Suburban envy? (WTF?)

Recently I’ve found myself with a raging case of suburb envy, the affliction New Yorkers are most hard-pressed to confess to.

(It’s closely followed by dislike of the Angelika theater and a secret crush on the fajitas at Chili’s.)

It started at my brother’s house recently; I watched the kids through the window as they played out back with their cousins. They swung as long as they wanted without a single nanny staring them down. They tackled the slide without worrying about a bigger kid racing up from the bottom. I didn’t need to chase them with hand sanitizer afterward. They seemed safe.

They seemed happy.

At my mom’s house the girls pick fat peas from the garden and study the birds and Thalia tells me just how to put your finger in the tomato plants to see if they need water. They can worship at the garden hose on hot afternoons and run through the sprinkler, the greatest free activity in the history of summer activities. They can run around in bare feet or strip right down to to nothing.

Not a whole lot of naked sprinkler jumpers in Brooklyn these days.

At my uncle’s beach house this past weekend, Sage and Thalia watched, mouths agape, every time a big kid scooted by on a Big Wheel or Razor, as if a celebrity had passed. They forged weekend friendships with the children two doors down, bonding over sidewalk chalk and neighborhood dog petting. Sage tore up her feet navigating deep steps from the porch to the sidewalk by herself and still refused to stop. Thalia learned she really could play hopscotch. It felt in many ways felt like the best of my own suburban childhood where summer days meant ice cream trucks and summer nights meant flashlight tag and fireflies in jars.

I love everything about living in the City (except, of course, for the things that I don’t). I’m not sure that I’d trade it today. I’m not sure I’d trade it tomorrow.

But man, a backyard we don’t have to share with the entire tourist population of Western Europe would be dandy.

Our backyard. More or less.

let’s just keep this between us, okay? If anyone in NYC finds out about my suburban envy, I could be totally stripped of my hard-won (917) area code, and forced to eat things like blueberry bagels.


67 thoughts on “Suburban envy? (WTF?)”

  1. I know what you mean. We lived in Chicago until a year or so ago and I fought tooth and nail against moving out to the suburbs and if we did move, we were going to move to one of the cool burbs, close to the city, with character and Frank Lloyd Wright houses. And yet, here I sit, in my suburban colonial with a 3 car garage, 45+ miles away from the city and nowhere near a train line. In the end, I love it and it was a great move for our family, but I wish I didn't love it quite so much and I do miss the city (except when I don't 🙂

  2. If it makes you feel any better—most of us 'burb dwellers (many of whom hail from your Fair City) live with a constant case of City envy. As you note: our bagels suck; take-out is nearly non-existent and mowing the lawn has lost all it's initial charm.

  3. Amy was right on with the things that drive you crazy in the burbs.

    Your honesty is refreshing, as usual…great post.

  4. Yes, it's nice sometimes…but I'd trade my big lawn, swingset AND the ice cream truck in a New York minute for good coffee, Thai food and a 24 hr grocery within the same zip code.

  5. I have major City envy. I like the suburbs – the backyard and the sprinklers are great. The kids will play in the street with the other neighbourhood kids. But is there a single decent coffee shop or bakery or book store within walking distance? Nope.

  6. I have suburban envy until I spend a weekend in the Catskills with my parents and start to shake. Then I lick the GWB on the way home.

  7. All of us NYC'ers have this feeling once a year. I call it Seasonal Affliction Disorder (SAD.) C'mon, Liz. Snap out of it! You're not made for the suburbs. They don't even have good sushi out there. And who's going to mow the lawn? Nate-Dog?

    We need to hit the town soon. Find a cool new Indian restaurant in the East Village. Drink martinis on the top of the Peninsula Hotel. Catch a cool jazz band at the Blue Note. Have a picnic on the Brooklyn Bridge. Catch the new Woodie Allen film at the Angelika.

    You'll always have mom's house. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy living here. It's just worth it. Period.

