electric boogaloo


Do you ever worry about the easiness of your children’s lives? Is it too safe, too comfortable, too even? Not textured enough to be remembered? I worry. If hollywood has taught me anything it’s that kids who overcome great adversity grow up to be great successful humans. I know the best thing would be for me to get hit by a train, not because they’d be better off without me and my pork chop dinners but because the tragic event would be a good defining moment. But I’m selfish and I want to stick around so we will just have to think of something else. We had a neighbor in Texas whose house burned down and the kids were shaken by it for a long time. What kind of fantastic luck is that? It was a defective lamp, nobody’s fault, no one has to feel guilty. Just a good old fashioned life-crystalizing event.

Since I can’t know if we’ll ever buy a defective lamp, I have decided to toss out my guilt over raising kids in the suburbs. For all that we find soulless and predictable about living in between the Target over by the yoga studio and the other Target next to all the gas stations, there are good things going on here. There are interesting people here with their lives and worries and hopes and humor. We had to look for them, but that’s true everywhere isn’t it?

Besides, I don’t feel like we can really escape it. In the first world, isn’t every town almost the same as this? Stores go up, restaurants close down, traffic lights change, elevators move people vertically, buses move people horizontally, schedules and clocks make people change what they’re doing and smart phones make people freeze in place. You can read headlines through the window of those little newspaper stands, you can go to McDonalds and watch cable news, you can go to the doctor or the dentist or whatever.

You can run away from suburbia. You can go south across whatever highway marks the perimeter of your nearest big city, and once you move there you can walk to things and feel better because your children are growing up meeting real people and playing in real parks and listening to traffic and construction echo off of concrete. There’s a gritty, literary texture that makes everything seem a little more serious and exciting. There’s also pollution, traffic, and crime — bummers, all — but you can work around or avoid those things. It’s a good life.

Or you could run away up northeast into a far little town, and after you move there you can eat your own chickens and buy illegal raw milk and feel better because your kids are out fishing in the creek and they’re seeing a real circle of life and a real connection to the past. There are bummers here too; you’ll feel isolated sometimes and sometimes people will dump their unwanted pets on your property and/or paint confederate flags on the side of their barns, but most of the time being out there is like living inside the chorus of a bluegrass song. Good life.

The thing is, if you’re poor in America life is hard in every kind of town. Rural, urban, suburban doesn’t matter; you still have to spend a lot of your time as currency. You wait in long lines at the discount store and wait for your number to be called. Wait for the bus, wait in bunches or wait in lines or wait in a harshly lit hallway for your chance to see the low-cost dentist.

And if you’re rich in America, well! You don’t wait for anything. You are safe, you are important and other people wait on your behalf. It’s nice, I imagine, whether you’re an urban rich person movin on up to a deeluxe apartment in the sky or writing tips on how to pack your priceless antiques when moving to a different amazing rural farmhouse (click it, holy crikes you have GOT to read this).

And middle class, well your time is always in play. Car payment so you can drive to work, work so you can pay for swim lessons and a safer car, rush kids to school, wait in line at the DMV, take kids to practice, come home fix dinner help with homework. It’s a life that’s full of logistical hassles created and solved by modern conveniences. But I feel like that’s not suburbia’s fault. That’s life in the middle class.

Because matter where you live you need to tread water enough to make sure your kids and grandkids are firmly in the middle class. You can do that almost anywhere anywhere.

So yeah, my kids are living in an area that isn’t very interesting at a glance. Residents are not allowed to keep chickens, we have to drive to get groceries, we stay too busy. But we have honeysuckles and fireflies in the summer. We can go to the farmer’s market, we can talk to strangers.

I don’t know if middle class life is interesting or challenging enough, but contriving hardship seems like a lot of work and I’m too tired. So this is the childhood they get. The little suburban world these boys are growing up in is not poor, not rich, just busy and noisy and full of laughing and hugging and arguing and reading and eating clementines after dinner. It’d be that way in a little mountain town or in downtown Atlanta.

posted by electric boogaloo in Journal and have Comments (18)

18 Responses to “suburbanandrural”

  1. el-e-e says:

    You are a poet and I’m so glad you’re writing again.

  2. Susan says:

    I really want you to keep writing.

  3. Katie says:

    Wow. When I move all my stuff by myself, it’s because I can’t afford movers. I had no idea it those times were really beautiful wonderful hand-crafted moving moments. Because mostly it felt like my back was going to break off and half the boxes were marked “MISC”.

  4. electric boogaloo says:

    I hope you at least took the time to label the boxes that held your Antique gilded mirror collection!

  5. electric boogaloo says:

    (I don’t begrudge Martha Stewart for having fancy things. I mainly can’t believe she had the nerve to title this article “Packing Secrets for a Successful Move” as if it’s full of useful tips for the average human being. I was expecting “Get free boxes from local printing companies” or “Label one box UNPACK FIRST”, not cute hints on how to pack my many giant chandeliers.)

