Eagerly, Henry and I spent a few Saturdays looking at two bedroom rental apartments on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Not in the super fancy buildings on Park and 5th Avenue, but the more moderately priced postwar buildings east of Second Avenue between First and East End Avenue in the 70’s and 80’s. What we found was not inspiring: small rooms, high prices and a dearth of closet space in buildings boasting locations near playgrounds we no longer needed. Yes, there were health clubs, elegant lobby furniture and working elevators to deliver me quickly to my prospective new home. Trouble was there’d be no space to hang up my coat once I entered the apartment. I knew from experience the tiny entry closet would be stuffed to the gills with overflow from the too-small bedroom closets. And what if I felt like a bath? After schlepping those extra blocks east to the less expensive buildings, I’d have to settle for a shower in the tubless (??) master bathroom.
As for fabulous views, the only apartment with a balcony facing the river turned out to be one floor too low to clear the trees. Like in a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode, the “view” was obscured, and—of course—nothing was available on a higher floor. The real estate broker promised to call us if a similar apartment came on the market with an unobstructed view. But he also warned that an apartment on a higher floor would probably be a lot more expensive; we’d have to “grab it” because “the rental market is hot, hot, hot!”
Hot or not, the lease renewal on our current apartment required surprisingly small rent increases for one or two years. When Henry called the managing agent to discuss our half-empty nest situation and possible desire to move, he learned that the landlord “would be thrilled for us to leave the apartment whenever we want." Over the course of our 23 years in this building, our rent has been alternately destabilized and re-stabilized—due to mysterious changes in the law. Happily, we are stabilized for the moment.
Q: “What happens if we sign a two year lease and decide we want to move before it’s over?”
A: “Go and good riddance.” The landlord will be glad to rent out our apartment at market rate (probably close to $2000 more than we’re currently paying). In rent stabilized apartment buildings, being loyal tenants for 23 years is not an advantage.
The good news is that we now have the unexpected luxury of choice. We have an affordable, spacious apartment in a less-than-wonderful building, two years to look around for a home we like better, and the landlord’s blessing to leave any time. (How lucky is that in Manhattan)? Without any hesitation, we signed a two-year lease.
I was disappointed at first, after longing so deeply for change. But as soon as I decided to convert Max’s cluttered bedroom into a cozy den, I began to feel better. Last Sunday afternoon, Henry and I spent hours cleaning out the mish-mash of tangled electrical cords, broken Xbox, GameCube and all the other antiquated games that went with them. Out went clothing stained with holes and several sizes too small. We unearthed old baseball uniforms stuffed into the wall unit along with crumpled high school papers, video cassettes, expired prescription drugs and—yes—empty condom packages. Possessed by a relentless cleaning frenzy, I realized that if I kept dragging out garbage bags for long enough, I could finally get rid of Max’s ancient, creaky-drawered Bellini dresser. My son’s broken down twin bed (that had accommodated one girlfriend too many) could also be discarded, along with an old wooden desk that had recently collapsed under the weight of his beloved book collection. Like Max, I love books and would never discard them. After I’ve rested up a few more days, I plan to gather the paperbacks and hardcovers from the floor and give them a place on our bookshelves.
Finally, after all the clean-up and rearranging, there will be an extra room in the nest. Our new den will have a lovely convertible sofa bed, in case we have an overnight guest. (Or, heaven forbid, Max splits up with his girlfriend and bounces back.) We’re planning to repaint the room, put in a new flat screen TV, add window blinds and lighting. While Henry watches Monday night football in the bedroom, I can watch what I like on the new TV, chat on the phone without bothering him or nap in a quiet room.
Speaking of quiet, Sarah is starting to spend more nights at her boyfriend’s house. Often Henry and I are the only ones home. We miss the kids sometimes, but after all, they ARE 23 (at least chronologically). I can’t help but be thrilled—as well as relieved—that Sarah is keeping busy with her friends, her boyfriend and some part-time office work. If anyone had told me 10 years ago that my daughter on the autistic spectrum would graduate from college, have a few close friends and a year-long relationship with a boyfriend, I’d have been delirious with joy. But Sarah won’t be satisfied until she can move out (like her twin brother), and that’s a few years away at least.
Still, I can’t help feeling that Henry and I are falling back to the future, planning new lives as a couple, looking at paint chips, and visiting furniture stores. I’m looking forward to what comes next. Instead of the same old everything, we have the chance to add a few new feathers to our nest and create something different—something that addresses our needs as a couple. Didn’t we spend the last two decades running a “child-centered” nest? Our twins aren’t even children anymore. How many other parents out there feel entitled to taste just a little of the freedom and renewal our children feel as they begin to spread their wings and fly?