Suburbia can be an enjoyable place to raise a family with safe neighborhoods and idyllic tree-lined streets. It is a place to teach your kids to ride bikes, make friends and figure out who they want to be when they grow up. In the suburbs, you'll find all sorts of people and many of them will be parents. They will join you at cookouts, block parties and even milestone events like kids' birthdays and holidays. You will raise your children in unison. They will become friends. They will become family. And just like family, you can't choose your neighbors. There are five types of families you may run into as you navigate the suburban jungle.
These people are serious about recycling and composting. They use food processors to make chemical-free, sugar-free, and toxin-free fruit and vegetables for their babies. This produce is procured from the garden, which is next to the composite. They pretend not to judge as you drag two bags per day to the trash, to their one--per week. The truly hardcore, rummage through bins, once darkness falls, in an attempt to save the earth one suburban garbage can at a time.
This family is so devoted to the cause, they dress their children in designer second hand outfits, think Gap and Banana Republic--after all, this is still the suburbs. Someday they will attempt to pass these hand me downs along to your children. Do not decline. They know you have no plans to save the Earth but if you actually say it aloud, they will have to unfriend you in the neighborhood, not on Facebook. Their kids play outside in trees and consume kale chips. They judge you while yours are inside on electronics munching on high-carb, high-sodium snacks.
This family is as free-range as they come. These people parent like it's 1980. The parents allow their kids to bike alone not only in your neighborhood, but the adjoining one as well. You may notice their offspring riding sans helmet, while holding scissors, with a baby brother hanging from their back. They raise their children with limited parental guidance; even enlisting the help of older kids (ages 8-11) to babysit younger siblings while they run down to the store.
These people won't schedule playdates. Their kid will knock on your door to ask if your kid can come over or play outside. Sometimes this free-range boy will stop by during dinner and score himself a place at the table. The parents won't coming looking for him until it gets dark, at which point they will yell his name until he says, "I gotta go, my ma's calling." These are the people who have your kid over for impromptu sleepovers and will throw him in the back of the wagon for their family vacation. They believe we can all help raise each other's children.
The Barbies (aka Jones)
This family is perfect in everything including looks, dress and overall presentation. They enunciate every word and stand perfectly postured. When you are around them you are totally aware of every family deficiency, from your two-year-old's need to smash everything after watching too much violent television, to your husband's foul mouth after a few too many. They are the family you'd always wished you would be. The mother makes everything look easy; the father is patient and kind. The kids are mini-me's of their parents and they win--at everything.
As the years go by, you will wish for some tiny fissure in their perfectly constructed lives. You are sure he is hiding bodies in the basement or she tortures squirrels. Thinking these things will bring about feelings of guilt, but you won't be able to stop yourself. Eventually something will go wrong for them, female pattern baldness or male erectile dysfunction, because this is the suburbs, not utopia. No one is perfect and all families have and maintain some level of dysfunction.
The Fit Family
They are athletic and in great shape. You often see them running through the neighborhood in matching workout gear or while biking. Even the baby joins in as they strap his tiny body into a backpack or a child safe contraption on the back of a bicycle. They always win the tug of war at the annual summer block party. The rest of the neighborhood has stopped trying.
Vacations are hikes up mountains you've only read about online or whitewater rafting expeditions. The parents are runners, swimmers and triathletes who race for the most obscure causes like relief for feral perimenopausal felines. They often stop by so you can pledge them. Normally you're lying on the couch watching reality TV and hoping they don't see you. When they do, you jump on the stationary bike gathering dust in the corner and motion for them to come in while you wipe fake sweat off your brow.
The City Folk
These people moved to the suburbs for the fresh air, green trees and safe streets, but they didn't really want to. Whether forced out of guilt, in an attempt to adult, or even a job transfer, they convince themselves they won't regret their decision. They do and it shows. They brag often about the joys of city living, the culture, the diversity and the plight--none of which exist in suburbia. The elderly couple, with the Chinese pug, at the end of the street is as diverse as it gets.
The city slickers know every Broadway show by date and run. When the local paper discusses a series of car thefts, they recall a shooting in their neighborhood and seem teary eyed. They will stay as long as you do in the burbs, but they will miss the action-packed city forever.
Suburbia is filled with all sorts of people and while they are different, each family you meet--whether granola, super fit, old school, or a combination of them all--is merely doing their best to make it through the tree-lined trenches.
This post first appeared on the blog Suburban Shit Show: Tales from the Tree-Lined Trenches.
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