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Friday, January 06, 2006

Probably every community--city or suburb--has at least some redeeming qualities. And every community--city or suburbs--has some downsides as well.

I'm sure if work moved my family back into the city, we'd rediscover the joys of city living--through the eyes of a toddler. And I'm sure if LOD moved his family into the suburbs or into one of those happening college towns that Dutch pointed out, frolicking in the wide-open spaces might become a popular and daily must for the kiddies.

There is no right or wrong place to raise your family. I imagine most people decide where to live based on the answers to least some of the following questions: Are jobs nearby? Is it conveniently located to work? Can I afford the amount of space I want? Are decent schools nearby? Is it a safe environment for kids? The other stuff just falls into place--hopefully.  For now, we're making the most of our suburban lives. Because, I think, where you live is what you make of it.

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I grew up in New Jersey, a mere half hour from much-more-fabulous New York City. San Francisco is gorgeous and fun, but I don't think I could ever live there. It's way too car-dependent (commuter traffic on 280 is just brutal), it's weather never changes, and all those steep hills just don't make any sense. Whenever you park you have to fall out of your car to get out.

Little kids can live anywhere, because they go where their parents go. I'm wondering about the future, when my boys are older and seeking out entertainment on their own. When I was in high school, we couldn't just shlep into the city every weekend because there wasn't time; all that driving really cut into the few hours we had before curfew. So we mostly drove around looking for house parties, which sucks. My kids deserve better than mailbox baseball to kill a Saturday night.

My wife and I know we'll soon have to make some difficult decisions about the quality of life we want for our boys. And we've been procrastinating for too long, because the idea of having to leave our rent-stabilized apartment in Manhattan is too depressing. The three S's--space, schools, and screwball neighbors--are growing in importance, and we'll manage them as long as we can. We still love the city, and we'll probably stay until the sheer force of our belongings blows the front door off its hinges and spills our diaper pail into the hallway.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I think we've made the same decision, albeit in the opposite direction. We all make choose what we want to live in and what we want to live near, and for now we like the bustle. We also know that if we want to frolic around in wide-open spaces, we can hop on the train to my sister's and goof around in the corn field. When we stay overnight, there's no light, no sound, just endless peace and nothingness in every direction. It's creepy as hell.

I would argue that my neighborhood in NYC is just as neighborhoody as any suburb, with the added bonus of proximity. When my son and I go out for bagels, Stacy and Prakma see us coming, and our bagels are sliced before we walk in the door. Elias knows our favorite four-top at the corner diner. When we do errands, my son hands the money to Kevin at the drycleaners, Norman at the drug store, and the amiable-but-cross-eyed guy at the laundromat. John at the meat counter always has a roll of Boar's Head press-on tattoos, which are a big hit with the under-4 set.

So when it comes to raising kids in urbania, don't knock it 'til you try it. It's remarkably easy when everything's only a few blocks away. And who lugs things to the park? Naturally, you're supposed to pile everything into your stroller, the ultimate status symbol of the city parent. It's the only way to make the scene, babe.

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I don't know what suburb Laid-Off Dad used to live in, but I can say that mine isn't homogenous or boring. Perhaps that's because of our where our suburb is located--just 30 minutes from fabulous San Francisco. I'm sure I wouldn’t love my little town if it were hours from anything. But because we're so close to the city by train or car, we still feel very much connected to the city vibe--when we want it.

Toddler in Chief's playgroup is headed to the Zeum in Yerba Buena Gardens this Friday. And not long ago the group headed to touristy Pier 39 to observe the city's marine-life phenomenon, ride the carousel, and eat carnival fare. When we're feeling less adventurous, we head for whichever local park we know we'll have all to ourselves.

And until LOD mentioned it, I had totally forgotten about creepy, annoying, or demanding neighbors that often reside on the other side of the drywall when you are stacked around each other in apartments. Ack. At least now, the creepy neighbors are several feet away on the other side of the street. I know that suburb-dwellers also live in apartment buildings, but perhaps all the space outside the building makes up for the neighbor-politics inside the building.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

We moved to the Burbs while we were childfree, but I'm grateful we are raising our family there. I love the city for date nights. But when I imagine raising a kid in the city, I have flashbacks to our city life filled with noise and traffic, no parking, few trees, and not being able to sit outside without lugging stuff blocks to the park.

I like my little town where I recognize people when I'm at the grocery store and at the park. I feel like I'm part of a community for the first time since I lived with my parents way back when. And there are heaps of kids in our town (probably outnumbering adults), which creates a very accessible family-friendly culture. There's music in the park every Friday during nice weather that doesn't require much advance planning: there's always parking and a spot on the grass not far from the stage. The weekly farmers market has music, balloons, and snacks for kids of all ages. Plus, we have hiking and biking trails, a lake, and a wildlife refuge just down the road from shopping and restaurants. And all of it is just minutes from our house.

Mostly I like being removed from the hustle and bustle of city living, so that we can hang back and watch the birds in the trees and the airplanes in the distance from our own little patch of grass. Plus, I know all that city stuff is there when we crave it, just like we know we can visit the snow in Tahoe when we need some sled-time.

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It's funny that we're talking about city life this week, because my wife and I currently are involved in negotiations with our childless downstairs neighbor, whose bedroom is right below my son's. She would like our three-year-old son to please stop running around until after 9am on weekends and holidays. And we're exploring every diplomatic way of saying, "You're kidding, right?"

I've mentioned before that I'm a born-again city person. Before we had kids, we loved Manhattan for all the energy and the diverse entertainments. Now, we love that there are two 24-hour drug stores within three blocks of our house, in case our baby wakes up with a butt-cream emergency. Either way, we've  always looked beyond the noise and the dirt in favor of all the fun and energy that the suburbs just can't match.

The suburbs were fine, but they were an absolute bore. They're too quiet, and too homogenous, and you have to go everywhere by car. So when it's time to relocate, the imperative is clear. We'll be looking for a free-standing structure within walking distance of a reliable transit system and a good public school. Piece of cake, right?

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