Two years and three kids later, this family found an unexpected place to call home—and they couldn’t be happier.
Urban living was all Mayo Dickson had ever known — she grew up in Jakarta and had lived in Singapore and Manhattan before settling into a Jersey City townhome with her husband, Kevin Dickson. But a combination of kids and COVID-19 spurred this confirmed city dweller to consider a different way of life.
“When we bought our Jersey City place, we weren’t pregnant yet and now we have three kids,” Mayo remembers. “We did a full gut renovation of the townhouse after we moved in and we loved it. We loved the space and we loved the neighborhood. But living in a townhouse with lots of very steep steps with little kids? It wasn’t fun.”
Mayo says she resisted suburban life for the longest time. “I never really envisioned myself living in the suburbs, but Kevin grew up in Bucks County, PA, so for him it was a natural trajectory. It took me a while to catch up. The only time we’d go to the suburbs was to visit Kevin’s parents and I’d think, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s one main street.’ It just didn’t appeal to me.”
The couple was already struggling with the reality of lugging kids and strollers up their townhouse stairs every day when COVID hit. “Suddenly we were all together all the time,” she says. “I was working full time from home and my husband Kevin was working full time from home and we were losing our minds. It was madness.”
To cope with being cooped up with two little kids, in summer of 2020 they started planning weekend getaways to the suburbs in search of activities and outings. “That’s how I became open to living in the suburbs,” Mayo says. “Inevitably we’d pass through a town and realize, okay, this isn’t really that far.”
Because they loved the idea of living by the water, they initially set their sights on Rumson, NJ, a coastal suburb with high-speed ferry access to Kevin’s job in Manhattan. “I kept getting ads for Suburban Jungle, so I reached out to them and got paired up with our Strategist Alli Levine,” Mayo says. “I was upfront when I talked to Alli the first time and told her we were barely dipping our toes in, we don’t know where to start, we don’t even know if we’re going to move.” Alli took it all in, then set up town tours of Rumson and nearby Fair Haven and connected them with a local realtor.
But after a year of trying — and failing — to find a home in either town, the couple decided it was time to expand their search and they turned to Alli once again for help. “We were upfront about our vision and our wants vs. our needs for the house to make sure those parameters were possible in our budget,” she remembers.
Topping the list of needs for the couple were top-rated public schools and diversity — both because Mayo is Indonesian and wanted to be in a community where diversity is embraced and because a variety of food options is important to the couple. “Alli was surprised I didn’t need a town center. But walking with three kids isn’t my idea of fun,” Mayo says with a laugh. “Alli told me, ‘Well that opens up a whole lot of other towns.’”
Ultimately, Ali gave the couple insight into more than a dozen towns, and Suburban Jungle’s town tours proved to be invaluable in the decision-making process. “The tours were really helpful because we weren’t really looking at houses yet,” Mayo explains. “We were looking at towns and trying to imagine ourselves in the community. We’d go to the playgrounds and the parks and look at the schools to get a sense of the community first rather than what houses were on the market.” Alli helped Mayo and Kevin narrow their search down to a handful of towns, and she then connected them with local real estate agents for detailed tours of each area.
In July 2022 — almost two years after they first started working with Alli and two weeks after the birth of their third child — Mayo and Kevin closed on a beautiful home on a quiet cul-de-sac in Basking Ridge and are already in the swing of things with play dates and neighborhood get-togethers. With a list of summer camps, preschools, events in town, and even a Basking Ridge Facebook page, they had many opportunities to get involved in town. “The instant community was really a pleasant surprise,” Mayo says. “It wasn’t something we were expecting when we moved here.”
Life in the suburbs has definitely been an adjustment but both Mayo and Kevin agree it was the best decision for their family. “The girls love their new space, new friends, new school. For all of us, it’s been one big adventure.”
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