Big Bad Apple

I lived in New York for eight years. There are a lot of great things about the city, which everyone knows: tons of cultural events, bars stay open really late, it’s really easy to get around via public transportration, great restaurants everywhere, interesting and diverse mix of people, it’s never boring.

However, the thought of New York City life while also the thought of life with two babies…well. I’d been wanting to get out of the city for years anyway, and having twins was my ultimate trump card. We would have had to move out of our awesome apartment and neighborhood to somewhere with more space and less cost. And everything in general would have been a pain in the ass. I’m pretty sure I would be stuck inside all the time, partly because it would be hard to get out by myself with two babies, and partly because we wouldn’t be able to afford childcare.

So the main reason we moved to Portland was for the lifestyle change–to make our lives with two babies easier and more affordable. Obviously plenty of people raise lots of children in NYC and are happy about it…we just aren’t those people. 🙂

We’ve been in Portland for less than two years, and it’s been hard to get to really know the city, since most of our time still revolves around babies (and we haven’t been able to do lots of the fun baby-and-me groups that many singleton parents attend). But no doubt that our lives here are much easier than they would have been in New York!

So here’s a summary of the lifestyles in New York and in Portland.

New York City
Huge, booming thunder and frequent lightning.
Our apartment had a gorgeous view of the harbor and lower Manhattan.
Roof access for photos.
Traffic everywhere you go, all the time.
People people people everywhere you go, all the time.
The Strand.
Tons of great restaurants.
Lots of activity/exercise walking around the city all the time.
With two babies and a double stroller, public transportation is not possible (not enough elevator stations).
Therefore hard to get out and socialize.
Walk-up apartments.
High rents!
Higher nanny/babysitting rates.
Years-long waiting lists for daycares, preschools, and schools.
Crazy fucking drivers.
Parking difficulty. (Understatement of the year.)
Difficult, time-consuming, expensive to get out of town. Only strip malls to see nearby.
Small living space, no extra storage.
One bathroom.
Dishwasher/laundry not likely to be in-home.
Pain in the ass to do Costco/Target trips.

Can’t see the sky (from our house).
No good photo opportunities from our house (though Mt Hood is just visible from our bedroom window!).
Lots of great restaurants.
Some traffic at certain times/places (don’t ever EVER go northbound on Friday after 3pm, for example).
No through streets.
Most street signs are illegible in the dark.
“Slow racing” drivers who drive UNDER the speed limit, ON PURPOSE.
Green space, right outside our door.
Easy to get out of town; lots to see near by–mountains, coast, state forests.
Easy to get of the house in a stroller.
Easy to find parking.
Parks nearby by foot and by car.
More affordable housing costs.
Childcare costs slightly less outlandish.
Dishwasher AND washer/dryer!
Easy to go shopping and run errands.
Easy to stay inside the house for hours.
Easy to sit on one’s ass all day long (working at home).
Hard to meet new people, what with so much time inside sitting down.

What a Difference

People ask me what brought us here and/or why we moved. I usually answer something about a lifestyle change.

Now that we’ve been here for two weeks, there are some things about this new lifestyle that are pretty great indeed. It’s a lot of small things, but the ease of doing so many things is such, such a relief. These things aren’t Portland-specific exactly, but we haven’t really taken advantage of Portland itself yet.

–The dishwasher! The first couple days we washed all of our dishes in turn. And as you might expect after years of handwashing, they have never been so clean and shiny. (And also sanitized!) Also, I can be a little lazy about dishes, so putting things right into the dishwasher is pretty sweet–it does all the work for us!

–We have to drive everywhere. We were in a super, ridiculously convenient location in Brooklyn and could easily walk to any errand we needed to make. Here, we can’t.

–The flipside to that is the garage. Oh holy garage, you are my favorite. It’s a designated parking spot, protected from the elements! And there is storage, so much space! On Sunday evening, we made a run to the grocery store. And then we drove right back, pulled into the garage, and brought the groceries right into the kitchen. I could never go anywhere on a Sunday evening in Brooklyn with a car, because as I learned the hard way, it would take 45 minutes to an hour of driving in circles to find a parking spot.

–This was our Brooklyn Costco experience for the last three years: Go only on a Wednesday, because that’s the day the car had to be moved anyway, and I wasn’t about to move the car on another day in addition, and going on the weekend only makes me homicidal. Drive up to the front of the building and double park. Make 3-5 trips between the car and our lobby, piling our stuff on the front table by the elevators. Once everything was in, put everything into an elevator, and Mister M goes with it upstairs, where he either puts everything in the hallway just outside the elevator, or makes 5 trips between the elevator and our apartment. Meanwhile I go back to the car and look for a parking spot, which could take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes.

