Suburban. Misfit. Mom.
I’m new to suburban life. I fought it tooth and nail for 8 years, refusing to give up the high-priced vibrancy and convenience of walking to Brooklyn’s eclectic cafes and shops, its diverse playgrounds and schools, for the inevitable sameness of an affordable home in the ‘burbs. I had visions of Stepford Wives, high school cliques and general car driving induced isolation. Bizarrely, I was absolutely happy to relocate to a 10 acre farm in rural back-of-beyond, as long as I could have adorable ducks and adopt a fuzzy pony. (I grew up on a 450 acre farm in England). But the ‘burbs? I’d been there and it gave me such a lasting sense of claustrophobia, I flat out refused to move.
Three things spurred me to make the change this summer, and fulfill my husbands dream of buying our first home. We were renting in an up and coming area of Brooklyn, still reeling from its overnight gentrification. The bakery that has been making our daughters birthday cake for the past 5 years wanted fifty dollars – fifty! – to put green food coloring in her cake. (It stayed yellow). My youngest daughter’s playgroup raised its fee by two thousand dollars, with no change in service. And when some newly wealthy teens decided to have a shoot-out at our favourite family restaurant at 8pm on a Monday night, I threw in the towel. We needed to find a home with space, light, beaches, school playing fields – and leave behind everything that my kids had ever known.
Kind people call me an individualist, at least to my face. My husband defines my otherness as “quirky”. Sometimes it stings to be other. Sometimes, I love having carved my own path, without the dragging constraints of permission or conformity. Like many Moms, most days you will find me pootling about in yoga pants. In that at least, I’m traditional. However, I have several visible tattoos. I take the kids to school by bike. Just by being English in America, I’m a person alone, without a network of family close by. Those are all the outward signs. Being individual is core deep for me, living my life with personal truth and integrity. I travelled the world for a year, alone, when I was 26. I made financial contributions to the US presidential campaign I believed in, despite being unable to vote. I donated breastmilk to an LGBT family on my block. These are the things that reaffirm my ‘rightness’ with myself, when I question the validity of being so other.
The thing about having kids, though, is that hard won identity of otherness is muted as you become a member of the largest club in the world – motherhood. We can’t parent alone. We need family, friends, doctors, schools… the proverbial village it takes to raise a child. Those institutions have perceptions and opinions, and at times, I feel myself dial down the ‘quirkiness’ to fit in, for the sake of my girls. I wore a tattoo-covering shirt to the parent teacher conference. I contribute to all the food drives and school fetes and show up to every kids showcase, so that the school knows I’m reliable, despite my quirky otherness. Because my kids need to carve their own path, and I’ll guide them, and make sure their school experience is about them, not me.
Although, when my daughters want to wear pink unicorn pajamas to the grocery store, or draw kitty cat whiskers on their faces with Sharpies, I let them. And when they choose to go as Chris Wild Kratt and Batman at Halloween, I’m proud to remind them they can be whatever they choose – and to tell the kid who said they can’t dress as a boy that he isn’t actually a velociraptor. And then invite him over to play in our huge suburban back garden, and to bring his Mom too. And maybe she will end up being part of the new village I’m trying to create out here in the ‘burbs… at least I can ask her if she knows of a good bakery.