A few days ago David asked "do you love where you live," and I answered in the affirmative.
The real question today is, do I love where I live enough to sacrifice my dream of home-ownership?
A Newsday article today reveals that the median price for a home in Nassau County, Long Island is $400,000.
For those of you in smaller markets, I'll give you a few minutes to wrap your mind around that figure. $400,000.
We live in my late grandmother's house, which is now owned by my father and aunt. Another aunt and uncle also live in this house, upstairs from us.
We've wanted to move for a quite a while and set a goal for ourselves that we would be out of here once DJ finishes elementary school, a little less than a year from now. Our reasoning is that once he hits middle school, he will get a bus and I will no longer have to depend on my mother, who lives across the street, to take him to and from school.
The problem is, we do not want to leave this town. I've lived here my whole life, all almost-41 years of it, starting in the house I'm in now, then across the street, then to a house on the other side of town and, completing the full circle, back in grandma's house where I lived in my infancy.
I love where I live but it's getting hard to afford the cost of living here. The taxes are high, the home prices are high, the cost of car insurance, utilities and property taxes keep skyrocketing.
You probably think that $400,000 would buy a nice piece of property and a beautiful home. Think again. A home down the block from us sold last month for $320k. One level. Two bedrooms. The house is basically a box sitting on some grass. Everything in the home, from the walls to the floors to the plumbing is at least 40 years old. Yet the owners asked for, and received, over $300k for their home.
What could that kind of money buy you in upstate New York or Pennsylvania or South Carolina? Something larger, roomier and more modern, I'm sure.
So now we have to weigh the benefits of buying a home against the benefits of living here. Because, if we were to really, honestly think about becoming homeowners, it would have to be elsewhere. Even the most worn-down, crime-ridden neighborhoods of Long Island have become financially out of reach for us.
What keeps me here then? First, there's my family. My parents, my sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins that live so close we share a yard. I grew up with my cousins as my best friends, my kids now have the same. They walk out the door and there are ten kids, all related, ready to play baseball or go swimming or just hang out and play video games. It's a benefit that cannot be outweighed by anything, not even rural night skies or wide country lanes or peaceful nights without the honking of horns and the sounds of sirens disturbing the sleep.
It's the four distinct seasons with blizzard-like snowstorms and thunderous summer rains and autumn trees that light the sky on fire. It's the snow days when everyone in town gathers in the same spot and we watch our kids slide down the same hill that we tumbled down as children. It's the familiar faces at school, the music teacher that has been there since time began, the way the cashier at Burger King remarks on how much your son has grown, the way your neighbors and the local deli clerk and the postman all show up at the funeral of your grandfather.
We are in the middle of nowhere if we want to be, but in the middle of everything should we desire it. We can ensconce ourselves in the compound we created by running paths and walkways from one family house to another, and it is just us, laughing, drinking, enjoying the closeness that so few families get to share these days. Even my ex-husband, the father of my kids, lives in this town. We work down the block from each other. Our mothers work in the same library. It's not just this town itself, but the whole of this county, this township that weaves all of us together like a blended family.
We are a pleasant drive from the tip of Long Island, where we can whale watch or see beautiful sunsets and wave to passing boats. We are ten minutes from the beach, where we can swim in the Atlantic ocean until sunset and watch as the sky turns a hundred shades of beautiful.
40 minutes by car or train and we are in New York City, attending concerts, going to museums or just walking the streets and acting like tourists.
Long Island has its own museums, its own places of beauty and reverence, a whole history to explore and nature trails to walk. Aquariums, arboretums, bird sanctuaries and miles and miles of beaches, parks and woods all lay before us.
People stay here. My kids go to school with children of the people I went to school with. This is not a town that people pack up and leave in a hurry when they get married and start families. We are grounded here. We are settlers.
So I have to make a choice. Do I give up the dream of owning a home and stay here where we are happy, where my kids are thriving, where my extended family reaches beyond the boundaries of my own walls, where the entire town is my home?
Or do we pack up and leave all this and move to a less expensive place where property tax costs don't require you to have a second job and a four bedroom palace costs the same as a Long Island bungalow in deteriorating condition?
We could rent here, probably for the cost of what a mortgage would be but without the property taxes and utilities weighing us down. We could take second jobs each and buy a home but not have any time to enjoy it or to watch the children enjoy it.
We could leave Long Island, leave my hometown of East Meadow and spend the rest of my life being homesick.
I love it here. I hate the traffic, I hate the cost of living, I hate the way strip malls have permeated the highways and left not a tree standing.
But I love everything else so much - the family, the friends, the small-town feel in a rather large town - that I would spend the rest of my life cursing the crowded parkways rather than leave everything that comes with Long Island Expressway behind.
I don't have $400,000 to spend on a home that has no more room than where we live now. I have kids who are fast approaching college days. My money is earmarked for that now. So I'll defer the dream of owning my own house and live here, renting away, in the knowledge that my children will head off to college having had the best possible life - one filled with family and the comfort of a town that is honestly their own.
[If you liked this post, check back later, as I'm going to transform it into a photo essay]