  8. I live where Jill thought she might, in a cool inner suburb with lots of Frank Lloyd Wright houses. The kids play in the sprinklers and ride their big wheels around the block, but there are 3 train lines, a corner grocery, plenty of good take-out and downtown Chicago just 7 miles away.

  9. While what you describe sounds lovely, it does nothing for me after putting up with house ownership in Brooklyn these past few years. Get me back in an apartment pronto. Screw the fireflies. Beck and I don't like grass anyway.

    I know, though. It looks so… easy out there. Grab back onto our righteousness over cultural institutions and bagels. You'll be OK.

    I will cop to secretly hating the Angelika, though.

  10. That's why I love living in a mid-size city. I've got the best of both worlds — lots of space, plus great food and shopping. I'd give my right arm sometimes to not have to drive anywhere, though. I desperately miss decent public transportation.

  11. Quoting Amy:

    “our bagels suck; take-out is nearly non-existent and mowing the lawn has lost all it's initial charm.”

    SO true!

  12. I cannot imagine you living anywhere but NYC! Likewise, I cannot imagine myself ever living in the city—last time I was there, I got stuck in a subway turnstile! I'd be stoned with rocks the first day.

    Plus, one beauty of the suburbs is that I can open my front door and say, “OUT!” to all three kids. I think I'd go bat-shit crazy if I couldn't do that.

    MetroDad's list sounds great but I have something that will trump that: in-home, 1st floor washer/dryer.

    Now, excuse me while I go pull up my mom jeans, throw on my Crocs and go out to weed my garden.

  13. I stand strong behind my love of Chili's.

    Yeah, we just bought a farmhouse with a half acre of land in a small town amongst suburbs and although I know the choice was right for us, I get city envy, oh, every day or so.

    Not my closest big cities though. But other state's big cities.

  14. Don't feel bad. I am constantly plagued with city-envy 🙂 What's worse is that we STILL don't have a back yard and our own swing set!

  15. Oh lady!

    I don't think I've ever commented before. Hello! The last few posts have really resonated w/ me though and I'm delurking.
    My husband and I just signed a lease on a 2bedroom w/ yard in very unfashionable Greenpoint for this very reason! We're leaving behind overcrowded Prospect Heights and Prospect Park for little McGorlick Park and access to our own patio w/ kiddie pool for our son.
    I can't wait! Perhaps Brooklyn Heights is best left to the cranky old ladies?

  16. The grass is always greener. I find that by the time I've spent 2+ weeks outside of the city, I go slightly insane and long for many cars, many people, 24-hour everythings, and all the sounds that make New York New York.

  17. God I have city envy. Well, like the take-out part. The culture. A few other things.

    Not so much the many people and animals in a small place.

    But the grass is always greener.

    Or maybe it's the pavement is always cleaner.

  18. Not to worry, we'll let you keep your 917!! Come on up, the water's fine!! I'll even give you the name of my favorite babysitter!

  19. it sounds more like you have a case of yard-envy. here in Portland, Oregon, we have plenty of house with yard living, and apartment living. I love apartments but miss the yard. I'd love to have a fenced area to hang and have a garden. however, I would never move to the burbs for one. having to drive everywhere is enough to dissuade me. I like being a one-car family.

  20. I know West LA isn't NYC. But? The move from West LA to a suburb in Denver about killed me. Like, what are these things? Oh trees? And I have to cook? You mean there is no delivery service at ALL? And this white stuff, tell me again what it is? Snow. Dam that's cold. Yeah.

    There is so much I miss about LA. So, so, so much. However, after being here two years, I know this is a better way of life for my family. It pains me to say that, but it is true.