Now? Go to Costco any day of the week (though avoiding weekends is still probably a good idea). Drive home. Park in garage. Take everything inside. The end.

–We haven’t done much of it, but being able to do laundry in our very own basement is also pretty fantastic. Any hour of the day, any day of the week, no worrying about machine availability, no counting out quarters, no having to run to the bank to stock up on quarters.

–Bathrooms! Plural! If one is taken, guess what? There are two more! It’s amazing! (Partly because I haven’t gotten into cleaning all three of them yet…)

–We can play music and use hammers any time of day–no one below/around us to be disturbed by noise!

Leaving New York

We did it.

It’s over.

 We’re gone.

Moving day was a loooong day. We got up by 7 to work on some last minute stuff. Movers and POD arrived and got started by 9. They were done between 1230-1. Then we spent two-three hours cleaning up, bringing down trash, recycling, old furniture type stuff. It was probably too much for me, but jeez, I really had no choice, otherwise it would have taken even longer.

I loaded up the car–I had a bunch of stuff I wanted to keep with us, and it was a little too much. We did some photos/video of the empty apartment, and I teared up. Andy returned our keys. We did a final run to Goodwill and then headed out for good at about530pm.

We drove down the main drag past our building again. “Useless Desire” played on shuffle, and I teared up some more. We’ll never live there again; life will never be like this again. I’m sure I’ll be back in NYC in the future, but I’ll never be a resident, we won’t have that amazing apartment and view (top photo), and it will feel different.

I’ve realized that it still doesn’t feel real, that we’re not going back. The next two weeks-ish of road trip are this kind of in-between/transition period, which could just as easily be a regular vacation. But at the end we’ll be in a new house, and maybe then I’ll start really getting used to our new reality. Until then I still seem to tear up thinking about this whole thing.

Firsts of the Lasts

The day we left for house-hunting on the West Coast, I had brunch with a friend who’s also my former supervisor. We chatted and caught up and rolled our eyes about work BS. When we parted I realized that it is very possible I won’t see her again. She moved out of NYC last year (I was jealous!), and I don’t know when I’ll be back in New York even to visit.

Andy will be back at least a few times, for work, and for fun (like the New Yorker Festival in early October, I hope!). I, however, will be unable to travel anywhere after our trip. I’m hoping that we can do some road trips in our new area (coastline to the west! mountains to the east! different mountains to the north!), but I have no idea how comfortable or uncomfortable I’ll be in a car. Once two babies arrive, I won’t be going anywhere at all for quite some time. I figure it’ll be at least next fall until we attempt to go somewhere all four of us on a plane.

So this next week is really the end for me. The end of life in New York, the end of this life I’ve had for the last eight years. I’m tearing up even now, and I’m not exactly sure why. (I could blame hormones, but I’ve always been a crier.)

This is a big deal. Moving across the country. Changing everything. A really big deal. It’s been something I’ve thought about and talked about and yes, wanted for years. (Which has been obnoxious. I’m sorry.) But the reality is different somehow.

When I left home to come here in 2004, it was an adventure, I had a job sort of waiting for me (NYC Teaching Fellows). I didn’t know anyone (the two people I knew both moved away within six months), but it was still kind of exciting and certainly new. Also, I was really freaking busy a lot of the time (which didn’t stop me from being lonely most of the time). But I was in constant contact with my mom and dad, and I visited home at least twice that first year. So leaving home wasn’t difficult, because I knew I would be back periodically, and that things would change (more and more houses where there used to be fields or forests), but the people would still be there and I would still know them and if all else failed, I could go back and still be okay.

But I came here, made a life here, became a real adult here. Made and lost some friends. Found a career and left it. However, there isn’t anything or anyone who will always be here for me if I wanted to visit or come back for good (not like I want to!). Sure, I still know a few people, but the deep bonds I used to have with folks are kind of gone, or the people themselves have left. (For example, I’ve lost touch with my two favorite school friends from First Middle School; they both moved south, got married and had babies.) There will be nothing here for me anymore. New York City will move on like I was never here. Young people will keep arriving with stars in their eyes and empty wallets. Yuppies will continue bleating about how NYC is such a great place to raise children, as they fight for sidewalk space in their posh neighborhoods and heft strollers up subway stairs and wait years for a preschool waitlist spot.

I’ve never felt like a New Yorker. New Yorkers are people who love it here, who think this is the best place ever, who want to live here for their foreseeable future. I’ve always felt temporary and temporal, but I suppose that even I can still feel bereft for leaving the place I’ve been for the longest period of my adult life.

