Adjusting To Life In Westchester As An Ex-City Girl

Westchester Magazine copy chief Carol Caffin on her slow transition from city girl to suburban(ish) mom.

Death, rodents, and living in the suburbs: These have always been among my most dreaded fears. As a kid growing up in South Philly, I didn’t daydream about having a house with a big backyard like the Brady Bunch kids. My dream scenario was more like the setup in Rhoda or The Goodbye Girl—a nice Manhattan walk-up with a deadbolt and a chain—and a peephole; I always wanted a peephole. 

Even in my late 20s, I found the notion of a white picket fence disturbing. By that time, I’d been working in the music business as a writer and publicist and, having gotten to know and work with lots of free-spirited musicians and artists, The Band and some of the original Beat poets among them, the last thing I wanted to do was to be “contained.” In fact, my mind and horizons somewhat expanded, I’d acquired a taste for the bohemian aesthetic and, for a while, even fancied living in the Chelsea Hotel, as a couple of my friends did.

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It was love that first brought me to Westchester in 1994 and, as I saw it then, moving to the burbs was a small price to pay for true love. Admittedly, I came with an attitude; growing up in the City of Brotherly Love will do that to you. 

Michael, then my husband-to-be, eased me into suburbia by renting an apartment in Hartsdale, a commuter-friendly hamlet that, with its sidewalks and parking meters, almost looked like a little city—a little clean city. No whistling postmen with barking dogs nipping at their heels, no moms named Betsy driving station wagons and baking brownies for the PTA bake sale, no white-picket-fenced split-levels housing 2.5 kids—or any other horrors of suburban life. 

Illustration by Sawsan Chalabi

When my son, Alex, was born in 1997, I started to really appreciate Westchester. It was reassuring as a new mom to live in a place that had a “village green”; where the cops didn’t wear riot gear just to go to Dunkin’ Donuts, but instead rode bicycles and waved to passersby; where the playground wasn’t enclosed by a chain-link fence; and where the biggest crime was wearing white after Labor Day. 

So what if the County transit system was called “Bee-Line” and had an animated bee in its logo? So what if a hoagie was known as a “wedge”? So what if petite women with perky ponytails and 4-carat diamond studs drove 8,000-pound Hummers to the supermarket? Again, a small price to pay—and fodder for essays down the road. 

By the time Alex was 2, the Bee-Line bus had become a welcome distraction from the 4- to 6-pm “witching hour”—too late for naptime, too early for bed. On lazy summer early evenings, we’d stroll down the block to the Metro-North station and hop on the commuter shuttle bus, which drove through Hartsdale and neighboring Ardsley and back again. I’d hold Alex as he stood on my lap looking out the window at the trees and quaint houses in Poets Corner, and, by the time we’d circle back to the train station, my baby would be sleepy-eyed and ready for bed.

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We’ve been in Pleasantville—a town we chose for its great schools, friendly community, and fabulous location—for 14 years now. Though you can see a Matisse and a Chagall just a stone’s throw away, a Frank Lloyd Wright enclave in the same ZIP code, and the Clintons dining in local restaurants, it’s generally a laid-back, unpretentious place. It can get a bit quiet sometimes—no hustle, no bustle—but I think I’ve adapted quite nicely. I’ve even baked cookies for the high school football team. But I still can’t call a hoagie a “wedge.” 


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