Is it Grassier on the Other Side?

The Next Family

By: Julie Gamberg

I’ve been having that particularly urban mini crisis lately called: Should I move farther out of the city so I can have a yard (or insert other desirable non-urban element here)? I have been fretting over my one-bedroom apartment and keeping a running pro/con list in my head. (Do those ever help?) Which is more important: Being able to walk to the library and shops, or being able to walk to the park? Having great restaurants nearby or being in an environment which pushes me to cook? But it’s the yard, that ubiquitous patch of lush green that keeps me up at night. And thinking about the yard leads to thinking about fresh air and then that kind of thinking quickly deteriorates until soon I think I should move to a goat farm in Alaska. If a little nature is good, more must be even better.

Then I think about all of the things I love about my apartment building – like my awesome upstairs neighbor with a baby seven weeks older than mine and our pool (!) which, while small, has been great for swimming lessons this summer with a small group of local mamas and their wee ones– and the things I love most about the neighborhood: the amazing mamas and their babies I have come to know here, as well as how I can walk to nearly everything I need on a daily basis, like the library, post office, and supermarket, a fantastic independent bookstore, an independent movie theater, an independent health food grocery, and great restaurants and cafes.

Which is all fantastic. If you’re an adult. (And I didn’t even mention the great bars and lounges!) But then I look at my little one, just about nine-and-a-half months and having already taken her first independent steps and all I can see is lawn. As a crawler/cruiser, she roams around the apartment pulling herself on furniture, opening and closing drawers, circling a very small and known territory. And I could swear that she seems a little bored already. As a walker her vantage point will change and the already-known territory will lose all elements of surprise. You can’t be curious about what’s coming around the bend when you can see what’s coming around the bend.

My parents both grew up in apartments in New York City. I’ve spent much of my life in apartments. Not a huge deal. And that’s not to talk about people all over the world who live in a wide variety of conditions, many of which make a one-bedroom apartment seem like the height of luxury. When I turn the glass one way, I feel absurd for even worrying about such trivial concerns. My baby is fine. She is well loved, and happy and healthy. And she has community! Because the other thing I love about my neighborhood is that when I walk out my front door, I’m bound to run into someone I know, or strike up a conversation with another family. Maybe my baby likes that too. Perhaps she enjoys the feeling she must have – that we know everybody. That everyone in the world knows and cares about everyone else in the world. What a pleasant way to think about human relations.

And then, and then, and then … I see little ones running around in a yard and it just seems like, in some ways, the absolute minimum. It should really be woods they’re running around in … fields and rivers, and lakes and caves and desert, and a sense of the natural world as something endless and worth investigating. And so the yard seems like a mere stand-in for that. Like some sort of synecdoche that lost the whole it was once associated with. And when I think about the yard like that, we have to move this second.

I have a few dear, dear friends in Portland. They seem to get the best of both worlds. Yes, there’s a little rain every once in a-nearly-every-day, but otherwise perhaps they seem to have it all. (Any Portlanders reading? Is it true?) And so I fantasize about moving to Portland. So the list goes: moving to some nature-y area that is most definitely not officially the suburbs but “out of the city” here in Los Angeles, or moving to Portland. Or to a goat farm in Alaska. Poor goats in the long winter. Oh urbanites with littles, how did you resolve this?

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