New Jersey is a strange place. Sandwiched in between New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey doesn’t have its own culture or personality. In the North, we know more about the traffic patterns of Cross Bronx expressway than what’s going on around the Meadowlands; South Jersey cheers for the Phillies. People here self-identify based on their towns, not the state. People will say that they’re from Secaucus or Paterson, not from Jersey.
If all politics are local, Jersey takes it a step further. All life is local here. People grow up in their towns and never leave. They coach their kid’s little league games on the same fields that they played on as kids. They gradually will open up to new people who land in their towns and will be friendly enough, but their loyalties always remain with the long standing locals and their relatives who all live about ten minutes away. Sundays mean huge extended families and a large pasta dinner.
We moved to our first home in a New Jersey town, when Jonah was five. We needed a backyard and nearby schools. We embraced our new lives and planned on staying for the long haul. But then, things started falling apart. Our youngest son didn’t attend school in the town, because of his disability, so we only had one kid involved in the town life, which centered around the kids’ sports leagues. Our property value kept dropping, because new zoning laws put our home just a few yards from a commercial district. The test scores for the school put the town on a NCLB watchlist, and nobody seemed to care.
We put the house – a home that we had lovingly restored – on the market and moved six years ago to a new town. It was a big deal. Some of our old friends stopped talking to us. Jonah was in middle school at the time and he had a rough transition. We went from a 15-year to a 30-year mortgage. But we were desperate. We needed a change.
It was a gamble. We didn’t really know that the new town would provide our kids with a better education. We didn’t really know if the house would be a good investment. We didn’t really know if we would fit into this new community.
This town has more people who have lived elsewhere, more professionals, higher school test scores, sports teams that win everything, and is much, much bigger. But that’s just stats on a wikipedia page. What about the intangibles?
Friends asked me last week, if we did the right thing. I had a few glasses of wine in me at the time, and didn’t have a great answer ready. I’ve been thinking about this question all week.
This town is different from a lot of other Jersey towns, because it is so atypically Jersey. It’s not based on tribal family ties, but on a tradition of social capital. There are a million different clubs and activities. I’ve been at meetings for the school or politics every night this week. People volunteer like crazy. And they have super high skill levels. The presidents of the PTA have MBA’s from Harvard or ran the publicity department of a Fortune 500 company before becoming a stay at home mother.
The Newcomers club has hundreds of members. There are genealogy societies at the library. The Presbyterian church hosted the West Point marching band. The Catholic church runs a food kitchen. There’s the League of Women Voters, a historical society, tech classes, cooking classes, amateur birding clubs, dozens of book groups, free movies.
Since I spend so many hours in front of a computer during the day, it’s nice to have those social outlets in the evening. With only one kid in the local public school, I’m much less plugged in than others, but I get by.
With all the intensity in town, I can’t say for certain that the move was great for our kids. Somethings they do get lost in shuffle. There have been pros and cons, for sure. Steve and myself benefitted in more obvious ways though we still bat around the idea of moving back to Manhattan when Ian finishes school.
I suppose I still don’t have a great answer about whether or not our gamble paid off. For the present, it did.