Maybe I’m scared about such a big change? Nervous–I’m sure I am. In general apparently I’m just plain emotional when I really think about it.

I’m starting to feel those “lasts” piling up around me. The last time I go to book club here, even though we’ll keep in touch by email. The last time I see the group of friends that used to be real friends, in a Brooklyn apartment, even though I’ll still see them online. The last time I go to the local library. The last time I take a photo of the skyline from our rooftop or the sunset from our window. The last time I wrestle with the shower nozzle switch that gunks up. The last time I drop by the Key Food across the street for something we forgot. Some of these things are stupid, but by virtue of being the last, I want to hold on to them and make them meaningful and deep.

People have been asking if we/I am excited for the move, and I’m sure I will be once it happens and we get out there. I think I’m a little overwhelmed at this reality of packing up our whole lives to leave everything. There are so many piles, so many boxes, so many memories.

I haven’t been packing every day, partly because I’ve been busy with other things (and television), but partly because even the banality of moving hasn’t made the shock of moving more real. We were talking late last night about how much we need to have done by when.

Our move out date is next Friday morning. I was saying we could just go out to dinner on Thursday night, since we probably will have packed or tossed most food-related things. That Thursday night will be our last night in New York. EVER. For ever, for real. We will never live here again. Our local places will still be there, but we won’t. We can’t randomly decide to go to our favorite pizza restaurant in the East Village or get some amazing black cherry mojitos at our favorite Cali-Mex spot in the Village. Those places will stay, but we won’t. We’ll visit, and we’ll return to our old haunts, but things will have changed, and we will have changed, and it will all be so bittersweet.

One More Thing…

As if enough things weren’t already going on this year, we’re also moving across the country at the end of August.

I have a LOT to say about this, as you can imagine. This has been a long time coming, for those of you longtime readers.

I moved to New York in the summer of 2004 (exactly eight years ago today) to join the NYC Teaching Fellows program. I knew I would be here for two years, and in my second year of teaching (which was by far the best of any of the six years I taught), I definitely wanted to stay for a third year. The fourth year I ended up staying by default, and then I left the public school system. I interviewed at a KIPP school in Austin and would have been happy to accept a job there if they’d offered it. I ended up at a different charter school that kicked my ass, and then the following year taught at another charter school, which ended up being at least partially a disaster.

(Side note: one of my sweet students from that year still keeps in touch; we email back and forth. She is the cutest thing and I want to hug her. She is under so much pressure to do well in school though, and some of the things she writes just breaks my heart.

(Second side note re: great second year teaching: Recently I posted a status on facebook that said, “WHY can’t people read?!!! Argh!” And a student from that year, who just graduated from high school (!), replied, “Because they never had English with you.”   !!! Could you just die? See how great that year was with kids who turned out like that?? [Not only that, but she is right. If the GROWN ADULTS who I encounter in various ways had had me for an English teacher, they would not be so dumb and bad at reading comprehension!])

Even with all of those extensions, I moved to New York knowing it was temporary. I didn’t bring a lot of stuff with me (but good lord have I acquired plenty in my eight years!); it took three years to get a New York drivers license (shhh, don’t tell); I never fully mentally ‘unpacked’, so to speak. Living in a series of apartments, great though some of them were (others shitty enough to balance out), only increased that sense of “I’m only here for a short time.” Apartments are very transient to me somehow; even though we’ve lived in this particular (fantastic) apartment for three years, it doesn’t have the same feel of ‘home’ as a house might.

Plus, as the child of divorced parents and shared custody, I always had two houses, which meant that my stuff (clothes, books, toys, schoolwork, etc) was always split between two places. I often couldn’t find things because I didn’t know which house it was in, and then there was always the risk that someone moved things around while I was gone. So now that my stuff is crammed into my own apartment but that a bunch of my stuff is also in my dad’s barn and my mom’s garage…I have this low-level anxiety at the back of my mind. It’s pretty far back there; I don’t actively stress about it or even think about it often. But when I do think about my belongings, it makes me anxious because I’ve always been so desperate to have ALL of my things in ONE PLACE. A home, with roots, to settle into.

Andy had a sort of idyllic American childhood, in that his parents are still married, they grew up in a small, educated town so they had plenty of happy time playing at school and exploring some nearby nature, the family has lived in the same house for like 25 years now so there are still memories and things stored in the childhood home. So our experiences and outlooks on that are pretty much opposite.

