Six years ago, I published a personal essay in the New York Times about how often I had moved in my adult life, and how I was hoping that my imminent move to Brooklyn from Manhattan would be my last, at least for a long while. I wrote optimistically that I imagined myself settling down, proudly wearing a T-shirt with “BROOKLYN” spelled in large letters across the front.
This was despite the fact that throughout my life, I’d lived in many places and hadn’t settled in any of them: California, the Midwest, the Virgin Islands, Upstate New York and Mexico. And even within my hometown of New York City, where I had pretty much come to stay, I’d bounced around apartments and neighborhoods, from the West Village to Midtown to the East Village to El Barrio to the Lower East Side.
My reasons for moving had ranged from the financial to the emotional, from needing a less expensive place to live, to wanting to live on a safer block, to simply feeling the need — perhaps irrationally — to have a big change in my life and to move on. The man I married shared the same restlessness and desire for more, and so together we kept moving around.
I watched as many of my friends settled down, loving their homes despite the fact that there wasn’t enough closet space, or there was just one bathroom for four people, or the heating system was a mess, or their apartment was a sixth-floor walkup, or that no one on the block ever shoveled on snowy days. But I couldn’t stay put the way they did. I was too restless.
Yet I kept telling myself that each move would be my last, and that I would finally be able to relax, and that once I had unpacked, I would remain unpacked for a long time. I was highly optimistic about our move to Brooklyn, despite the fact that this time we were moving under duress. Our one-year lease was up in our Manhattan apartment, and our landlord had raised our rent astronomically, overnight, and we simply couldn’t pay it. But that was OK with me because I was ready for a new adventure, anyway.
So we put together the money for a down payment and searched Manhattan, looking to buy an apartment rather than rent. We wanted to stay in the city, as my husband had found a job he loved. But we couldn’t find anything we liked or could afford near a “good school,” which had become a priority because we had become, by that point, the middle-age, first-time parents of a young girl adopted from Guatemala.
“Try Brooklyn,” our Brooklyn friends advised us. “You’ll love it as much as we do. You’ll never want to live anywhere else. It’s so much saner and quieter than Manhattan.” They touted the many good schools, and the family-friendly neighborhoods like Park Slope, Windsor Terrace and Ditmas Park. Our child-free friends in Williamsburg told us about all the new hipster bars that were fun to hang out in (despite the fact that my husband and I are a long way from being hipsters).
With time running out, we decided that, yes, we would join the exodus of folks leaving the ever-bustling Manhattan for the greener pastures of less expensive Brooklyn (not inexpensive, just less expensive). However, Park Slope and those other pretty brownstone neighborhoods seemed too suburban, although we fit Park Slope’s demographic nicely (older parents with an adopted daughter of color). Instead, we discovered a co-op complex of seven buildings, right over the bridge from Manhattan, which was a selling point to us, and we bought an apartment there.
And we tried. We really tried to settle down and love our new home, and to focus on the positive. There were beautiful manicured gardens throughout the complex and a playground for my daughter. Other parents seemed happy to raise their children there. But we had somehow not noticed how isolated the buildings were, surrounded on all sides by insanely dangerous street crossings (we had to cross the death-defying entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge any time we wanted to go to the supermarket or pharmacy).
And the public school that had been touted to us as such a good school, turned out to be a poor match for our daughter, who didn’t fit the school’s mold. We decided to sell our apartment and move again. We enrolled our daughter in a different school in Brooklyn, and found ourselves a rental apartment in a brand new high rise in downtown Brooklyn (what the realtors call “DoBro,” although no one else does) because the area most resembled Manhattan of any Brooklyn neighborhood, with its strip of modern high-rises and office buildings. As we settled in, happier here than in the co-op, we still had to admit that we hadn’t fallen in love with anything about Brooklyn, not its lovely brownstone neighborhoods and not this burgeoning urban nabe.
So, guess what: Three years later, we’re moving again. Our daughter is now attending a school in Manhattan that we believe she’ll remain in, and we’re ready to tackle life back in what our Brooklyn friends call “nutso-busy Manhattan.” We’ve found an apartment in a neighborhood that will be new to us, and we’re growing excited, ready to learn the nooks and crannies of our new home, ready to walk the streets to discover what makes the neighborhood unique, and ready — I hope, I really do — to make this our home for quite a while.
But what I have learned, as we begin the familiar process of packing our things in boxes, is that there are no guarantees, that some of us stay put and settle in and easily learn to love the homes we find, and some of us keep looking, hoping to find the home that is perfect, despite knowing there will never be such a thing.