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.