Moving her family from Brooklyn out to the suburbs was a big lifestyle change for Dana Schwartz, but she’s embracing their new start! This post first appeared on Dana’s blog.
In July it will be a year since we packed up our Brooklyn lives and moved to the country. After a summer hiatus in upstate New York, we landed in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
The night before school started:
It seems unimaginable to me now that we slept in an empty house on air mattresses the night before taking our girl to her brand new school. We were winging it, for sure.
Nine months later, here we are. In the span of time it takes for a baby to grow, we have settled in, more or less. The school year is nearly over.
Yet I am still catching my breath. I am still mourning my old life. At night, when I should be sleeping, I retrace my old walking routes. I miss the cracked sidewalks, the wisteria lined walking bridge, the casual run-ins with friends on the street, at school, in playgrounds. The intimacy of city living.
When people ask me if I miss Brooklyn, I sometimes tell the truth. I try to explain how I miss the geography most of all. I miss knowing my place in the world.
I feel like in some ways we just disappeared. One day we were there, living our lives, going about our usual business, stopping in the same shops, smiling at the same people, playing in the same playgrounds, and then, bam, the next day we’re gone.
We didn’t host a party or send off. I said goodbye to our friends and acquaintances, which had grown thinner over the years after we had our daughter.
There were hugs outside apartment buildings and in playgrounds, a tearful goodbye on the sidewalk. My friend Darla surprised us with a gluten-free cake during a final play date with two of my daughter’s best pals.
But for some reason, it still felt like nothing monumental marked this huge change in our lives.
I’ve had a habit of disappearing, of fading away without fanfare. Leaving pieces of myself behind.
I didn’t attend my college commencement, for example. The idea of my parents not being able to attend while being surrounded by other people’s able-bodied mothers and cheerful fathers was too painful for me to accept. So I bailed.
I told everyone I didn’t care, and in some ways that was true, but the day my father picked me up and drove me home, I felt an emptiness spread inside of me, as if there was a hole I could not fill.
Years later I would regret this decision and made a concerted effort to respect and mark milestones in my life.
But leaving Brooklyn happened so quickly. There was the chaos of kindergarten graduation and real estate emergencies (both in Brookyn and New Hope), and the days leading up to our departure flew by.
One day we were there, and the next we weren’t.
I feel like there is a piece of me I left behind, drifting along those Brooklyn streets. I feel the pang of a phantom limb.
But what I miss isn’t tangible. When I dig deeper, I realize it’s much more than those dirty sidewalks, the comfortable geography. I miss myself, the person I was in my 20s and 30s.
I was 26 years old when I moved to Brooklyn. Shortly after, I met my husband in The Tea Lounge, a Park Slope café, which is now a Vietnamese sandwich shop.
That was the fall of 2001, when the smoke from the Twin Towers had only just stopped smoldering, when the flyers of those “missing” people could still be found, tattered and weather worn, on lamp posts.
That tragedy earmarked the beginning of the next phase of my life. Less than three years later, I would marry. Another three after that my mother would die. Less than a year later, I’d have my first child, a baby girl, born in spring, just as the cherry trees burst into bloom.
Now cherry tree season has ended. The petals started falling on Mother’s Day leaving the grass littered with heaps of pink flowers tinged with brown.
Change has always been hard for me. I am a creature of habit. A Cancer Crab who likes to burrow comfortably in familiar holes (the astrological generalizations of a sensitive homebody suit me).
Part of what I loved about Brooklyn was my comfort there, a feeling of belonging, that perhaps was somewhat forced.
Growing up in central New Jersey in a town called, of all things, Middletown, I never felt a sense of community, or home-iness. I loved my actual house, 80s modern with cathedral ceilings and walls of windows, set up high on a hill in the woods, but not the town.
It was mostly strip malls and movie theaters. The proximity to the beach was the best part, but I could only take advantage of that when I got my driver’s license, and shortly afterwards, I left for college.
I ran away from New Jersey, barely looking back.
Now, I’m in Pennsylvania, right across the river from my home state. On warm nights we walk across the bridge and my children straddle the border while holding dripping cups of ice cream. A tradition we began shortly after we moved here, one that I look forward to continuing.
That’s the thing I must remember. We’re making new tracks here, forging new routes, albeit by car and not by foot. My children will not remember much from our Brooklyn life, other than the stories we tell, the pictures we show. But they will remember this house, this foundation of their young lives. They will put down roots that will grow and blossom like the flowering trees in our yard.
I will put down my own roots here, too, because it’s never too late to make a new home.