Clearly, it’s a matter of the stage we’re at as parents in San Francisco. But every parent peer that we know is currently engaged in an ongoing conversation with their spouse about whether to stay in San Francisco for the foreseeable long term (read, putting their children through school and laying down more substantial roots) or leaving the 7×7 urban cityscape for one of the suburbs to the North, South or East. The data shows what usually happens, San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children of any major city in the country. And, anecdotally my husband and I know this to be true as well. Every 6-12 months, after developing fun, meaningful and bonding relationships with other friends, parents and families, one of them decides, sometimes inevitably to leave the city. And we are left, yet again, rebuilding our friend base for the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th time. It’s depressing, I’ll admit. And frustrating. With housing prices at an all time high and inventory at an all time low. With a sub- standard public educational system and private school tuition that can run tens of thousands of dollars a year, it’s NO WONDER that most families simply can’t make the math work or can’t justify the financial reality of staying in San Francisco for the long term. And another great many, that do have the financial resources to stay, simply find the dream of the suburbs (a large backyard, bbqs, square footage, perhaps a good public school) too appealing to pass up. And I totally get it.
There seem to be big inflection points in the lifecycle of the young adult to adult transition in San Francisco that causes one to pause and reflect on inhabiting the city by the Bay.
Single to married. Sure the city was G-R-E-A-T when you could cab or walk easily to whatever bar, club or party you wanted to, meeting an endless array of other likeminded singles. Most of these fun, young professionals were transplants themselves, open to meeting new people and having a great time, which offered countess opportunities for an array of social engagements. But now, that one finds themselves married is this really still appealing? Or is it too appealing for one spouse vs. the other? What’s the expectation of the “married couple?” Is it settling into the “forever” house and never setting foot inside a drinking establishment again? Is it only mixing and mingling with the marrieds and staying far away from the singles and their scene? And so, a conversation is had and a decision is made. One way or another. To stay or to go.
Married to married with kids. Sure you found it. Your married bliss in the city. “We LOVE exploring every new restaurant opening, and popping down the block to our local movie theater, and hosting dinner parties where everyone drinks WAY too much wine, but no cares, since no one has to drive anywhere thanks to everyone living in close proximity. And, we adore scouring the local event guides for museum exhibits, local street fairs, musical performances and take pleasure in the conundrum of a whole weekend ahead with nothing planned…What should we do? There are just SO many options!” And then the kids come. And the conversation changes. What is the expectation of “the family,” of family life of being a parent? Is it providing a big grassy backyard? A room for every kid? A man-cave for the husband’s retreat? “Will we ever eat out at one of these restaurants again?” And so a conversation is had and a decision is made. One way or another. To stay or to go.
Married with kids to school aged kids. Sure, you did it. You braved the shock and awe and incredulous comments from outsiders of having a kid in the city and really, really embraced it. “Hey, this little peanut actually doesn’t need THAT much room. Wow, we can port them quite easily to our favorite restaurant and, early on, they just sleep! While we eat and drink! Awesome!” The many parks and playgrounds that you NEVER noticed before seem prolific and walk-able distance and this city with the kid thing seems, well, brilliant! And then, they close in on preschool age and kindergarten is now right around the corner, too. “Crap! I thought we had more time!?” And you start talking to friends and associates and the local coffee patrons about wait lists and feeder schools, and essay questions and letters of recommendation and kid screening interviews and college level tuitions. For PRESCHOOL. And you and your spouse go home and cry a little and drink a bottle of wine. And swear that you’ll discuss “your plan” but right now you can’t stay in your house any longer than needed on this particular weekend afternoon, because your now TWO kids are starting to climb the walls and destroy the home and you start thinking, “wow, square footage does make more sense now that these bundles of peanut seem as large as elephants bumping through our fantastic, quaint city dwelling.” And so, a conversation is had and a decision is made. One way or another. To stay or to go.
Or maybe it’s not quite that simplistic, but painting in broad strokes, we have observed these scenarios on a repeated basis. Certainly, there are nuances. Having hurdled step #3 and nestled into square footage and outdoor space that supports our growing family in the city, we still have conversations around community, geography and lifestyle; values, long term planning and our friend base and we are still making the choice to be here.
It reminds me a bit of Aesop’s Fable, The City Mouse and The Country Mouse, where the City Mouse journeys to the country and can’t quite grasp the appeal of country living and the Country Mouse, then travels to the city and beats a hasty retreat back to the comforts of the country. The moral of the story being, a way of life suitable for one person, may not be suitable for another. I have come to the realization that I am a City Mouse. And I am married to a City Mouse. And while we do love our journeys to the “country” our bones are more comfortable back in the city with the soothing sounds of the foghorns and sirens to greet us upon our return. In some ways, it feels remarkable to undertake what we are trying to do and yet, many, many fantastic and brave families do it every day: Raise their families in San Francisco. But when you look at the stats, you realize you are one of the tiny minority that are really giving this a shot. And sometimes, that can seem daunting.
My goal here is to provide a little glimpse into life in San Francisco through its various stages and celebrate it, in a way that’s often not talked about or covered in popular media. My conversations and debates with my spouse over the years regarding the pros and cons of staying or leaving San Francisco are no different than the conversations had by most everyone we know and I’m quite certain, by most others in similar life stages. I often hear the benefits of leaving San Francisco touted by many, but rarely hear the flip side talked about. How another may have traded square footage and the convenience of big-box retail for the richness of life in an urban environment. Perspectives change with age and that to me is the fun, dynamic nature of life. As such, this is a snapshot of both the here and now and the journey we’ve taken so far. Thank you for taking the journey with me and beginning the dialogue. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Here we go!
The City Mouse