Today, I am republishing a modestly edited version of an essay I initially wrote in March 2021. I remember scheduling it for publication and thinking, “It’s really happening; we’re going home,” and feeling like I could finally exhale. Somehow its appearance in twelve point font on this little corner of the Internet reified a trickle of conversations and maneuvers that had felt more dream-like than anything else.
I revisited this post last week and found myself awash with emotions. Mainly, I felt proud of my husband and I for moving mountains to make a decision that we continue to feel has been the best for our family. It is hard to initiate big changes in life. It demands imagination, heavy logisticizing and problem-solving, risk tolerance, sleepless nights, second-guessing. But I sit here on the other side and all of that short-term pain feels immaterial, moot. I would do it ten times over given how settled we feel now.
I wanted to share these thoughts, and this essay, to root you on, if you are half-in-half-out on a big life transition, or if you are feeling like change is impossible. You can do it. Lean into that one wild and precious life. As my Dad would say: “You’re gonna love it.”
It trickled in like rivulets. DC. Home. What ifs that pooled in the bottom of half-drunk glasses of wine while we’d talk late into the evening, my legs curled beneath me on the couch. Stray idylls in moments of parental fatigue — “can you imagine if we lived closer to our families? Saturday mornings, we could take them over to ride bikes with Doe or run around Liz and Jamie’s backyard with the cousins?”
Widening streams of escape, loudening whispers of promise. D.C. Home. The setting up of Redfin alerts — “just look at this house! Only three minutes from your parents’! Look how much more space you get for your money!” The long walks around Jackie O. Reservoir, spilling out dreams of a future with a backyard and a Weber kettle grill and childhood friends only a fifteen minute drive away. The vision of my father-in-law or brother-in-law dropping by with tools, supervising Mr. Magpie’s handiwork. Tricycles in a driveway; quaint, healthful-seeming chores of mowing the lawn and taking out the garbage for our growing children. Borrowing suitcases or folding chairs from my parents’ garage. Holidays simplified, travel-free. School pick-up, drop-offs at Little League or ballet — all with a car at our disposal. Backyard drinks with old friends who have known us since we were five or six ourselves. Would we consider joining my parents’ country club? What if mini eventually attended my beloved alma mater, Visitation?
Then it came in waves. Meeting my mother for walks and manicures and lunches. Fulfilling her dream of finally taking her granddaughter to the ballet at the Kennedy Center. Cousins growing up together, introducing one another to their little pods of school friends, attending camp and Sunday Mass and everything in between together. I shared some of these fantasies with a friend and she said, “You know, Jen? Life happens between the drumbeats. And I can see why you’d want those pauses with your family next to you.” Then, suddenly, the image of myself, standing uninvited but welcome at the foot of the stairs leading up to the cheerful room where my mother often sits at her desk: “Mom? Just dropping off the dish you lent.” The raiding of her fridge for an apple on the way out. Those willowy, trivial intimacies I have missed. Sitting with my sister on her front porch, barefoot and cooing over her newborn. “Can you pick up ice for the cooler on the way over?” she might ask. My father-in-law on the sidelines at soccer games, my mother-in-law sewing Halloween costumes. Blue crab on their patio, with cold drinks and cicadas and the thickness of D.C. in the summer. Close enough to be there for our parents if they ever need us. Close enough to have them when we need them — which is, frankly, always.
Breakers roared. D.C. Home.
So we did it —
Rearranged our lives, worked through the logistics, calculated timetables and leases and school deadlines, and now we are moving home to D.C. this summer and few decisions in my life have felt simpler, more correct.
It occurs to me that every other move in my life has felt fraught with peril. Each one a tightrope walk into the unknown, with new jobs or impossible timelines or foreign cities or absent networks. Just long, blind lunges into the new. Growth happens there, in those terrifying moments, to be sure.
But this: more of a clear-eyed glide into parts known, and for that I am awash with gratitude. A net beneath us. The sensation as a teenager turning off Connecticut Avenue onto Tilden Street just after I’d gotten my license: a relaxing of the shoulders, a feeling I was safe along that legible corridor where I knew every tree and curb and the cars likely to be parked on the street, and where the only two possible dangers were someone riding too close on my tail and not being prepared for the U-turn I’d need to make at Linnean Ave to curl back up the boulevard towards home, or an over-ambitious left hand turn by an aggressive driver off 29th Place. That is to say: I was still moving, still out there, but at a vastly diminished likelihood of threat. Home field advantage.
Is this what happens in your late 30s? Security begins to outweigh the thrill of the new, the possible? Perhaps, too, we have been re-conditioned by the responsibilities of our lives right now and it has all been amplified by the strain of COVID and the absence of family over the past year and a quarter. And then there is the aging of our parents, the birth of another baby to my sister in a couple of weeks: the pull of family, our hunger for their help. Also on my mind: the age of our children and the mounting desire for more space, less complicated logistics, extra hands. As an example, we had been dancing around how we might get both of our children down to the school that we have loved so much for mini on the subway next fall. One child, when the school was en route to Mr. Magpie’s office downtown (pre-COVID), was perfectly fine. One child, when we had to go out of our way to take her downtown while both of us have been WFH during COVID, has been less than ideal but doable. Two children — especially when one will be in a stroller and Mr. Magpie will still be WFH — looms indomitable. We had explored buying a car for the purpose, but even then: double-parking on a busy street twice a day, running the risk of tickets, maneuvering around parking garages, the unpredictability of traffic especially in inclement weather, the added headache, the cost! (There is a joke that having a parking spot in Manhattan is like taking on a second lease.) No, no, we’re being crazy, we told ourselves. We should move them up to a school closer to our apartment. Then: But we love that school! Mini is thriving there! And it has a great track record with exmissions! And there are no AMI-certified Montessoris in walking distance! And wouldn’t it be weird to move mini for the final year of her Montessori program, especially if we are staying in NY long-term and such decisions do matter when thinking about where she will go to grade school? Do we move back downtown?
