I cried the day we left The City for our new home in New Jersey. The traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel was crawling and, in the back seat, both my three- week old son and I were crying as we inched our way towards our new life in suburbia. I gently massaged his soft tufts of hair and soon my baby was asleep, but I couldn’t so easily dream away this impeding nightmare. I was convinced that this trans-Hudson River crossing was sentencing me to a life suburban purgatory. I remember my husband glancing in the rear view mirror and flashing his warm smile but I felt so suddenly lost. As we emerged from the tunnel, I gazed at the skyline across the river and then, that, too, was gone. I was officially, ‘Bridge and Tunnel’.
Two days later my husband returned to work. I watched from the living room window as he eased the car down driveway and disappeared around the corner, followed by a slow procession of other cars, all headed to the 7:14 train, to the civilization of the city. Every room in the house was stacked with boxes, echoing with a deafening stillness, broken only by the snaps of my sons onesies clinking inside the driver. Opening the front door, I almost hoped for Oz-like magical transformation – I’d be back amongst the honking taxis, wailing sirens, screeching subways, jostling people, but nothing.
Quickly, I buckled up my son in the car and headed out, and just as quickly, I was lost – the houses all looked the same, the streets curved and turned and stopped in dead ends. I panicked, and for nearly an hour, I desperately tried to retrace my route, until finally I got back home. Two fire trucks, three police cars and a gaggle of neighbors stared at the smoke seeping from my house. I thought about driving on, pretending it wasn’t my house, my life, wishing I could retreat back to the city, to everything that was familiar and easy – but instead I stopped and stepped out of the car, fruitlessly trying to smile at the fireman approaching me with a smoldering, melted baby bottle.
“New mom, right?” he asked with a smile, handing me the bottle like a badge of honor, “I’d probably be so tired that I’d forget about turning off the stove, too.”
Soon I was alone again, with the ruined bottle and pot in the sink. I sat on the couch – tears flowing, breast milk leaking. For those first three weeks after my son’s birth I had effectively retained a bit of my former self - sure I was sleep deprived, sure I was often an incoherent, blubbering mess of post-partum emotions – but still, my baby in the stroller was more an accessory in my city life – pushed down Columbus Avenue on an afternoon stroll; tucked against the wall in the corner restaurant, carried down a flight of stairs back at work. But now – how did this happen? How did I end up here? And then it struck me and I immediately knew it wasn’t the geographical here - this supposed dreaded suburban life - that was causing such anxiety, but rather it was the sudden realization that motherhood changes everything and I knew that some of my dreams and some of my goals could, quite possibly, never be realized. I could no longer camouflage myself among the cacophony and adrenaline of the city; I was no longer a child-free woman who could run when she wanted to run, who could eat when she wanted to eat, who could sleep when she wanted to sleep; no longer could I place my own personal accomplishments and goals first; no longer was my life my life. My heart skipped a beat, but then, as I gazed down at my son, now sleeping in my arms with such love and such trust, I listened to the silence, and this time it didn’t scare me. I realized unfulfilled dreams didn’t always mean an unfulfilled life. I knew it was time to become acquainted with my new self and to see where the road was going to take me.
So I spent the summer exploring New Jersey. It was a summer of wrong turns and dead ends and near collisions at traffic circles, but as I began exploring our great state, so, too, did I begin exploring the delights of being a mom. Certainly there were days when I cried, mourning the loss of my former self - but now, even on the days when I am in the city, when I lean nonchalantly against the subway door, or I stick my hand out and signal for a cab, or I walk the thirty odd blocks to my destination because I’m a New Yorker and I walk – when I head back across the Hudson, I happily ease back into my new reality. There are pieces of me that I’ve left behind, but crossing over the bridge or through the tunnel, with the help of my husband and children, I am always finding parts that I never even knew existed.
Besides, I still have my NYC cell number. Twelve years and counting - I’m not giving that up just yet.
By Jenny Tananbaum
Jenny Tananbaum is a writer, wife and mom to three. firstname.lastname@example.org