suburbs

A Follow up~ Should I stay or should I go?

cityscapeIt’s interesting how this topic has opened a line of dialogue on the subject of suburbanites/ urbanites, parenting choices, lack of choices, financial realities. I’ve heard from some that they’re quite happy with their decision to leave an urban environment. I’ve heard from others that they’re resolute on staying in a city. And then, the rare exceptions of those that did indeed leave, but are attempting to come back.

Off the top, as I mentioned before, there are financial realities to most of the top metropolitan areas that can make living in cities long-term, simply out of the question. Quite honestly, this really bums me out. Particularly, when I contemplate the plight of the public school system. However, this is the reality for now and it can’t be ignored.

With that as a given, and moving beyond that for a moment, I do find it interesting HOW people make the decision to stay, let’s say for the purposes of illustration, in San Francisco or choose to move, given that they have the choice to make. And I do think much of it comes down to perceptions and visions of what their life perhaps should be like or could be like. I contemplated some of the many conversations that I’ve had personally over the years and listed some samples of what I’ve heard.

Viewpoints from discussions I’ve had over the last decade include:
– “If have to move out of District X (a particular neighborhood designation in SF), then we might as well move out of the city.” A choice.
– “A proper home for my family includes a large backyard and a room for every child.” A choice.
– “Why would anyone want a yard? I don’t have time for gardening and yard work.” A choice.
– “It’s important to me that my kids can walk to school.” A choice.
– “It’s most important that the parents are happy in their living environment since that affects the whole disposition of family life.” A choice.
– “It’s most important that the kids are happiest in their living environment since the parents are willing to sacrifice for the betterment of their child’s upbringing.” A choice.
– “Small living quarters keep our kids grounded and reinforces the family bond since family members aren’t tucked into far off corners of the house.” A choice.
– “Once kids reach a certain age, you must have more space or you’ll kill each other!” A choice.
– “You must own a home before you have a baby.” A choice.
– “I want my kids to play sports. Where do people gather for school sporting events in the city?” A choice.
– “I’d prefer my kids drive as little as possible. Why would I move somewhere where these new drivers are always in their cars?” A choice.

Given that these discussions are quite timely in our household, I find everyone’s decisions and reasonings fascinating and educational. And the other interesting tidbit I’ve gleaned over the years is how often a household is divided with one, for lack of a better term, City Mouse and one Country Mouse. In my experience, the Country Mouse always wins out, I surmise, due to the pragmatic and logical realities of staying in the city. Put another way, without equal partner support to embrace the intangibles of the city, it IS difficult to argue the math. In fact, you can’t.

Much of what I’ve been musing over in terms of writing for this blog is the celebration of some of those intangibles from my past decade and half here and those situations in our present state. Again, this all representing our thinking as it is today.

I celebrate, recognize and respect those that have made all kinds of living situation decisions for their families as these are typically woven into a rich tapestry comprising emotions, logic, value judgments, life visions and goals. And I do love to hear and witness how perceptions may bend or shift slightly over time.

As such, I’d love to hear any other thoughts on this topic or issues raised above. It seems many of us are already in the midst of the discussion and I’ve love to see it continue.

Until next time,

The City Mouse

Should I stay or should I go? An Introduction.

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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

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