  6. Anne says:

    Interesting post! It definitely made me think about our choices…Our family did choose to stay in a city (although it is a medium sized city and our neighborhood has houses and lawns and parks nearby–and a Target) not so much for the kids, but for me. I am definitely an urban person and all the stuff I like (performing arts, museums, being able to walk to the store, or at least only have to drive 5 minutes to the store) usually happens more often in a city. On the downside, there is probably more graffiti in our alleys than in the suburbs (if they have alleys?) Also, the schools are definitely better in the suburbs, but on the flip side, the charter school we wanted to send our kids to is in the city, so, there’s that as well.

    Again, thanks for writing! It shows once again that there is rarely any one “right” choice for all families.

  7. becca says:

    We had a fire from a defective lamp. That said, I’ll confess it’s not even in the top 10 formative challenges of my life. Not sure if that meant my life was easy or hard.
    I think my point is- you’ll never know what you’re kids will love and hate about how your choices impact them, at least not until much later.

  8. Chrysoula says:

    I think a lot of the texture from childhood comes from the intense focus children put into entertaining themselves. Part of me remembers playing in a small patch of grass for a couple of hours and wonders if computers have damaged that. But then I remember being a bit older and playing the same video game 4 times through. So I think it’s just part of being a kid. The texture may not always be from a _place_, it may be from a game or a series of books or daydreams, but it’s there. I hope.

  9. amelie says:

    Worth the wait and sooo true. My daughter’s great life tragedy is that we cannot afford the horse she needs to go to the “next” level. Seriously kid? Sometimes I wish there were more things to overcome though I am sure she will come up with some terrible tragedy that we just felt was life as normal. I am so glad to have you writing for us again – you have the soul of a poet.

  10. robinsk says:

    Why would someone in a little town in the far northeast have a confederate flag on their barn? Isn’t that a southern thing?

  11. A'Dell says:

    I love this. LOVE. Thank you for writing it.

  12. Sorenson says:

    This is what I mean. You are an amazing writer. I love this.

  13. Reesa says:

    This is a very interesting topic. I definitely don’t have all or most of the answers. I do have some thoughts. Recently I ran across an article that said, in summary, that for people who rise from extreme adversity, it’s not like going from junior varsity to varsity, it’s like going from junior varsity to the Olympics. The exceptional people do it, but to be honest, most people would fail. I think one great thing to do for kids is let them know they aren’t entitled. If you want that extra pack of pokemon cards (or what have you), you’ll need to wait til you get birthday money, or for Christmas (or whatever holiday) or, by golly, do some work! I’ll give you money for a chore you do. Sure you can get them things, but everything shouldn’t be handed to them without some work or sacrifice. Also, don’t be afraid of letting natural consequences happen to your child once in a while. You didn’t finish your chore in time, so now we can’t visit the park with cousin Sally today, or whatever better example.

  14. Robin says:

    The key word is overcome. Great adversity is not always overcome. Man, I wouldn’t go looking for it, nor envy it. I have heard too many stories about war, depression and parents early dead to assume it is always overcome.

  15. Pam says:

    No use looking for trouble – and the trouble that finds you is seldom the one you were looking for, or worrying about.

    BUT I’m grateful my kids education included some schools on the “wrong” side of town – where they met people poorer (and richer) than themselves, and from different countries & religions – not just so they could know how good they had it, but also so they could know, as real people, kids different from themselves.

  16. Ellie says:

    Used to be, probably any social-psychologist would have said that the defining element of my children’s childhood was that they were raised by a single mother, barely above or in poverty, and secondarily, that they are being/have been homeschooled all the way through.

    But then all of that was neatly axed by my brain tumor and subsequent disability. The emotional-developmental-intellectual changes that wrought on my children has been astounding.

    Of course, you can’t ever witness both lifepaths — the one in which I had a brain tumor, and the one in which I didn’t. I’ll never get to know the children (mine) whose mother (me) didn’t have the brain tumor. Maybe they’re better off that it happened. In many ways, we all do seem so much better than we were before — at least on a spiritual and emotional and intellectual level. We’re just as poor **bemused** That certainly hasn’t changed.

  17. TT says:

    Beautifully written. Write more.

  18. Chris D says:

    If your kids have any curiosity or passion (and it seems obvious they have lots of both), they will experience plenty of adversity in the course of growing up and exploring the world. They’ll experience some life’s many possible difficulties–maybe traumatic, maybe just bad.

    A childhood that is interesting, yet stable and calm, is a great foundation to build their own tangled adult personalities on. Which they’ll then have to untangle. Because that’s what we do, that’s what it is to be human.

    A foundation of love and caring and stability is the best gift you can give them. An openness and awareness about the world is the second best. =)

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