In our young married days, both of us were city folks. We weren’t being trendy; we just chose affordable rowhomes as our first real nests. It was the early 1980s, and our Philadelphia neighborhoods — Graduate Hospital for one of us, Fairmount for the other — were up and coming.
When we lived in the city, we loved walking to work and being regulars at the corner bar and grill. We had a parking sticker, not a dedicated space, and we soon became expert at parallel parking on narrow streets and remembering where we last parked the car. Our older neighbors, who sat on their stoops for hours, would greet us and let us know that our husband just got home or had already walked the dog.
We both enjoyed city life enough to stay put when we had our first child, but we were less than thrilled to push a stroller through trash, broken bottles, and hypodermic needles to get to a city playground that had a baby swing. It was daunting to carry a toddler up and down the steep stairways in our trinity houses.
When our second children were on the way — before our city neighborhoods had time to gentrify — we up and went to the suburbs. It was an easy decision, and we had a deadline looming. We bought houses close to the neighborhoods where we grew up, and we’ve been happy here for more than 25 years.
Now we’re the older folks on the block, the empty nesters who coo over the new babies and buy too much Halloween candy to give out to adorable witches and dinosaurs we don’t know.
Only a handful of neighbors remember our toddler playgroup, the block parties, and how much fun it was to go sledding in the park across the street. Our peers have moved out.
So have our kids, who range in age from 22 to 32. They all live in big cities — Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Denver — where they willingly sacrifice square footage for fun. They can walk out their front door to the newest sushi bar, coffee shop, or craft-beer brewery. And when they come home for a visit, they ask us how we can live in a place where the restaurant delivery service stops at midnight.
When we visit them, we get a glimpse of the lives we used to live — and not just because the table in their hallway and their set of dishes look awfully familiar. City life may be cramped, but it’s exciting.
Maybe it’s time to move back.
We did a little apartment-looking, but what we saw was marketed to millennials who haven’t accrued a lifetime of possessions. Apparently the younger generation is happy to live in 700 square feet if there is a terrace with fire pits on the roof. They love common areas (we called them lobbies) where you can play pool, have a coffee, or work on your laptop in the company of your neighbors. We’d rather sit on our own sofa in our pajamas, in privacy, thank you.
We might be too old for Fishtown, but we’re just the right age for the 55-plus communities to which some of our friends are moving. While we do fit the criteria, we’re not sure we would fit in with anything else. Living with our peers — no toddlers, no younger neighbors — sounds like college all over again but with a different set of drugs. In college, neither of us joined a sorority. We prided ourselves on being independent, and we still like to think we are. In fact, when we’re on a cruise and they announce the next group activity over the PA system, we sometimes feel like jumping overboard.
When it comes to vacations, we’re definitely still city folks. We’d rather explore Barcelona than lie on a beach in Barbados. We love the open-air market, not the high-end suburban mall that pops up on TripAdvisor. But do we want to live in a city full time?
Perhaps we could take a short-term rental to see if we like the building and the neighborhood. Or we could spend one weekend a month in a Philadelphia hotel to see if the thrill of the city wears off.
Should we stay or should we go? This time around, there’s no easy answer, and we’re not yet ready to take the plunge.
Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic, known as the Word Mavens, are the authors of “The Whole Spiel: Funny essays about digital nudniks, seder selfies and chicken soup memories.” Contact them via www.thewordmavens.com.