In the past, families used to flee New York not too long after the first child was born. Conventional wisdom had parents buying houses in the suburbs where schools were better and playgrounds were cleaner. Then as the economy boomed and the city remade itself into a child-friendly place, people started to stay. I can recall Jon Stewart buying a Phil & Ted stroller before anyone had even heard of this crazy new double stroller that allowed you to stack your children. Then they started popping up on the sidewalks with alarming frequency as families stayed past the first baby, into the preschool years and onto the second sibling. In the last few years, it seems like Brooklyn has been overrun by strollers and children. In fact, this trend had the borough nearly bursting at the seams as brownstone prices skyrocketed and morning preschool slots became the holy grail.
However, I have noticed a disturbing trend recently. The flow seems to have reversed itself, and more people seem to be leaving. At first, it just seemed like talk -- even I have talked about leaving the city one day! Then, one friend decided to just "look" at houses in New Jersey and ended up buying one that very weekend. Next, a mommy friend from my son's preschool found that she and her family were spending more and more time at their upstate weekend house than in their city apartment and decided to make their second home their permanent residence. Then, a woman in the library mentioned she was looking for a new apartment, and after looking at more than thirty places found that almost all the current tenants were relocating out of the city. Finally, almost every single day there is a post on my local parenting board about a family trying to find work for their nanny because they are leaving the city -- usually due to a lost job. With CNN headlines scaring us with daily updates on job cuts and the continued downward plunge of the stock market, everyone seems to be making a break for it.
It's totally understandable. Most families I know have two kids sharing a bedroom which leads to all sorts of challenges that suburban families never consider - like where your toddler will sleep when you sleep train the baby. We pay insane amounts of money for incredibly small living spaces just so we can enjoy the perks of urban living (like trips to Shea Stadium (R.I.P.) or the American Museum of Natural History). The economic downturn is tipping the scale though. Lost jobs can quickly make an expensive city an unnecessary luxury. The lure of lower living costs becomes a siren's call. The little perks are wiped away in the face of a potential upswing in crime.
What does this mean for us? The easy answer is less competition for preschool and pre-k. Really though it means learning how to say goodbye to friends that have been my lifeline in the crazy fun mess of parenthood. It means my children will learn about the heartbreak of missing friends they have known since birth. I also find myself wondering if we will we join the exodus? Sadly, the flip side to the fun game of what would we do if we won the lottery is what would we do if my husband lost his job. Where would we go? What about our house? Can I really survive in a place where the playground, grocery store, coffee shop and bodega aren't all within a three block walk of my house? I grow more and more concerned that in the current economy we may all get washed out with the tide.