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"We're trying it out," a former neighbor of mine from Jerusalem says with a shrug of her shoulders and a hint of apology. "You know... now that the kids have flown the coop and all."
"That's great," I respond, nodding wistfully while watching the moonlight spread a romantic halo over the hills in view from the balcony of the large suburban house where the party we are attending is taking place. "It really is beautiful and peaceful around here."
"Oh, yes," she confirms, taking a sip of white wine. "And if we don't like it, we can always move back."
"Of course," I agree, taking in the fresh night air laced with a scent of orange blossoms. "That's the best part of having grown children - the freedom to live in the country."
We laugh conspiratorially as we part company to mingle with others, she envying my wisdom to have stayed put in the city, and I admiring her spunk for taking a stab at the suburbs. I, she knows, can practically roll out of bed to buy a loaf of bread at the adjacent grocery store or skip across the street for a capuccino at the corner cafe. Capital C for convenience. And for 24-hour convenience stores.
She, I know, gets way more bang for her buck in her current living quarters. A wall-to-wall football field with a view to die - or kill - for. A garden of Eden in the Styx, for the price of a potted plant in the metropolis. And plenty of free parking, to boot.
Proximity to work could be added to the equation, but its weight - she and I both know - is more a function of traffic than kilometers.
No, the real distance lies in the dilemma. And the real dilemma lies in the second most frequently asked question in the Jewish world: Is it good for the children?
MY OWN Jewish mother claims never to have been in such a quandary. "There is no better place to raise a family than smack in the middle of Manhattan," she said whenever the topic was up for discussion. Which it periodically was. Particularly when burb-dwelling relatives were in the vicinity, after trekking over bridge or through tunnel to cross the cultural divide that separated their houses from our high-rise.
Though her position on this issue, as on many others, was far from the conventional consensus, it seemed to be disputed only by adults. We, her children - as urban a set of urchins as could be encountered - never understood the joys of a mowed lawn if the nearest movie theater was miles away and required maternal assistance of the motor-vehicle variety to get there.
Nor could we fathom having to be brought to - and picked up from - friends' homes. At a very young age, we were the masters of our transportation and of our entertainment, each as abundant as it was available. Options were our oyster and we exercised them as often as we took them for granted.
But we weren't the only ones to whom our opportunities were apparent. Our countrified counterparts, who had been taught to appreciate the advantages of their own set of circumstances, and who voiced them as vehemently as their parents, seemed to eye us - and our being a mere elevator-ride away from where the action was - with no small amount of awe.
Where enjoying the outdoors (a comprehensive term referring to hiking, biking and other forms of healthy exercise) was concerned, here, too, my mother played dedicated defense attorney to the prosecution's case against asphalt-based upbringing. It is in the city, she pointed out, where people actually get from place to place on foot. That's what sidewalks are for. Ditto for bike paths. In rural areas, walking to and fro is as pointless as it is dangerous, since pedestrians and cyclists are forced there to share the roads with cars. City children, according to my mother, thus get just as much exercise by virtue of their pounding the pavement as those kids who have to be driven to little league to pitch a few baseballs.
Then there was the myth about the unfriendly city denizen vs the neighborly country folk. This one really made my Minnesota-born mother mad. Nowhere, she insisted, are people more suspicious of strangers than in small villages. Big cities, by nature, she argued, are built for the masses and geared toward variety - which means they welcome individuals with easy informality. For children, it means endless exposure to sweeping slices of society - an education no school system can provide.
The one point of contention which put my mother at a loss for words was connected to animals. This was the only subject that caused her to adopt the assertions of the other side. "It's cruel to keep a dog pent up in an apartment," was her way of putting a stop to our pestering her about getting a pet larger or higher-in-maintenance than the perfunctory goldfish, hamster, turtle or parakeet.
This leaves me no choice but to take over from her. As a city-dwelling mother with a large mutt "pent up in an apartment," I have something to contribute to the urban-suburban debate that my own mother could add to her list.
While it is true that my dog cannot frolic without an escort and a leash, when he is taken outside, he is greeted warmly by all of his canine cohorts.
Not so a suburban puppy I know, whose owner has to wield a large plastic bat to protect him from being attacked by any dog in the neighborhood who isn't chained to the fence enclosing the front- or backyard to which he is confined.
LIKE THE woman I used to run into at the playground and the pool, I, too, hope to give greener pastures a try one day. After my children are on their own and the dog is no longer with us, that is.