I joke with my friends that I live in the Unofficial Sixth Borough: New Jersey, the borough where they banish half of New Yorkers who have kids. Tale as old as time, right? Live in New York, make a life there, love it, make a baby there, love it, then leave. It's not the only New York story, of course, but it's common enough. In fact, in my last office, four other women had followed the same trajectory.
The New York ex-pat mamas share a common enough story. We often look very similar on paper: non-New York natives, college educated, economically comfortable. But our motivations can vary. Sometimes we're returning to the areas where a lot of us grew up to raise our kids among family and friends we've had long enough that they basically qualify as family. Sometimes we think that as much as we love New York, we're ready for a change of scenery and this new life change is as good a reason to go for it as any. Sometimes it's strictly financial: We couldn't provide the kind of life for our children in New York that we could elsewhere, and we are privileged enough to have the resources to move.
But whatever our reasons, there are some things that only we can appreciate.
All Of Your Friends Are Jerks About Crossing The Hudson
These are the same friends who are willing to schlep from, like, the farthest reaches of Brooklyn up to West Harlem to check out a new restaurant. Or from Astoria to TriBeCa for cocktails. Never mind that your apartment in Jersey City is actually closer than any of their other weekend plans, or that their place in Washington Heights is a block from the GWB which is 15 minutes from your house in Maywood — the fact that they have to cross state lines is unfathomable to them. New Yorkers have a snobby mental block about going into New Jersey, regardless of actual time/distance or whether or not they have a car. It's just... science.
It's SO Quiet Here
After I had moved into my quaint little suburban neighborhood, I took my son for a walk in his stroller... and I felt like I was in a horror movie. It was so quiet I could hear crows cawing to each other from miles away. I could hear the tiniest little squeak of my neighbor's porch swing as it swayed eerily in the breeze. I was also the only person outside. I was legit expecting a zombie from The Walking Dead to come shuffling toward me, snarling.
This wasn't even, like, "Oh, weather be damned, I'm going to bundle myself up, pull out an umbrella and enjoy a brisk constitutional!" This was a gorgeous spring day, the first after a particularly long, harsh winter, and yet no one was enjoying it! I feel like the minute the thermometer hits 60, everyone in New York puts on shorts and tank tops and furiously begins texting to meet up in Central or Prospect Park. New Jerseyans do not do this, at least not in communal areas. We're either inside or tucked away in our backyards. Speaking of which...
You Appreciate Your Back Yard Like Only A Former New Yorker Can
My friends and I all mostly moved to New York around the same time. One of us who lived in the East Village discovered an 8x8 piece of unclaimed asphalt between her building and the one beside it, just large enough for a patio table... which she promptly set up. How did she get it there? Very carefully through her tiny bedroom window, the only access point to this space, which we had to climb in and out of if we ever wanted to enjoy the space. This was really hard to do when you're really drunk, which we invariably were if we were enjoying the "patio." Meanwhile, in NJ...
"Holy crap! Is that a bear in your yard?" you ask.
No. That's a bear in my neighbor's yard. It casually walked down our street past my yard, though. My back yard tends to have a herd of deer and a flock of wild turkeys on it in addition to rabbits, chipmunks, and groundhogs... sometimes at the same time.
My point is, there's room for all of God's creatures (including my two favorite creatures and all their toys, bikes, jungle gyms, and kiddie pools) in my New Jersey back yard, and because I'm coming from a place where my friend's pigeon-infested "patio" between two dirty buildings and loud air conditioning units was considered fancy, I appreciate it more than any native Jersey mom ever could.
You Really Appreciate How Simple School Enrollment Is
If you're not from New York or a comparably large city, I don't think you can understand how. insanely. stressful. the school admission process in New York City. And it's not even like the craziest, highest achieving kids and parents are voluntarily putting themselves through hell in order to get into the most expensive preschools in New York: everyone must navigate a Byzantine and highly flawed, overcrowded system. From preschool to high school, researching, selecting, and getting into a school is a damn ordeal. While New Jersey has some of the most underfunded, floundering school systems in the country, it routinely ranks, overall, among the best schools in America. So more often than not, the key to getting a good education over here in NJ is like, "Oh, do I have to enroll my kid in our local kindergarten? OK, cool. I'll do it a week before the final cut-off, because I don't have to do this 5 years in advance of when I think I might get pregnant, like I would have to in New York."
We don't mock your pain, New York parents, we empathize deeply, and we appreciate our blessings.
When People Complain About Crowds, You're Like LOLWUT?!
Shortly before Hurricane Sandy, I was like, "I guess I should probably go to the grocery store and get a few things." Everyone was like "The stores are so bad! I've never seen it so crowded and terrible!" I was inclined to believe them, what with the impending storm and people panicking. I got to my local Foodtown and was like "Ha! This is less crowded than the Ditmars Boulevard Key Foods on a typical Tuesday night." Please. You can not ruffle a New Yorker with talk of crowds. I used to go to the Columbus Circle Whole Foods every day for lunch. Hurricane shoppers have nothing on hoards of yuppies who need kale salad and raw juice. Hell, hurricane shopping with two kids is typically easier than running "in and out" of Food Emporium to get some milk.
Having To Drive Everywhere Is A Blessing And A Curse
On the one hand, it's great because public transit with kids (and strollers) can be a pain in the butt, so it's nice to just be like "OK, getting you in the car and we're off." On the other hand, sometimes it would just be so much easier to put on your Moby Wrap for your one-year-old, stick your three-year-old in the stroller, and run down the street to do a few errands rather than doing the whole "OK, in the car, out of the car, in the car, out of the car, in the car, out of the car" thing. Do you know how much small children can hate car seats? It's like the cushions are made of lava or something.
Even Expensive Daycare Feels Like A Bargain
Not to get overly personal here, but when my husband and I were looking at daycare for my son, it was more than our rent. And I'm not even talking, like, a fancy-schmancy daycare with a philosophy and daily baby yoga. I'm talking a nice but modest house in Queens converted into a daycare. When we began looking in New Jersey, someone recommended a place to me bit her lip and was like, "It's on the pricey side, though: $1,100 a month." And I was like "THAT IS INCREDIBLE!" Don't get me wrong — that is still a lot of money (especially when you consider the average cost of daycare pretty much anywhere else. Damn you, Tristate!) but compared to the $1,800-$4,000 sticker you're looking at in NYC, it feels downright liberating, at least at first.
But New York Will Always Feel Like Home
I feel like you can't look out at that skyline (or see New York in a movie or TV show, or visit friends in Manhattan, or read The New Yorker) and not feel the spirit of the city begin to tug at the invisible strings of your soul. New York is like cigarette smoke and you're a piece of furniture. If you've been in New York long enough, it doesn't matter if you go to another apartment in another state or another country: the city has permeated every fiber of you. No amount of airing out or Fabreeze will ever get it out of you.
So When It Comes To New Jersey, At First You're Like
"THIS ISN'T NEW YORK! I MISS NEW YORK! NEW JERSEY IS THE WORST!"
But then you're like
It doesn't take long to actually become very fond of the Garden State, and to feel immediately proud to be a New Jerseyan.
Images: MPDO1605/Flickr; Giphy(8); Tumblr; Jamie Kenney