I am inviting advice on what has become the hardest sticking point in our lives, and in the next few months may come to a head.
I am the proud mum of two DDs, age 8 and 5.
We live in NJ's Essex County. We live about 75 minutes north of our family. My husband's parents and my parents live in the same town (Toms River), where we were both raised. Our brothers and sisters all live in the same general vicinity as our parents, give or take 15 minutes south or north. There is nearly no chance that any of them will be moving very far, since they like the area and/or don't mind commuting for work.
My husband and I have lived in northern NJ for ten years: as a means to work in design and media in NYC, as a way to experience denser, more "vibrant" communities, nightlife and culture. Over five years ago we bought our first house in an older but dense northern NJ suburb.
My husband now works from home but goes into NYC about once/week for meetings. His career is entrepreneurial in nature but he is very driven and would like a large degree of flexibility to work from home, moving forward. He is a very hands-on dad and always takes our two girls bike riding, hiking, etc.
Last fall, my oldest DD secured a spot in the school of our dreams--a suburban charter school. To clarify, charter schools are free. (We applied after two years of significant dissatisfaction with our neighborhood school that didn't resolve itself even as we volunteered hundreds of hours to improve the school in many ways and had the superintendent's full support, but rarely the aging principal's.)
In retrospect, we could have moved one town over and enjoyed a more progressive style of public education. It seems our "fatal flaw" was getting so enthusiastic about our cute, affordable (height of the market!) house in a walkable downtown that we were blind to individual school differences--there are two in town that are much better--though now overcrowded.
I've always had a bit of Sisyphus-style approach to things, and that became evident when we fell in love with the charter school. After attending for over a year, it has exceeded our expectations (small, positive discipline, sustainability-missioned, supportive, lots of professional development for its close-knit teachers) and my eight year-old DD has thrived. This fall, our younger DD started kindergarten there, and she loves it.
The catch? The school is a 25 minute drive WEST, each way. Not very sustainably-minded of us. It's our hypocrisy, I'm the first to admit. (There were many other reasons to attend, and my thriving child exhibits each one.)
My DD would like to move to the school's home district. It is also a semi-urban, walkable town. My DDs could both take the bus, saving an untold amount gas money and two hours each day. We have some neighbors we would miss terribly, but I've always felt that "quality of life" issues often resolve these decisions.
My husband now has his own quality of life issue: he would like to move closer to our families.
He has never "loved" urban living as much as I have. We have four nephews between the ages of 1 and 5, and my husband is increasingly feeling the "pull" to spend more time with them. We make a heroic effort to go down at least every other weekend, often staying over at one of the four houses. It might be an imposition to folks sometimes, but we try to be as low-key as possible, declining extra meals or bringing something for potluck. The families only really come to visit us here in Essex Cty. for birthday parties or a hosted holiday meal. When we have thrown out more formal invites, it usually doesn't come to much. They are very "settled" in their areas and have always seemed uncomfortable in urban environments (--I was kind of the black sheep, so of course I was dissatisfied with the suburbs growing up). It sounds like a big generalization, but it's true.
My husband would like to move three counties south--to live one county above our families--Monmouth County, about 15-20 minutes from our parents. Much of his desire stems from wanting people to visit and stay with us instead of always feeling like the schleppers. I would welcome this as well: since I teach PT, the house gets increasingly messy each year. There is always a half-unpacked suitcase lying around, and it's impossible to get caught up on weekend chores if we aren't home.
I actually would be okay with the move now, in my late thirties. We are both ready for the "15 year" house, knowing that we'll lose money on this, our starter home, but we don't want to mess with the market after this--we just want to live our lives and become the people we want to be. I no longer feel the need to personally save suburban sprawl. I would like a larger garden. I am comfortable enough in my values that they travel well with me and I have a good nose to sniff out like-minded friends. I try to keep in touch with folks from our old neighborhoods when I can, and I know we'll all enjoy wine & chats when our kids are older and we're lonely.
But I can't. Reconcile. To. The. Idea. That. The. Girls. Would. Have. to. Change. Schools.
My eight year-old DD has told us many times that she wants to stay at this school until she graduates eighth grade. (I'm sure she'd prefer to go to high school there, too, for the continuity of knowing a handful of people--the charter school draws students from six counties) I have asked my husband not to discuss moving in front of her because it makes her nervous--she can sense that we are not "locked in" on the decision. My husband has been web surfing on Zillow and it becomes increasingly clear that he's fixated on moving SOUTH instead of WEST. He is finding the style of house that we both love--expanded ranches--and of course they're rare to nonexistent in the school's district, which is populated with older colonials. (I know the house style should not even enter into this conversation, but lets agree that this touches emotional buttons, right? We both want a house we can enjoy now and when the kids are in college and maybe bring their friends home for visits. Of course we want to host our families in a more relaxed way than they typically host us for holidays.)
The only schools that would approximate our dear charter school would be private Sudbury-style schools. I want to focus on saving for college and paying NJ property taxes--not private school. I fear traditional public schools as much for their testing-mania and obsessions with control as much as the typical stuff: peer pressure, etc.
If we found the right house in the right town, we might find a cozy elementary school, but then there's middle school. The K-8 models like ours allow middle school-aged kids to take leadership positions, mentor, etc. without the distractions of a new school and new friends.
Am I just afraid of the educational unknown? I don't want to make the mistake--choosing a house or a town before the school--again. It just seems downright unethical to my kids. At the same time, the Me-me-me wants the expanded ranch, the great backyard for entertaining and gardening, the quiet. But it also seems a shame to give up on denser living while I can still involve our young kids in the day-to-day lessons of strong community ties.
Our families miss us. My husband is closer to his family than I am to mine, but we see them almost equally. I have learned to enjoy the time while giving myself emotional space from the intense feeling of misunderstanding I've felt for decades. My in-laws are fun and generous and our kids would probably spend every weekend hour with family if they could--especially with four cousins to play with! We both agree that our parents need more "life" of their own independent from family--and we don't want to be their "everything." I want to attend cultural events, work. Honestly, I don't expect that we'd see our families more during the week. But it might make a difference regarding weekend visits, and with our "schlepping" fatigue. Meanwhile, I am the opposite of a "phone person"--I can't be on the phone and feel "present" with my life, so I'm awful at calling to say hi. Calls even once a week are the best I can do--sometimes only email. My husband sometimes serves as the phone presence for both of us, which actually helps sometimes because I have a very hard time with "small talk" or chit chat.
I appreciate the charter school because it provides a nice counterweight to the values that our families hold--more preoccupied with self, possessions, immediate family over community--and I am heartbroken that I may literally need to choose between school and family--or at least, between school and what my husband seems to want in his heart. (How do I disrespect that? Or should he honor the fact that his DD doesn't want to leave her school?) I don't think the distance is hurting our kids at this time. They enjoy their weekends and are always ready to start a new week. If anyone, maybe the distance mostly hurts me because I don't really connect with my family unless we're sitting in the same room.
Is there any middle ground here that I am blind to? We cannot commute to the school from the southern county. It's too astoundingly far--at least an hour.
If I could, we'd have an apartment in the school district and then go to our "real house" in Monmouth County on the weekends.
And then I wake up, and remember the recession, and the fact that I want to be able to see my kids during the week, and cook for them, and generally be able to breathe.
Advice, admonishments? Thanks so much!
Edited by Aeswo - 9/26/11 at 12:20am