My Unintended Arrival in Suburbia

I never intended to end up in suburbia. In fact I vowed I would never move to the suburbs. And certainly I wouldn’t be seen driving a minivan. Well at least I managed to stay on the right side of one of those lines in the sand.

I remember the exact moment my thinking on suburbia shifted. Oh how I curse that moment in time. We were living in San Francisco, right in the middle of the city in the most quaint and welcoming turn of the century house. It was very small but I adored it, even though I could look into 22 other apartments and homes from the various windows. I know this. I counted. Hey, if I ever got in trouble and screamed someone was bound to hear and that made me feel safe. It was a great place to begin raising a young family and I had no intentions of leaving. Until we had guests in from Ohio. During the visit that wife sure did a stellar job of extolling the virtues of their suburban life. The safe streets, the great schools, the affordable housing, the availability of community and building friendships with other couples with children. That last point hit home, I was discovering how transient the city was. Just as I would meet and connect with someone they’d be off to cheaper pastures.

Fast forward a year and a half and what do you know, we had a contract on a new build located in a suburb of Portland. Many factors played into my finding myself accepting and embracing this new reality. First my husband was laid off in the dot com bust, landing overseas on a lucrative contract for several months. I was now unexpectedly alone with our one year old, having recently closed my business to become a full time mother after working my entire life. (Well, since 9 or 10 that is.) Instead of focusing on clients, deadlines and designs I was trying to drum up play dates around a nap schedule while managing the household on my own as a new stay at home mom. I loved all the hours with my sweet girl, much of the time that is, but I was also overwhelmed and a bit isolated without the connections my work had provided each day. A late night online search lead to the discovery of a new development of really cheap homes in Oregon (not really, but compared to San Francisco prices most places on earth do seem amazingly affordable) and omg, could we actually buy our own home? I was entranced. During the next visit north to see family you know I went out and toured that model home. And oh was I sucked in, as virtually every person who has ever toured a beautifully decorated and scented model home has been. It’s intoxicating. These people know their stuff and employ every trick in the book to seduce potential buyers into believing this just must be your new home, even your forever dream home! I drove away with floorplans and a plat map and lists of home features and options for upgrading, falling asleep that night virtually walking through all the rooms of the home confirming each and every aspect was absolutely right and perfect and we just had to move there now!

The second factor pushing me towards the decision to jump into suburban life was the exhaustion I was experiencing living on my own with a very active and demanding toddler. The idea of moving close to family who would help was more than I could resist. (More on the actual amount of help that followed in a later post.) And lastly, schools. When I was wrapping up work, while pregnant, I had a client who asked what schools I was applying to. “What schools am I going to apply to? I’m pregnant!” “Oh no, that’s not how it works. When I gave birth, that very day my mother submitted applications to all the schools we were interested in – because the child has to actually be born to have an application for them accepted – but we are still fourth on the waiting list for our number one choice!” Okay. Reality check. I adore you and think you have been one of the sweetest and kindest clients I have ever had, but once flying into San Francisco I looked down and saw your house. You can’t miss it. It takes up an entire block in Sea Cliff. We live in different stratospheres. This is a game I can’t play, nor do I want to.

So public schools in the suburbs it was to be, along with my brand new sparkling house. But 15 years in I have several observations. It can be a very lonely and homogenized existence. My kids only allowed me to volunteer in their classrooms if I did not disclose I was their mother. That was their world and what the heck was I doing trying to enter into it. The PTA was not my thing, who are these women with their foreign to me set of interests and priorities? Team sports turned out not to be my kid’s thing. After trying out each variety they decided to sit it out, permanently. That has at times made them the odd one out, with their specific interests less glorified. Like art. Compared to football. Additionally I made the mistake of not understanding that after 20 years of living the city life I had a certain attitude towards encountering strangers: they remain strangers, you don’t strike up small talk with the person in the grocery aisle with an expectation you are going to run into them again. Odds of that are slim in the city, while big in the suburbs. I didn’t realize this until several years into suburban life and as a result failed to develop a natural knack for meeting people and making connections. I’m not a soccer mom. I don’t show up at games or the pool with wine or strong alcohol in my water bottle. I get bored at jewelry parties, and every other type of party selling more mediocre crap I don’t need but feel obliged to purchase out of a misplaced guilt. (Or desired to be accepted ensuring an invite to the next event.)

Social circles are tight and clicky. I would make inroads only to learn I had not been included in the big birthday celebration of one of the girls via a facebook post. I am a bit older, enjoying nearly two decades in the work world before becoming a mom, and while I thought I was speaking the same language I suspect now I was the only one that didn’t realize I wasn’t. Church is also a big source of connection and entry into the community, but I am not a church person. I was raised the daughter of a preacher, and lord the stories I could tell you. What they say about preachers kids are accurate, what we are put through is crazy making leaving few of us fans of the church into adulthood.

There are so many reasons why life in suburbia has not proved to be a great fit for me, and perhaps for my family as well. Like the little glitch that for several years my husband’s work had him out of town from Sunday through Thursday evening, leaving me to make hard choices as to where I would give my time. Raising the kids and pursuing a new career in blogging and freelance writing won out over the pursuit of a social life. I own a bit chunk of the responsibility as to why I’ve not found a way to make the most of what suburban life has to offer. But the beauty of life is that there is always the freedom to change one’s mind and make different choices going forward. Not sure where this all is taking us, but I’d put my bet on anywhere but suburbia.


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