We’ve had discussions (which usually ended up getting a bit emotional) for years, because I’ve always wanted to leave New York, and he has never wanted to leave. I was over it when I got here. I lived and worked in eastern Queens for four years and now Brooklyn for four, so I never was in that party-Manhattan-cool-kids scene. New Yorkers and a lot of people who live in New York tend to be in love with New York as the Best City Ever in the World And You’re Stupid If You Think Otherwise or Desire to Even Travel Somewhere Else. I quickly learned that I couldn’t say I was from Washington, because the only Washington that exists is the capital. [One time even though I said I was from Seattle, the guy goes, “Ah, DC?”  What?!!] Not only do people not seem to know their geography, many of them just haven’t been anywhere. Florida and the Caribbean are the exceptions–everyone here goes to one of those two places. But the West Coast? Central America? Europe? No way, what are you talking about, why would you want to go there?

Anywhere you go in New York, anything you do, at any time of day, there will be anywhere from 500-5,000 people with that exact same idea. There are people EVERYWHERE. And while it makes for good people-watching, it makes for a shitty time walking down a sidewalk or getting through a rush hour subway commute. Sure, there are lots of cultural activities to blossom your brain! But no one has the time or energy to do that during the week, what with an actual work week happening. Then you’re left with the weekend, which isn’t a lot of time, and you have to seriously weigh the coolness of the activity with the doing that cool activity with hordes of other people and how much time that will take. There are great restaurants! Yes, there are! We have a number of them that we love and frequent. But psst, do you know what? There exist great restaurants in other cities too! I know, it’s such a shock! Oh, and there’s so much nature here in New York, such great parks to get away from the hustle and bustle of the urban life! Yes, there are a handful of big, beautiful parks. But does that really make up for wild nature? What if you wanted to experience real, actual nature from NYC? Well, you’d have to drive for up to an hour, fighting traffic and pay $13 in tolls just to get out of the city limits. Then you can drive another hour up to Bear “Mountain”, which is a small hill with a parking lot on top. Or yes, the Poconos are two hours (plus) west, or even the Berkshires, two hours northeast. But don’t forget to add an hour of extra traffic time on the way home. Even in the middle of the night, you’ll sit bumper to bumper.

So yes, there are a lot of great things about New York. But they aren’t necessarily something that you need to live here year-round to exclusively have access to.

Which brings me back to this year, for us. Andy’s been putting me off for a year or two about moving–well, we can’t this year, so probably next year. Next year comes: well, it would be tough this year for reason xyz, so probably next year.

The mere idea of lugging a baby and its accoutrements around the subway system has always horrified and exhausted me. Not to mention the cost of daycare and food in this market, the ridiculous preschool sign ups before birth, the fact that apartment living has no immediate greenspace, and the general culture of snooty moms I’ve heard so much about. And the weather being so extreme for big portions of the year that you need all kinds of gear just to go outside!

Now multiply those costs by TWO. NO FREAKING WAY do I want to deal with the extreme hassle of two tiny babies and New York City!

And no way would it make any kind of sense to move AFTER they arrive. We will have mountains more stuff, plus two more people (albeit very small), and be WAY more tired. No, we need to move now.

The lifestyle in most cities that aren’t New York (or other super big ones) are a lot more laid back, plus there is more space, physically, mentally, naturally. I think that’s just what we need with the huge change we’re embarking on.

Our lease is up at the end of August. We-slash-I ended up settling on Portland, Oregon as our next place to live. It’s a few hours from my family, so there will be some support near-ish. It’s a new city for both of us, so one of us won’t be at a disadvantage. It’s a smaller city (much smaller), so it’s a lot more affordable. We can afford to rent a three bedroom house! With a garage or driveway! And possibly a yard that I won’t be good at maintaining! And a washer/dryer (we hope) and dishwasher! And most importantly, SPACE!

It’s ridiculously easy to get around by car. It’s got a huge bike culture, which Mister M is/will be/should be excited about (and me too, when I’m back on my feet. Or butt, as it may be). Fewer people means fewer cars means less traffic (and easier parking!), so we can get out of the city quickly and easily. The coast is an hour and a half west; the mountains are a couple hours east (or  north or south). The air is cleaner. There’s an NBA team with affordable tickets.There are a ton of great restaurants, whose prices are a lot lower.

Yes, it’s really scary to leave our life here. It’s really scary to start over where we only know a couple people. We’re both nervous about that. But homeostatis is a dumb reason to live in New York forever. The addition of two small and expensive people is a good reason to get out now and settle in for a new kind of life. One in which we won’t ever give up on adventures, or even New York, for a visit.