On Sunday nights, our entire street goes dark. We used to be among the weekend families, the ones who packed up their lives and returned to the city midday Sunday afternoon.
Having children changes everything.
A year before my husband and I married, we bought a house, nestled in the Northwest Woods of East Hampton, about a five minutes’ drive from the center of town. At the time, it was our weekend retreat, where we would arrive late Friday night, each having battled long workweeks, and where we rested our weary bones and summoned enough stamina to do it again the following week.
Flash forward to May 2012, when we moved out for an extended summer, this time with our 6-week-old son in tow. Never having spent more than an entire week in our house, we planned on staying until Labor Day. I distinctly remember leaving behind my sweaters and coats. Not only would they have found an impossible time fitting over my new, ample-sized body, it was simply inconceivable that we wouldn’t be returning to the lives and the seasons where such items were worn.
But by Labor Day, we hadn’t really made much progress in our return to the city. And with a semester-long parental leave for my husband, and occasional side projects as a freelance writer, there wasn’t any particular rush to return to our former lives. By late October, though, friends had grown worried and the call of the world ultimately felt too great.
So, we moved back for the months of November and December to our two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side. We were quickly and quite surprisingly miserable. After long walks on the beach every evening near dusk, our apartment felt tiny and claustrophobic by comparison. City life with a baby, and later a toddler, proved worse. My friends in Williamsburg might as well have occupied another city given how little I saw of them. Between nap times and limited child care, we started to live our lives in a span of 30 city blocks — and often far less.
A year ago, we moved out to the house, with the intention of giving it a full calendar year. There were more than a few occasions last winter when I felt like a modern-day pioneer woman, tasked with keeping the elements at bay. My husband experimented with what it meant to commute two full days a week into the city, and I started working at The Star part time, an alternative that allowed me more time with my son, while also keeping a vital toehold in the working world.
All this time, we’ve kept our apartment. But those days, we’re finding, are numbered. Each trip feels like visiting a former life. The bedroom where I first kissed my husband and the shower where I labored are still there. Our plates and utensils, too. But I firmly believe this next stretch of our lives is about committing to one place, about our family, now the three of us, deciding where to make our home.
Nevertheless, the decision of where to be has proven an agonizing one.
Sometimes, it feels strange to have chosen to make your life in such a desolate part of the earth. I like to joke with my mother, who lives in California, that there really wasn’t much farther east we could have gone.
I moved to New York after college, as a lot of young and ambitious people do, to live out their dreams. Those 10 years, filled with equal parts magic and heartbreak, they went by in a flash.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I drove back into the city for a long weekend, our son fast asleep in the back seat. It was one of those stark Manhattan nights, when the lights of the city seemed to appear out of nowhere, stretching on as far as the eye could see. The city seemed massive in a way that I couldn’t fully penetrate. In those moments, I felt as though I had barely scratched the surface.
I hope for these next 10 years, wherever it is they take us — possibly here, possibly not — that at the end of it we arrive at a place that feels more like home. A place where we can say there was a deeply felt sense of community, of purpose, where we came away with an abiding sense of being known.
Maybe more than I want it for my child, I want it for myself, too.
Amanda M. Fairbanks is a reporter at The Star.