Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Subourbon Mom

We're moving. Again. It's the third time in less than three years - but at least this time it's not across the darn country. It is, however, to the suburbs.

When we first moved to our current city, we drove around the area where our new house is located and looked at each other in horror. I think my exact words were: "I cannot live here. It feels like death." As it turns out, death comes with an awesome kitchen and some really nice bathrooms.

To back up a bit, when I met my husband, we were both living in urban-ish neighborhoods where we could pop out of our respective apartments/condos and walk to a variety of shops and restaurants. We didn't have a yard. We didn't know our neighbors. We didn't think about childproofing the cabinets. When we moved to the east coast, I was 6 months pregnant and we snapped up the first house that we found in order to avoid having our first child while living in a corporate apartment. Luckily for us, the first thing available happened to be new construction with insanely nice amenities. When we moved to the west coast a little over a year ago, we made the choice to trade closet space, solid construction, and a functional kitchen for a sweet view - and it was a great decision. I would make it again if I had to. I have loved watching the sunrise and sunset, rediscovering my legs after stomping up and down the hills in our neighborhood, and being five minutes away from the beach.

But my husband and I are midwesterners, and we both have higher than average needs for personal space. We are used to spreading out, accumulating. We expect homes to be built of brick - or failing that, at least to last more than a few decades before noticeably falling apart. We don't like ants, or mold, or having our clothes closet located in his study - all intractable annoyances in our current house. I will miss the view of water and reflected sunlight on sunny days and the feeling of living in a cloud on rainy ones. Still, the time comes when we have to do things we say we cannot do, or that we will never do. And that's where the bourbon comes in.

Kidding! Perhaps what has been oddest about the whole process of deciding to move inland, to a planned community where we have to drive everywhere, and where a lot of the houses look suspiciously alike and are conspicuously huge, is how easy the decision was and how excited we are about our new home.

For one thing, planned communities all look pretty much alike in certain key regards. Previously, this bothered me. Here in California where so much is foreign, and the lack of seasons is supremely unsettling to my sense of time, anything familiar is more reassuring than I would have anticipated. There will be days when it will seems like I could be living in Illinois, or Missouri, or New Jersey, and I like that. I can always look at the mountains we will now get to see, or hop in the car and drive to the ocean, or check the thermometer in January to remember where really I am.

It will be nice to have neighbors who are roughly our age and live in their houses year round. In our current neighborhood, most of our neighbors are upwards of 80 and use their homes as vacation properties, which adds to the sense of isolation living at the top of a mountain (where, by the way, we still have to drive everywhere). They also have children - young children for our daughter to play with, and older ones to babysit - which now seems delightful, rather than horrifying.

And we will have sidewalks. Lovely sidewalks for safe long walks, something which never bothered me until I had to hit the streets with a stroller. People really don't pay attention to pedestrians. And then there is the kitchen. My husband used to be a chef. He is also a curmudgeon. What makes him happy is good for everyone, especially my stomach.

My earlier self could not imagine my excitement about the exodus to suburbia. It seemed like selling out or giving up or giving in. But then again, my earlier self could never have imagined myself married or a mother. I know now, however, that I can be myself equally well in a studio apartment in St. Louis or a sprawling home in the suburbs. You're only selling out if you stop thinking for yourself or giving up if you stop doing the things you love. Oddly enough, I have done more to pursue the dreams of my youth in the last two post-baby years than in any of the previous decade. If I had known that tying myself down in certain ways would also provide opportunities for exploration and new kinds of freedom, I might have sold out much earlier.

It just goes to show, you never know where you will end up, and you never know how things will work out. You can be as conventional in the city as you can be subversive in the suburbs. If we lived in another city, or another part of the country, we would probably be making different choices. But we don't, and we aren't worrying about it. We'll probably be back east in under five years anyway, and all of this will just seem like California dreamin' anyway...the weather, the kitchen, the yard, the neighbors.

But about that bourbon...I'm pretty sure a Manhattan made in our new kitchen will taste every bit as delicious as it would in a townhouse or a beach house. Just don't ask what's in the Starbucks cup when I'm out on a walk. Trust me, you don't want to know.

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