  21. Wow. That's weird, because I've been having a bit of city envy lately. Don't get me wrong, I love having two acres of land for the kids to explore and plant rolling pumpkin vines, and not having to worry about being too loud for the neighbors. But the thought of being around good restaurants (not a chain!), art museums and interesting people? Sigh. It's a drag not being able to just WALK somewhere– like to grab some bagels, hit the ATM or get a cup of coffee– without stuffing two kids in car seats. The grass is always greener, I guess. Especially here, because did I mention two acres of yard? You don't have to mow the park.

    Maybe we can swap houses for a week? :>)

  22. … and then you have those of us living in tiny Wisconsin towns yearning for the hustle and bustle of NYC, if only for a few moments.


    I miss your backyard.

  23. Your secret is safe, except I think you just shared it with the whole internet…But other than that, you're all good!

  24. I grew up in Brooklyn and was just there today at the NYC aquarium. There are things I miss when I am there, but I do love our backyard in the suburbs. Beats hanging on the front stoop anyday 😉

  25. I'm with Amy B. We moved from NYC to Seattle because, while we didn't think we could swing life with kids in NYC, we also couldn't see moving to the 'burbs and commuting 2 hours a day. Being in a mid-sized city, we get close access to great restaurants and museums, but can still run around naked in the backyard.
    Sounds like you have the best of both worlds too, though. You have lots of loving family to visit with peas to pick, and sprinklers to frolic in, with no mowing! And you can go promptly home for good bagels.

  26. I live in a small ski town in Oregon. You couldn't pay me to live in New York … So tell me. Based on the comments here, the best parts of NYC are the restaurants and the all-night grocery stores. Those are symbols, right? for cultural diversity and good service on demand?

  27. We have missed NYC ever since leaving. The compromise for us is living near San Francisco and (fingers crossed) maybe IN San Francisco soon. SF is such a small-town-like city that the neighborhoods we're looking at are just like living in the suburbs. It's still not NYC…and not even the *outer boroughs*. Oh well, we take what we can get.

  28. Hmmm ~ Now I feel a little less sorry for myself living in Suburbia, MN.
    I guess it's not so bad after all ~ but I can't help but think the grass is always greener…

  29. i have city envy. i want good sushi and i hate driving a car. BUT, the naked baby running around the backyard is pretty cool. i live not really in the burbs though- Boulder, CO- but seriously, the lack of non-white people and and a real museum makes me wonder sometimes about what im teaching my daughter about Life. at least she wont have asthma while she's yelling at me in 15 years for her sheltered, bubbled childhood. sigh.

  30. I could have written this post, except that my own particular city is a small Israeli one, not THE city, where I always imagined I'd be when I was growing up hating the suburbs in Rockland County. Grow up, go to college, move to the city, get a job, live happily ever after in whatever form that took.

    Apparently I should have been more specific when I imagined “city”, cause man, I am far far far from Manhattan over here.

    That said, I went out for great sushi right in my own neighborhood last night, I've got a selection of takeout menus and a range of cafes and restaurants I can walk to if I don't feel like cooking, a selection of playgrounds for my kids to play in, babysitters I don't have to drive home(!) and a kid who at 8.5 is now old enough to walk himself to and from school and his friends' homes, and can run downstairs to buy me a carton of milk when I run out.

    Now if we just had decent bagels here life would be perfect.

    Still, a backyard would be nice.

  31. YES Abby! I have yard envy!

    And it does kind of seem like all of our envy issues would be taken care of if NYers just had backyards, and suburbanites just had good sushi.

    I sense some recession-era business opportunities for landscapers and Japanese chefs…

  32. When baby 2 came and I gave up my 917 and moved to 516 my heart broke a little (You'll notice I said I gave up, my Brooklyn-raised husband refuses to change his cell number!). For our family it was the right move. But – the food sucks (oh Grimaldi's, Red Hot, Rice Thai Kitchen and California Taqueria how I miss you), you have to drive everywhere and it's just missing something. Feel free to come play in our backyard anytime, just bring some “real” food!