Of course, logistics around school, work, and childcare with small children are complicated no matter where you live, but they were growing ultra-knotty for our tastes, and it seemed that most of the solutions were expensive or inconvenient or undesirable, like ceding multiple hours of my day in transit between drop-offs and pick-ups, or paying for a nanny to help with logistics in addition to private school enrollment for two children, or sending them to a non-Montessori, or keeping mini at her school and sending micro to a different school, or moving again.
I have always admired the New York families that raise their children here, but now more than ever — what determination, accommodation, and expense it requires. And what an experience for the children!
So make no mistake about it: we are not leaving on bad terms with New York. I will forever remain grateful for my time here. ILNY. It is dazzling, unknowable, too big for words, still a shock, the most exciting place I will ever have lived. And it is where my boy was conceived and born. Where mini came into her own as a little human with a big personality. Where I settled into myself as an adult — where I owned my interest in writing, where this blog took off, where I came to terms with the shuttering of a previous business, where I began the slow process of reconciling my outsized visions of myself with the reality of the world. It has been kind and unkind to us, but mainly kind. In a strange way, in spite of the challenge of living here during this pandemic, our New York years have been the gentlest of our lives as a married couple: this is where we found a stasis, a rhythm, felt as though we flipped from waiting for the next thing to happen to sitting in the next thing, in wonderment and disbelief. “We live in New York?” we still ask each other. “We have two children?!”
I am proud we made a life here. It is true, I think, what they say: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. (Even more true, I might suggest, if you make it in NYC during a pandemic.) New York has been an education. We are three and a half years into a city that is exhausting and electric and disgusting and wonderful and where there have been, on balance, far more moments of magic than of malaise. There are mornings where I run through Central Park and feel positively filled with joy. There are moments of snowfall and daybreak and low-lying fog and autumn chill and summer haze where I look out on the city, or traipse down my favorite tree-lined street on the Upper West Side, and I am awash with wonder. What a phenomenal place to live. It presents a breath-taking, movie-set backdrop to everyday life. And everything is accessible, deliverable, only a 15-minute ride away by Subway. The entire world at our fingertips. Interesting people and exciting food and diverse perspectives and provocative culture and — for better or worse — it’s rare I leave the apartment without seeing something worth sharing with Mr. Magpie upon return.
“New York always makes it up to you,” our friends told us when we first moved in, as we shook off a traumatic move to the city. “She’ll come through.” That has proven true. For every strange encounter on the street and icky dripping of mysterious subway juice onto your head (this happens, just ask any New Yorker) there have been life-affirming moments with neighbors and strangers alike. It is equally true, though, that this past year has been rough given COVID constraints and the interminable stretches of weeks spent largely at home in our apartment with two small and active children. I will never forget calling my Dad while still symptomatic with COVID-19 and somehow trying to look after two children without leaving our apartment going on 16 or 17 days, all while we knew so little about the virus but could measure its mounting severity by the number of ambulances we heard careening down the street every other minute and the growing desertion of tenants in our building.
“This is hard,” I told him through sudden tears. It felt like the understatement of a lifetime.
When we first spoke with one of the agents who might be helping us buy a home in D.C., she concluded the call by saying:
“Two children, a dog, a Manhattan apartment, two full-time, work-from-home jobs, during COVID? You must be good people.”
I don’t know if it made us good people, but I feel tougher on this side of things.
I just laughed: “We made it somehow.”
After we hung up, I realized how true that rang. We made it somehow. Not just through a bumpy stretch in NYC, but four stressful moves in under nine years; the building of new lives in two enormous, foreign-to-us metropolises; several major career changes; the births of two children; the purchase and sale of a home; the founding and shuttering of one business and the nurturing of a second–and all while a good distance from our parents and all while knowing in some subconscious sense that we eventually imagined ourselves back in D.C. and therefore never felt truly settled. But God is good. What a ride this has been. So there is another sense of the phrase that emerges: we made it somehow — meaning, we built those opportunities and forged those decisions and invited ourselves to the incredible experiences the past ten years have held. We made our way to that feast. And now homeward we go.
We made it.
+On the moment we became homeowners of what will likely be our forever home.
+On surviving the first wave of COVID in Manhattan.
+These $52 statement earrings are so pretty!
+These decorative light-up trees are so chic for a mantle!
+This pretty patterned dress is actually in a very fine-wale cord! I’m so obsessed with corduroy this season.
+Cute $35 sherpa vest. Love the color paired with neutrals.
+Another pretty tree topper option.
+OH, this dress is almost TOO good. Big party energy!
+These neutral Nikes are crazy chic. Loewe vibes.
+Everyone needs a pocket brush to throw in her purse.
+A great woven coffee table.
+Love this chunky knit scarf.
+I think I need to read this book!!!
+Sweet sweater for a little lady.