When I first arrived in the suburbs in 2002, I was miserable. I joked that my claw marks destroyed third avenue from being dragged out of Manhattan. I loved the ease of city living. Walking instead of driving to destinations, having friends nearby and swiftly completing my interior design work throughout the city made me happy. I took advantage of all New York had to offer. I went to museums, frequented Central Park, attended sporting events, and discovered restaurants in obscure locations. You could say I took massive bites of the big apple daily. Living in New York inspired me to go after my goals, dream bigger, dare to reach for what I never thought I was capable of achieving. Beyond taking advantage of the city, I appreciated the gorgeous windows on Madison Avenue, the spring flowers along Park Avenue, the gay pride parade, and sailors roaming the city during fleet week. My eight years in the city were some of my happiest years. My first daughter was born at Mount Sinai Hospital and it was heaven to push her in the stroller throughout the city, meeting other new mom’s and expanding my social network. I adored my new life as a mom in the city. I was content.
As I sat in the back seat of the realtor’s large Mercedes with my knees pressed against the passenger seat in front of me, I hunched down beneath the window, wishing I could disappear. I remember thinking, ‘I should want this.’ We spent our weekends travelling outside the city investigating quaint suburban towns, and each time I felt a fog envelop my head. My eyes struggled to open and my legs felt weighty. A pit formed in my stomach and I wished the earth would swallow me. Looking back on that time in my life, it’s clear why I felt ill from house hunting, but in the moment the ‘shoulds’ captured my tongue. It felt like the next box to be checked on life’s to do list. Who was I to argue the gold standard? Graduate college, get married before thirty, have a baby, move to a suburb with a nice yard and swing set, have more kids, get a dog and live happily ever after. I was following a roadmap that I thought would lead to happiness, but at 30 I didn’t understand that we can make our own unique roadmap to happiness. On paper, a new custom built house in a beautiful town, close to my parents ‘should’ have fulfilled my dreams, but I didn’t want any of it. I wanted my loud, cramped, sixth floor apartment on 67th street. I wanted the wonders of Manhattan at my fingertips. I wanted bustling streets at all hours and my best friend a few blocks away. I can’t recall a single conversation addressing if we should move to the ‘burbs, only where and when we would move.
My denial of suburban life included returning to the city for doctors appointments, classes with my daughter, lunches with friends and pretty much any excuse I could find to get back to my comfortable place. The oversized brown boxes in the new house blocked doorways, yet they sat for months collecting dust. The ‘shoulds’ continued to dictate my life, and I struggled to find happiness in a house most would covet. My daughter brought me tremendous joy, so I focused on being her mom and checking the next box of getting pregnant again. I wonder if I was depressed, but how could someone be depressed from moving to a beautiful town, in a beautiful house with a healthy child? I felt ungrateful, and therefore buried my true feelings. I pushed through the sadness because I was judging myself for not feeling the joy I believed I ‘should’ have felt. If only I were five, I could have hid under the covers and screamed ‘I’m not going’ at the top of my lungs, gripped the blankets with strong fists and never let go. I detached from my emotions to get through the days, weeks, months, years, but there was no joy. In the city, I felt free and alive, stimulated by the energy of New York. Small town living deadened me. Leaving my life and career in the city felt like I had abandoned my desires and dreams. It was emotionally crippling, but I didn’t believe I had the right to feel unhappy. If I had paused for a moment and given my gut some attention, been mindful, I would have realized that moving was not the right decision, and life’s checklist was not working for me.
Years later, I began building a second new house in the midst of my marriage falling apart. Bigger, newer, ideal neighborhood, and even though it was merely two miles from my first house, I once again, wasn’t interested and avoided any involvement. Marriage crumbled, house erected. How’s that for irony? Another miserable move to a house, a project, that I ‘should’ have been ecstatic about. Nine months after we moved in, he moved out. I intended on selling the house as it was a “we” house and I wanted a “me” house, but the divorce became so treacherous for my children, I felt the only responsible thing to do would be to purchase the house and provide my children with the security of a stable home. My father always says, the three most stressful things in life are death, divorce and moving. I am here to tell you, he is correct. The emotional stress moving can induce was all too familiar to me, and I only wanted to heal and protect my daughters. In March 2019, my daughters and I gathered on the floor and huddled together in front of our fireplace as we clicked champagne flutes filled with fizzy grape juice to our new home. I saged every room, and strategically placed crystals throughout the house hoping to invite positivity and peace. We worked together on furnishing the house, and we now have a home. A home of our own. It’s taken time but we are settled now, and we are content. My new neighbors and neighborhood have been a big part of our happiness. It feels like an enclave and is filled with many of our friends, and acquaintances who smile, and offer to help without question. It took eighteen years, but I finally found the peace I craved in the suburbs.
My youngest is now a sophomore in high school and I contemplate being alone in an empty home that I finally feel comfortable in. I try not to think about it too much because my chest tingles with anxiety at the thought of moving from this neighborhood, but I know this home will be too much space for me when my girls begin the next phase of their lives. As I think about a move and the anxiety I associate with moving, I wonder why my past moves couldn’t have been happier for me. Why couldn’t I have adjusted more easily? I’ve realized my unhappiness with the suburbs and the move to the new house was misplaced. We are all familiar with the endless quotes, lyrics and poems that confirm a house is made of four walls, but a home is created by the people within. I think my unrest was less about where and when and more about who. When you’re spending your days with the right person, the person who you feel most content with, location is irrelevant. VRBO has made a business of renting houses in the middle of nowhere to unplug with the ones you love. Romantic cabins and treehouses with nothing around for miles. My misery wasn’t where I was but who I was walking through life with. I didn’t understand it at the time because I was entrenched in being the best mother and wife I could possibly be, but I forgot to pay attention to my own happiness. I never wanted to spend time in either of my houses, until I made a home of my own. For many years, the moment my eyes blinked open, my feet hit the floor and I was on the run. My close friend used to say to me ‘Leslie, stop the running! Just relax in bed, or sit on the couch and watch mindless TV. You never stop. You’re never content at home.” She was correct. But I didn’t want to stop. I was running from so many things and running provided a perfect excuse to avoid the issues. The running slowed when I purchased my home, and Covid stopped it all together. Today, I am exceptionally content in my home. In fact, I don’t like to leave. I love my home. I love to entertain, hosting family and friends brings more love and joy into my home. I sit in my office, my bed or at the kitchen table and write for hours. I prefer to cook than to go out or take out. A walk in the neighborhood is my favorite way to pass any free time. I have never been more content than I am today. If I am with my girls in our home, all is right in this world. I’ve had to work hard to find peace and had to endure severe unhappiness to appreciate where I am today, but my amazing neighborhood, and a home that is comfortable and safe for my daughters has brought me the ultimate peace. This home has given us many happy memories. It has seen boyfriends come and go, eighth grade graduation, a high school graduation party, a quarantine of togetherness, holidays spent with extended family, birthday cocktails, late night dance party’s, sleepovers with tons and tons of giggling girls, hot summer evenings on the patio, late night barbeques, snuggly movie nights by the fire, and my personal, favorite s’mores all year round. The best part is knowing that I will have the freedom to completely control when, where and with whom our next move will be.