My husband and I have done two things we said we’d never do (and neither was reminiscent of 50 Shades of Grey). We bought a house and it’s in the suburbs.
Isn’t this the American Dream? Perhaps for many people it is, but it’s never been our dream.
After a condo-owning fiasco, we had sworn we’d never own property again. We’d happily fork over cash to a landlord if it meant trading in home maintenance and a hefty mortgage for more fun things, like dining out and European vacations.
Plus, our anti-car sentiment has grown over the years, reinforcing our desire to live in walkable areas. We swore we’d never flee our urban dwellings just because we had a child.
And for nearly 7 years, we stuck to our guns. Then our daughter reached school-age. And like so many other urbanites who flee to the suburbs with their children, we realized that’s where the best schools are.
It’s more than the schools, though. I realized after viewing house after house this summer that where my daughter lives and the type of dwelling she grows up in are critical to my dream of the childhood my daughter will have.
My daughter is an only child and with that comes many privileges. She’s seen the ballet and Cirque du Soleil, attended children’s theatre productions and been to Europe twice. She is showered with time and affection from parents who don’t have to parse out their attention to multiple children. It’s not a bad life by any means.
What it lacks, however, is daily exposure to other children. I had two brothers to boss around during my imaginary games. She has me, her dad and a geriatric cat—and we don’t always play nice.
In addition to having no siblings, she has lived in the heart of the city her entire life and sadly, children can be scarce in cities. She also has two parents who aren’t enamored with other people’s kids and thus find it painful to even say the word “playdate” much less seek one out. The result is a child who charms adults but doesn’t always “get” other kids.
Our decision to move brought to light some parenting differences that we’ve needed to address. My husband wants to give our daughter what he terms the “Cosmopolitan Upbringing,” one that is multilingual, includes lot of international travel, exposure to sports and diverse cultural activities, and the chance to see and experience the things that other kids read about in social studies books. It’s a lifestyle that neither of us had as children, but one we’ve aspired to as adults.
I most definitely want to give my daughter this life as well, but I also have a burning desire to give her what my husband terms the “American Dream Upbringing.” Oh, how I prickled at that label the first time he said it. I’ve always been the first to mock the white-picket fence, the golden retriever and the minivan. And yet, while I still want nothing to do with those specific items, I’ve come to accept that certain parts of the “American Dream” are most definitely my dream for my child.
I want to give my daughter the cultural and travel experiences I didn’t get as a child, but I also want her have a childhood in which her bike becomes her horse as they travel the neighborhood and the tree in the front yard becomes a little house where food is served on maple leaves. I want her to catch fireflies in jars, to swirl sparklers in the backyard on the 4th of July and to eat frozen Charleston Chews at the local beach (do they even make those anymore?). I want to yell, “It’s a beautiful day outside. Go find your friends and don’t come back in until the sun sets.”
As my husband and I moved through the house-buying process, we face some major questions as to how we want to spend the next 12 years. We had to figure out how we could blend both of our upbringing dreams.
Instead of a big house with a coinciding mortgage, we’re cramming ourselves into a cute house with low square footage and low maintenance, which should leave room in the budget for international travel. We’re slowly making peace with living in a suburb, but only because we chose one in which everything is walkable, and the city’s downtown area is just four miles away and accessible by bike path.
We’ve made these compromises in hopes that our daughter gets a childhood of amazing memories—one that include fireflies, walking to school, friends who live across the street and frequent trips to Europe.
My husband and I are still working out how to give our daughter what we see as a perfect mix of experiences. What we want for our child may be completely different than what you want for yours, but the end goal is the same.
We all want our offspring to look back and say, “Wow, I really had an amazingly happy childhood.” That, to me, is the American Dream—and apparently it’s worth the endless hours of yard work and weekend trips to Home Depot.