  33. I think celebrities (for once) have it right with with whole town house/country house concept they have going on.

    While I love living in the suburbs and having our own little patch o' nature that my kids can get dirty in, there is something to be said for being able to walk everywhere. Sitting in a car to do anything and everything is very artificial.

    That said, I do love that my 3.5 YO and 2 YO can run outside and play in our backyard unattended for as long as they like. Silence is Golden. Indeed.

  34. Living a stone's throw away from Victorian Flatbush has cured me of suburb envy and replaced it with Million-Dollar-Mansion-In-the-Middle-of-Brooklyn envy. There are detached houses there! With YARDS! And DRIVEWAYS! *And* subway access, Thai takeout, and Prospect Park five minutes away.

  35. In the suburbs? No sushi on Sundays. Need I say more? OK, I will.

    My friends mouth agape, I talk about how I can't wait to leave this suburb where the benchmarks of success are blooming azaleas and where your kid goes in the summer; where you have to eat first and go to the movie after — because no restaurants are open past nine. And while I live in an ethnically diverse area, socioeconomically and maritally, it's white bread. Upper middle class married — and for a single mom it leaves a lot to be desired.

    I will agree it's a great place to raise kids – but I take my kids to Chicago and New York for their fill of crowded sidewalks and hustle bustle and culture and the gluttony of choice – the way you take yours to the suburbs for quintessential Main Street.

  36. I am also a city dweller.

    What you're writing about? That's what cottages are for 🙂 Great in the summer and far better than the suburbs.

  37. OK, I think your next post should be about all the things you love watching your girls do and learn from their city home. A little Thalia/Sage as The City Mouse and The Country Mouse. A Mom-101 Aesop's Remake. 🙂

  38. I think what several people said is true. I think the grass is always greener. I grew up in farm town with less then 100 kids in my graduating class. After college we bought a cute house in a small city. We loved what was around us, we loved our house, we loved the diversity it offered. Then we had a kid. It changed how we looked at our little city. We packed up and moved back to farm country (at least this time, unlike me home town, it has some actual stores in it). Yet, we do miss our old house in the city. I can sympathize with both sides

  39. Well… I live in the burbs and have a nice back yard, sprinklers, veggie garden, patio, all the good stuff. BUT I have a kids who likes to stay indoors. Ha!
    Luckily, the second time around, I got a little girl who keeps begging to go out the minute I pick her up from day care. This helps bring the older one out of the house. To some extent.
    So, what does it mean? You can have the nice yard but have a kid that will keep you in it. Sure, that spares you from going to public playgrounds too, but… you know… summer is always too short.

  40. I so understand! I grew up NW of Boston and always thought I'd live there when I grew up. My parents had different ideas and I spent 20+ years trying to get back–until we moved to St. Louis. My husband is a 'native' so he doesn't understand my fascination, but it's really just a collective of neighborhoods, each with their own churches or temples and restaurants, some museums and sports stuff, and a pretty great zoo. It feels like the best of both worlds. Yes, sometimes we have to drive places, and there's mowing with the stupid mower that never mows right. But I giggle when people refer to it as “the city”, because it really doesn't seem much like one–at least where I live, which is indeed inside the 'city limits'. There's sushi, thai, vietnamese, and yummy custard 5 minutes from home, and 24 hour groceries down the street, and I think I've stopped trying to get back to the East Coast 🙂

  41. Grass is always greener – and I guess in your case it really is true considering my huge green suburban backyard. However, and it's a big however for me, you have the luxury of museums and a constant flux of city activities to choose from. Me, I live 20 minutes North of Savannah, GA and unless you are into Civil War history or Haunted Pubs (neither of which are very kid-friendly) there really just isn't much to do. So, yeah, my grass may be greener, but your city is WAAAAAY more engaging. Hang in there and if you should ever crave a slower pace (much slower) and a big backyard with a playset and sprinkler come on down to Georgia I'll be here waiting to hear your Big City stories and live vicariously.

