The envies of Park Slope

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While walking on Prospect Park West the other day, Smartmom noticed a copy of The Park Slope Paper wrapped in plastic on the steps of Jennifer Connelly’s limestone mansion. Omigod, she squealed aloud to no one. Does Jennifer read Smartmom?

It was the day after the Oscars, and Smartmom figured that Jen and hubby Paul were asleep in a Los Angeles hotel after a rigorous night of Oscar parties. Or maybe not. The shades were drawn, so it was impossible to tell.

Truth is, Smartmom can’t walk by Jennifer’s mansion without wondering what it’s like to live in such a place. She shares a neighborhood (and, occasionally, the Tea Lounge on Union Street) with this smart, beautiful, rich, talented actress, but little else (Smartmom is certainly smart, but that’s where the similarities end. Plus, Hepcapt is not an incredibly handsome, witty, and tall English actor).

Living in the shadow of brownstone Brooklyn’s celebrity sub-culture (Heath, Michelle, Steve, John, Jennifer, Paul…), Smartmom often gets a visit from the Envy Goblin.

Wouldn’t it be fun to have more space than one knew what to do with? Smartmom could have a writing room with a view of Prospect Park. Hepcat could have a huge photography studio, storage space for all his equipment, and a library for all his photography books and computer magazines.

Sadly, that’s not the hand they were dealt. Smartmom, Hepcat, Teen Spirit and the Oh So Feisty One live in a cozy, 1,100-square-foot apartment with three tiny bedrooms.

Teen Spirit IMs his friends, listens to his iPod, does his homework, and plays the electric bass (all at the same time) on the green leather couch; OSFO does her homework and her ambitious art projects, which usually involve day-glo paint, vats of glue, and Styrofoam, on the dining room floor; Hepcat sits at his computer desk printing photographs in the living room and Smartmom blogs on a small computer desk in the dining room.

Smartmom figured she and Hepcat would have traded up by now. Teen Spirit’s small room was perfect when all he needed was a small Ikea crib, a dresser, a wooden rocking dinosaur, and a shelf for his comic books. But now Teen Spirit looks out of scale in his room like the giant in that famous Diane Arbus photograph

Lately, Teen Spirit has virtually stopped bringing his friends over. A year ago, his friends would hang out in his bedroom all the time. But she soon was mortified to learn that her son was embarrassed by the way they live. Sure, sometimes Hepcat leaves his underwear on the bathroom tile, but that doesn’t mean that he is a barbarian (or does it?) So what if most of the family’s furniture was found on the street or the living room rug is made out of recycled plastic?

Smartmom felt defensive when Teen Spirit’s friends entered the apartment for one of their now-rare visits.

“Your bedroom isn’t that small,” she heard one friend say.

After his friends left, Smartmom had a quick talk with her teen: “You don’t feel ashamed of our apartment, do you?” Teen Spirit rolled his eyes and groaned. But Smartmom wasn’t convinced. She knew that living in Park Slope, it’s easy to compare yourselves to others.

Teen Spirit rubs shoulders with kids whose families own 4-story brownstones with Viking stoves and Sub-Zero refrigerators.

Of course, Teen Spirit has other friends whose families live in apartments like his, drive ancient Volvos, and don’t own summer homes in Dutchess County. Clearly, Teen Spirit isn’t the only one who doesn’t go to expensive summer camps or on ski vacations in Gstad during winter break.

But Smartmom knows that’s little consolation. Envy is a natural state of affairs in an upscale urban neighborhood like Park Slope, where everyone lives on top of one another and know all too well what people’s houses are worth, what people do for a living, where they go on summer vacations, what kinds of cars they drive.

The parents are to blame, of course. They get envious first, and then question the choices they’ve made. And, of course, this trickles down to their kids.

That night, Smartmom reminded herself that there was more to life than mid-century modern furniture, frequent trips to Europe, collecting art, and stainless steel kitchens. But she knew she was being hypocritical; she’d love to have those things. And life would be so much easier if money wasn’t a constant worry.

What about the benefits of living the simple life (not the Paris Hilton show, but the real thing)? There’s a lot to be said for a close-knit family. What’s the old saying? “Big bedrooms make distant families?”

Rationalization? Sure, but it’s the only way to keep on walking when the route home takes you right past Jennifer Connelly’s mansion.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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