Is there a good reason people choose to live in the suburbs? Because right now laying in my suburban fortress in perfect solitude, at 2:16 in the morning, I can’t think of one.
In the suburbs you’re living a giant compromise. You’re not living in the city. (Too dirty, too expensive, too crowded). You’re not living in the country. (Too remote, too boring, too inconvenient). You’re literally living in the middle. Between a large urban center (Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago, wherever) and the wide open country, which could be mountains, farms, rolling hills, or who knows what.
Convenience is king in the suburbs. This is why we choose it. Our homes are nicely spaced. We have our own parking. We have access to excellent shopping and a wide variety of national chain restaurants and stores. Our freeways are only a couple stoplights away. The mass transit still comes out here so if we want to foray into the city for a day or evening, we can hop on and join the masses for a bit before returning to our perfect mouse neighborhoods. Our schools are topnotch, generally filled with similar types of children with similar types of parents. Crime is minimal. Convenience is maximal.
I actually get the appeal. Because I’m living it. Life IS pretty easy out here. In some ways we have the best of both worlds. We’re really not committed to either one, and so in the middle there is the suburbs. More trees and more space than the city. Fewer restaurants and less crime. But overall. Easy.
Easy doesn’t make for beauty though. Or warmness. Or history. Or character. Easy is cookie cutter homes and stucco strip malls. Easy is on ramps and off ramps. Easy is signing up the kids for summer camps and swim lessons to keep them occupied.
Yes I think many many people are legitimately happy living in suburbs. Between neighbors a bond is often formed. Friendships grow. The children grow up together and there is permanence. The predictable cycles of the seasons and sports and school tighten the bond. We are in this together. People often find their tribe in the suburbs. The band of other parents who have children of roughly similar ages and roughly similar interests. The tribe sticks together and grows together. 15 years in the suburbs pass. The kids are up and out. And then? I don’t know either.
I didn’t grow up in an actual suburb. My city wasn’t small but also wasn’t a real suburb. It was kind of it’s own thing. Some people commuted to Los Angeles a full hour away, but most worked in and around our city. It had it’s own industry and it’s own soul. It’s industry was agriculture and it’s soul was the beach. It’s changed since then but the soul is still there.
I am grasping. I’m not a gypsy. I’m not a free spirit. Not in the ways most people would describe. I drive an SUV. Have the large stucco house. The four kids are mine. Our dog is nine.
But this suburbs thing ain’t working.
Out of nowhere a memory came to me when I began writing this. Many years ago my dad told me the story of the moth in his butter. He went to a restaurant in central California. They brought him bread with his soup and a bowl of that fluffy whipped butter. I think it might have been formed into little balls. He cut into the beautiful curl of butter to find a live moth beating it’s wings inside the butter. Yes a live moth was in the butter. I don’t know what happened to the moth but I don’t think it made it. I also don’t know if my dad ate there again. (Gross…) But I thought of that moth a little while ago. Poor thing was trapped in some whipped butter somehow. Beating it’s wings. Trying to get out of it’s delicious dairy prison.
A little dark and weird? Sure, I’ll give you that. But it still came to me. I don’t want to be the moth. I don’t want my kids to grow up with their parents feeling like the moth. Beating their wings and not able to fly.
We have an incredibly fortunate, lovely, privileged life where we live. We are blessed beyond measure. Not just materially, because we have a comfortable home where we can sleep and shower and eat. But because my husband has a very good job. And we have health insurance. And beautiful children. And families that truly love us. And a handful of really exceptional friends. And we have each other, me and my husband. Our blessings run deep. I try not to ever take that for granted but I fail at this frequently.
So is it wrong when I still feel like I need to fly? And my children need to run? And we need to get our hands dirty and maybe be in over our heads? There is this part inside of me, the suburban 5k running, college educated mother of four, that covets that other life. A little more rock and roll AND a little more country. I am drawn to the idea of space, fields, nature, trees, outdoors. Dirt. I have dreamed many dreams of this life where things may be slower, less convenient, and less predictable. I had hopes even as a recent college grad of finding a place closer to the space and less close to the chaos. But the chaos won because I got a job out of college and had to live near the job.
The suburbs won. And they have treated me well. I’ve had fun. Learned how to shop like nobody’s business. Made a small number of good friends. Met my husband at a pool party in the suburbs. Had my babies at a hospital in the suburbs. I feel like I’m being disloyal. And/or crazy. I’m a crazy, disloyal, suburban mother. Yup. Because I’ve used the suburbs for everything they’ve got and it’s time to move on.
I don’t need to travel the country in an RV for a year with the fam.
I also don’t need to run a 50 acre organic kale farm with goats.
I do need space. And history. A house with some land around it. But not too much because I want there to be somewhat accessible neighbor kids for my children to play with. A nice contrast to the child free streets we currently inhabit. There should be trees. An area for a decent size garden where I can learn to not kill herbs and cucumbers. Maybe the house is old, a fixer upper if you will. Something we can sink our teeth into and breathe new life into. You know, because we need a large renovation project while living with four small kids.
Do we really need any of these challenges? Difficulties? Complications? No.
But do I need them somehow anyway? Yes.
I want that town with soul again. Where there’s generations of families still there. Maybe a functional downtown where the residents still patronize the businesses. Where there’s familiarity and warmth and spirit. There will be less shopping. Fewer choices. Longer drives to the airport, the concerts and the “good restaurants”. But there will be space and air. We will still have soccer on the weekends and prom every spring. But there will be the creek that the kids can play in. Or the oak where they get to build a real tree house. The cycles of the seasons aren’t stamped out by sidewalks and houses. We will be surrounded by the way things have been for generations and will be for generations. But with wifi.
I do not have a wild heart. Not in any really meaningful way. Ask anyone that knows me. I’ve taken the slow and steady path my entire 39 years. But I have this dreamer inside. I always have. And the dreamer has the wild heart. And it believes there’s more to life than what exists in this perfect suburb of ours. For me and even more so, for our children. The dreamer wants the messy, challenging, uncomfortable life that is full of stunning natural beauty, free roaming children, and the soul of a town that can’t always be found in a 1,000 home tract. I’m not sure if that is considered truly wild, but for this suburban mom, it feels like it.