Monday, January 3, 2011

Are you grown up yet?: Adventures in Suburban Babyland

"We're getting so old," my brother moaned, "I'm almost 25.  You'll be 30 later this year."
"So?" I replied.  "Thus far, my life has gotten better with every passing year.  I'd never want to go back to 25.  I'm excited to turn 30."
"Really?" he said.  "I mean, I do like my life now better than college . . . "
"Absolutely," I assured him.

We digressed into a discussion of how being in your twenties meant you were in your third decade.  Then he asked: "Do you feel like a grown-up?"
"No way," I said.  "I feel much more mature than people in their early twenties, but grown up? Nope, not yet."

So then we discussed why it was that I don't feel grown up, even though my years suggest I am (although not according to my father, who thinks it's not possible to even begin to be an adult until you're thirty).  I said perhaps if I had a baby and a house, and lived in one place for more than two years (something I haven't done since high school).  My husband suggested that maybe if I had a tenure-track job I would feel grown up.  This makes sense, as growing up, all the adults I knew lived in one place in a house they owned, had steady jobs, and had kids.  For better or worse, this has become my definition of "grown-up."

A few days later, I got to examine these theories by visiting two couples my husband and I are friends with who live in the suburbs of the large city closest to my parents' house, and who have each had a child in the last year.  I should explain that I hate, hate, hate suburbs.  Readers, if you live in a suburb, do not take offense.  I like many, many people who live in suburbs.  But I have a deep, visceral hatred of the suburbs.  I realize they are supposed to combine the conveniences of rural life (more space, larger houses for less money) with the conveniences of urban living (close to the shops and events in the city).  However, in  my mind they combine the worst of rural life (having to drive everywhere) with the worst of city living (too many people, not enough trees).  Increasing my dislike of suburbs is that where I am from has become increasingly suburbified over the last fifteen years.  When I came home from university twice a year, there was a always a new shopping center or subdivision (technically, where I am from is now an exurb of this same large city.  Happy two-hour commuting!).  I found that these all looked the same, and were very ugly brown and beige combinations.  Not to mention the fact that for me, squeezing a large house onto a small lot is the same as squeezing a large person into small jeans: singularly unpleasant to look at.  Furthermore, when houses are so close together, but not touching, I imagine them attacking each other.

But I digress.  My friends in the suburbs are wonderful, and their kids are very cute.  They also definitely seem grown up.  They have Christmas decorations and matching plates.  In some ways, I would like a more stable life.  I am very tired of moving.  It is the little things that are annoying, like the fact that I have bought 4 irons in the last 5 years, because an iron is something that you really need, but is too insignificant to pack (especially moving across oceans).  Particularly when because you know you will get rid of it you buy a cheap iron that doesn't work.  At the same time, I value my freedom and independence greatly, and a kid and a house would be very limiting.  Although I do want children, eventually.

Staring out into my friend's backyard, I examined the trees.  Some of them had quite interesting shapes, and I imagined that it would be fun to build fairy houses in them with a child and her friends.  Then I had visions of a scary suburban mommy-blogger descending on me in wrath, horrified that I was encouraging building houses for make-believe creatures.  

I would say that I should work to redefine "grown-up" for my lifestyle and generation.  But that sounds far too academic.

So perhaps I'll just never grow up?


  1. Since my son was born, I've been telling people, "I'm not bothering to remember how old I am. I feel thirty, so I'm just going to say I'm thirty for a couple of years. It'll be easier." I guess "thirty" sounds adult to me, and I felt like an adult, because I was married, I had a kid, I was working (my first semester teaching was the semester my son was born), I had a Real Life finally.

    I grew up in the suburbs, and I absolutely agree with you about them. Except that, now, with a two-year-old and on the job market...I find myself craving some of the things the suburbs get you. I want more space (not just because I'm tired of the kid kicking me while I sleep). I want a yard that's not paved. I want, please, to pay a little less for housing. It's hard to disaggregate this from the extreme level of financial anxiety we've had these past two years (my wife lost her job a week after coming back from maternity leave, so we've spent two years living on my teaching stipend and her unemployment check), so maybe what I'm really craving is some financial stability. But I want life to be easier, and the combination of grad student/parent/extremely broke/living in big pricey city is not an easy one, by any means.

    I do think we have to redefine grownup! In fact, I think that's necessary. I'm not parenting like my parents did, because I'm not them (I first mistyped "then," but that's a pretty apt typo). I wouldn't want to be a grownup like them, even though they did a pretty good job of things, I think, and I share many of the same principles they do. More to the point, while it may sound academic, I think all of us are doing it all the time anyway; I think attempts to reinstate a previous eras modalities will inevitably fail, or will require a wholesale transformation. OK, that sounded too academic. *g*

  2. I agree, I should add that the reason many of my friends are in the suburbs are the financial/space difficulties they would face in the city, especially after having children. Not that it can't be done by any means, but it is likely more difficult. Which is why there are cool people in the suburbs. In fact, one of the reasons I fear the suburbs the most is that I can see myself ending up there someday for those very same reasons, despite my hatred of them.

  3. Or, to put a more positive spin on things, all of us (Anjabieh, Shedding, and I) should all get jobs at some lovely little SLAC in a small town far enough from a city that it doesn't feel like an suburb or, heaven forfend, an exurb. We'd all look good framed by historic brick or brownstone buildings, don't you think?

  4. PS: That's Ajnabieh, Shedding, and I. I know how to spell that name, honest. This is what happens when you start commenting on blogs after rolling home from the bar.