  42. I don't know how you live in the city – I'm a small town girl…. love the post though!! Oh and don't worry your secret is safe with me!! LOL!!

  43. I cannot imagine city living. At all. But no one place can offer you EVERYthing you want. Sometimes, you have to make the best of the situation that is the best for you. You know?

    That said? Suburbia rocks. 😉

  44. You know it works both ways, right? I don't think I could do NYC on a full time, forever basis. But damn, I still get city envy whenever I go there.

  45. While I love my suburban existence, I do wish that the lawn didn't need mowing as much. And I'd kill for good public transportation and a great Indian take-out.

  46. The suburbs are FANTASTIC for small children. They are HORRIBLE once the kids hit middle school, because they can't get anywhere without mom driving them until they turn 16, when you have to buy them a car and turn them loose, which creates its own problems. Hang in there for about 5 more years and you'll never think about the suburbs again.

    (I live in Birmingham, Alabama, on a large lot 20 blocks from the office downtown. Sort of a “best of both worlds” but yes, it's Birmingham and not NYC.)

  47. But you miss out on walking to the corner store and public transit (read subways) and real neighbourhoods and diversity and culture and the safety of millions of people walking the streets.

    Still, a backyard would be nice. Agreed.

  48. It's kinda like how I have board straight hair and always envy the girls with luscious curls. We can't help ourselves for wanting the best of both worlds.

    Me? I like to visit the city A LOT but I wouldn't wanna live there…

  49. As a southerner who fled a small town for L.A. and years later fled back to the southern life, I can relate. City life is wonderful but there are drawbacks. I missed the big backyard and trees, lots of trees. Having an open drugstore at 3 a.m. when your child is sick is great in the city. Outside of the city, you're on your own. The drugstore closes at 10.

  50. I moved from Chicago to IOWA. Yes, IOWA. I have City envy. I miss ethnic neighborhoods and really good used bookstores. And the other day on my way to work, I got stuck behind a truck that was carrying a load of cows. Not good. I have to admit, though, that I do like raising the kids here and we're only a 3-hour drive from Chicago…

  51. As soon as your kids turn ten, you won't have yard envy any more, you'll love being in the city, where the kids don't require carpooling and don't have the “there's-nothing-to-do-here” excuse for whining. Suburbs are hell for teenagers.

    Of course, I am writing this from Britain, in a city where most people have yards but the bookstores are fabulous, and it's a 5-minute bike-ride to the nearest horse-pasture, somehow — and the take-out food rivals NYC (at least if you want Indian or West Indian). Cambridge, UK, really. You should move here.

    The problem isn't envy, the problem is that the US designed its cities all wrong, so that whatever you choose, it's a bad compromise.

  52. While we miss living in the city center, buying a house in an outlying village was the right thing to do for all of us, especially with the addition of No. 3 just a couple of weeks ago. The boys love being able to run in and out of the back yard at will and cycle up and down the big driveway or around the block, and I don't have to worry too much about cars and such. Much healthier for all of us…

    But I do miss the easy access to the the city attractions. sigh Trade-offs.

  53. Blueberry bagels are wrong. You want something sweet and round with a whole in it? Eat a donut.

  54. Ha! I love this…the argument over suburbs/city will never die…Recently, I discovered that being called 'suburban' is an insult! We live in the burbs, but came from the city, and still think about going back…both are such great options for different reasons…

  55. My family and I spent all day yesterday walking around Boston with a huge case of city envy.

    Unfortunately, reality hit in the discussion of how we could probably afford a 1 bedroom apartment in the city for the cost of our 4 bedroom in a small coastal town.

    And let's not even talk about tuition.

  56. Oh Liz it is time for you to make the jump that so many Brooklynites have made before you to the lovely town of Maplewood, NJ. I've heard talk about putting a monorail in between Park Slope and downtown to make the transition smoother. I've adjusted (now quickly) and love living in a house now.

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