City Mouse or Country Mouse?

A book with a similar title was one of my favorites growing up. I’ve always swayed back and forth between the love of country and of city. I find beauty in the mountains and rolling hills, in sunsets on water, and on days at the beach. Nothing will ever compare to the sights and sounds and vibe of the city though. I lived in Texas for almost ten years. I longed for New York, its abundance of culture is what I missed so much. I’ve been thrilled being back in the tri-state area these past four years. I spend as much time as I can in New York and in Philadelphia; my kids love both as much as I now. I cannot imagine living a great distance from either ever again.

I’m in a transitional phase now, my last vent post made that clear. I’ve been weighing my options, for types of work such as freelance vs. traditional. Ultimately, I need benefits, at the very least health insurance, and stability. So I’ve decided to head in the direction of traditional. Freelance is nice for the flexibility it offers, my ability to work from home, and the pay is quite enticing. However, living without healthcare and the risk of not having a paycheck around the corner has proven to be too much. Finding work in the traditional sectors brings its own challenges. For one, I have not been in a typical work setting for over a decade. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, in particular caring for my child with special needs. My freelance work doesn’t impress employers who demand a degree or someone with “five years of executive experience.” Only those in the art world think my freelance work and portfolio mean a thing. The jobs I’m qualified for based on what they see of me on paper is retail. The pay is minimum wage, and the hours include nights and weekends. Also, most of these jobs offer you part-time work, up to 37 hours so they don’t have to offer you benefits. The challenge is great; I have to believe a job that will fit my needs is out there.

Aside from getting that job, I have to decide on where we are going to live. Granted, the overwhelming deciding factor in that will be where my work  is. But as I apply and browse jobs, location is a primary focus. There are not many jobs here in Central New Jersey where I currently reside. North Jersey is far more plentiful, as is the Philadelphia area and New York. Rents in North Jersey are quite high, and don’t offer much in exchange for those rents. In the cities, at least, you can go without a car (And the car payment, the insurance, the gas, etc.) which can make up for rental fees. So, I am now between looking locally, in an attempt to not have to move far until I can earn my degree and move beyond where I am today, and heading into a metropolitan area.

Being a single mom, living in a city offers many positives along with plenty of negative factors. Crime, being one. Tucked away in quiet suburbs where I live now leaves me one less thing to fret about. Living in the city would require additional safety measures, being more on the alert. If I were childless, that would not be something I’d concern myself with too much. But having to keep my children safe, not just me, is a greater burden. I don’t take this lightly, hence my hesitation toward relocating to a city. Another con of living in a city is rental costs. We need a two-bedroom apartment, at the very least. We don’t need much space, just enough so we can each have some breathing room and not kill one another. Two bedrooms are pricey. If I only needed a studio or even a one-bedroom, I could easily live anywhere. Philadelphia’s rental rates are around the same as what I would pay here in New Jersey. And if you head 20-30 minutes outside of Philly, the prices are actually a bit less than this area. On the other hand, rent in New York is more than double that of Philly. Even without a car payment, rationalizing paying such a high rent to live in New York seems absurd. Not to mention, the sky-high cost of living there is a significant consideration.

That being said, the perks of city life over that in the country are extensive, particularly for someone parenting on their own. Today, the kids had a delayed opening. They’ve had a lot of delayed openings and school closures this year. My children are too old for daycare, yet too young to stay on their own all day. This is a dilemma. Here in the middle-of-nowheresville, New Jersey, I don’t have many options for days like this. The Y’s before- and after-care programs do not function when weather is inclement. So aside from finding a back-up to care for my youngest when she is sick, I also need a plan for delayed openings, snow days, and early dismissals. Again, somehow affording all of this additional cost of childcare. Living in a city would alleviate much of this. For one, New York schools rarely close or have delayed openings. This means I would make it to work and not have to scramble every couple of weeks in the winter to make sure my kids are cared for. Additionally, cities typically have earlier and later before-and after-care programs at schools. Currently, my school only offers care from 7am until 6pm. The morning isn’t as much of an issue, but getting to my kids’ schools (Two separate ones!) by six is a challenge for sure. It also far easier to find, and afford sick or emergency care in a city. A program such as this one in Philadelphia would make my life a lot easier.

As I look over a budget for living in either of these cities or staying in New Jersey, I have a lot to consider. Financially, it may prove that being in a city, despite it’s increased rental prices and cost of living, will actually be more affordable. The resources for me there are abundant–from career training to school options and beyond. Another plus, one of great importance to me, is the unending exposure to arts and culture my children would have. There would always be something to do, something to see. Phenomenal enrichment programs at museums and places like the The Lower Eastside Girls Club only exist in a city. The country does offer up quite a bit, exposure to nature is meaningful. The more I contemplate it though, one can find nature even in cities. And for a bigger dose of it, city dwellers are only a train ride away. So, will I remain a country mouse for a while longer, or start my journey as a city mouse now? Hmm…

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2 comments

  1. I hear ya. Been freelancing for over a decade and have been without health insurance for about half that time. It’s difficult living at the whim of clients’ pay schedules. I’m on a first-name basis with the local pawn shop staff. I’m a city boy—born in Brooklyn and have split my life between NYC and Philly. Now in an inner-ring suburb, which is like living in a fish tank. I wish you luck in the job/home search.

    1. Thanks! The highs & lows of freelancing really are something, eh? I think it much harder to go from city to suburb. I spent 10 years in Texas, most of that time in DFW, 2 years in Austin. Although none of them as epic in size or scope as NYC, I was accustomed to the 24-7 availability of things, and resources at your fingertips. Philly & NYC offer far more, in many aspects. Still, it’s been an adjustment being in a suburb that’s an hour plus away from those cities these past couple of years. I get the whole fish tank feeling!

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