Throughout most of my 20s I viewed life in the 'burbs as a fate worse than death. Then I got pregnant.
Being the completely irrational person I am, I immediately started checking the test scores for our local elementary school. Appalling. I wouldn't have sent my dog there. Then, I started looking into tuition for private school - astronomical. I calculated what it would cost to get two children through elementary school and before uniforms, contributions to school auctions, etc., I figured we were looking at $100k! This wasn't even for the really top-notch private schools. So, my husband and I decided that we could put the money we were saving on private school into a nice house in the 'burbs where the schools were good and tuition was included in the property tax.
The next thing I knew, we were unpacking boxes in our big, new suburban house. The first people I met were the women who lived on either side of us. They were both trim, blonde and walking Golden Retrievers (and they each drove a Suburban). I thought - S@*t!, we've moved to Stepford. Given that I'm also blonde and have a Golden, I realized that though my SUV wasn't a Suburban, it was still an SUV and I probably belonged here.
Shortly after moving in, my husband came home from work to find a whole gaggle of neighborhood kids weeding our front yard. One kid told him to roll down his window, which my husband did, and the kid said, "We just weeded your yard, can we have five bucks?" We were floored. What kind of 1950's universe was this where the Beav and the gang shows up to weed your yard? Who were these kids?! I remember being bored as a kid but I just whined about it - I would never have stooped so low as to take my boredom to do yard work for people. What kind of kid does that? And thrilled! We could get our whole front yard weeded for the price of a latte!
Here's the thing though, all of my skepticism aside, my neighbors are AWESOME! Our block is full of interesting and nice people. My next door neighbor who barely knew me (seeing as we'd just moved in) and another neighbor I'd probably only met once, hosted a baby shower for me and the whole neighborhood showed up. They did a lovely job, with beautiful, handmade invitations and a gorgeous spread. It was beyond welcoming. While I'd lived in the city, our next door neighbor had never once said so much as "hello" to us. He wouldn't even make eye contact as we all pulled in our trash on garbage day. Yet here, the whole neighborhood was literally showering me with gifts and kindness.
In the past four years, I've grown to love our life in the 'burbs. The kids can play in the street and my son, who's not yet two, already knows to move to the sidewalk when someone yells, "Car!" The older kids (even the middle school ones) are so nice and solicitous of my toddlers - they'll even hold their hands and help them cross the street.
One of my neighbors even became one of my closest friends. Sadly, she's recently moved away but while she was here, we could count on each other for playdates the moms would enjoy as much as the kids, for someone to watch your kids while you had to run an errand or go to the doctor, for someone to help inject your day with a bit of fun, adult conversation when you sorely needed it. A few of us, whose husbands often work late, even got in the habit of hosting casual dinners with just the moms and the kids, which was a treat for everyone.
There are some downsides to the 'burbs, I will admit. I miss the cute, downtown core that made up our city neighborhood. I also miss the great restaurants and bakeries. While our suburb is quite nice, it does have its share of strip malls, which let's face it are an eyesore and who can tell one strip mall apart from the next. So I often struggle to remember which strip a particular store I'm going to is located in. I also love the charm of older homes, which are obviously not found in a new development. Probably though, the thing I miss the most is the image that my 26-year-old self had of me being a cool, urban mom who still knew the hot new restaurants in town and carried a gorgeous handbag.
But, when I start to miss the city, I look at my large pantry and my three-car attached garage (which means I'm never hauling kids and groceries inside in inclement weather) and remember that older houses, while charming, are often not practical. And I think about how Mr. Crotchety-pants in the city never would have seen my Facebook status update about being out of coffee and rushed over with a piping, hot cup for me like my wonderful suburban neighbor did, and I think, Viva la Suburbia!