdoor space that I don't have to share with strangers or purchase something to enjoy.
Until then, I will keep reminding myself that we chose this life and we chose it for very specific reasons. As a result we have been stretched, stirred, filled up and flattened out. And not everyone everywhere can say that.