Growing up in a tight one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Manhattan, the suburbs seemed downright exotic to me. Everything about them felt foreign, from the sizable houses to the reliance on cars.
By the time I was in middle school I’d already mastered the art of independent NYC public transportation. The parks were my backyard, and having your own room seemed like the epitome of luxury.
Each summer my parents would rent a car and we’d drive the hour to my great aunt’s house in Huntington, Long Island for a weeklong vacation. The big draw? A private, in-ground swimming pool and cabana house we could stay in.
The kids across the street would come over for a swim, we called the next-door neighbors Uncle and Aunt, and we barbecued our meals. It all felt very warm and wholesome, and so unlike what I was used to.
I always spent the first night on Long Island lying awake, unable to sleep thanks to the deafening drone of crickets outside my window. The wailing of city sirens was like a lullaby, but the sounds of nature felt somehow intrusive.
Long Island was only 40 miles away from home, but it felt much farther.
Where my path led me
I ended up marrying my high school sweetheart, a fellow multi-generation New Yorker, and we felt confident we’d stay in the city forever, like our fathers before us, raising our future kids on the same streets we loved so fiercely.
But life takes funny turns, and we wound up in Israel for a few years, and then landed in Long Island when my husband got a job at a hospital there.
We moved when our son was one month old, and everyone said how much better it would be to raise a child in the suburbs. We were skeptical at best.
Our move to the suburbs didn’t come with any of the amenities one might expect. Hospital housing provided us with a subsidized two-bedroom apartment, which is quite large by city standards, but requires a walk up a flight of stairs, and doesn’t come equipped with modern luxuries like a dishwasher or washing machine, which I had always equated with suburban life. But my husband can walk to work, a rarity where we live, so we’re able to get by as a one-car household.
Having a child helped me acclimate to suburban life. In my son’s early, sleepless days, I would strap him into the cozy carrier where I could be sure he’d doze off, and I’d take to the streets, determined to explore my new neighborhood by foot.
I discovered a lovely park and library within walking distance, where my son felt grass for the first time and we took Mommy and Me classes that introduced us to both baby sign language and other local parents.
I learned that there is a vibrant Portuguese community in my area, complete with enticing restaurants and bakeries that would feed my burgeoning pao de queijo (cheese puffs) addiction. I found a grocery store I could walk to, though it was a bit of a trek, and stubbornly timed how long it would take me to walk to the farther Korean market where I could find specialty items I was used to easily obtaining in the city.
Slowly I went farther afield, hopping in the car to check out the stunning Gold Coast mansions that are right out of “The Great Gatsby,” the preserves that were once home to Theodore Roosevelt, and the many well-tended public gardens.
Come our second summer on Long Island, my son was a walking, water-loving toddler who relished every second we were at the community pool or nearby beaches. Never am I happier to live where we do than in the warmer months, when all manner of outdoor activity is at our fingertips. It’s now our third summer here, and I’ve finally figured out how to easily obtain a pool pass, and which beaches I can access based on where I reside.
Home away from home
For all that I’ve grown to enjoy about living in the suburbs, though, I’m still a city girl at heart. We take the train into the city often, and my son gets a great thrill from taking the subway, seeing the crowded city streets, catching glimpses of taxis and buses and fire engines.
His grandparents all live in Manhattan, and we spend many weekends having slumber parties in cramped quarters, just to get a taste of all that our beloved city offers.
We have adapted to life in the ‘burbs because that’s what you do, and because there is so much to enjoy here. But my husband and I still have our hearts set on life in the city – if not this year, then in the next few.
I know that once we go back I’ll miss the farms and beaches and big box stores, and I’ll long for the well-stocked libraries and exciting museums. But we can always rent a car and make a vacation out of it.
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