Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Lure of Exurbia

Just came back from our first reunion cookout for the families who went to China in our group last March. It was hosted by one of the families who live in a Dulles-area suburb of DC, about 40 minutes from Capitol Hill.

I have always deplored living in any location that required me to use a car to get a cup of coffee, mail a letter or see a movie. I still, in my heart, feel that way. But I have to tell you: seeing this family's shwank digs out in Reston/Herndon made me want to sell my DC rowhouse TOMORROW for nothing more than the space their kids have to live and play. My house has plenty of space, but it is very definitely vertical in nature. Their house is a mini-McMansion, with a finished basement, fabulous new hardwood floors, an orgasm-inducing kitchen with center island, Subzero fridge, etc. I was in heaven...except for the fact that it was 40 minutes from a Smithsonian, 15 minutes by car from a grocery store, and pretty much the only house within 10 square miles with a Chinese kid domiciled therein.

And yet....

I--even I--felt the lure of exurbia. The newness of everything, unlike my rowhouse built in 1912. The space, unlike my seemingly cramped living quarters. The unbelievable back yard, unlike my 10x10 postage stamp of a garden that requires all of my vegetables to be grown in containers due to the truly shockingly high level of heavy metals in the DC soil, not to mention the truly scary numbers of Asian Tiger Mosquitos (the kind that bite all day, rather than just at dusk) that make playing in said tiny back yard during the summer a complete fantasy. The huge kitchen that encourages people to hang out and chat while you cook (my Perfect Evening With Friends) rather than my tiny one that allows no more than two (2) human adults in its confines at one time.

All of this and more was beckoning me to Wisteria Lane. I decided then and there, before leaving their house, that my child would live in such an abode before the end of 2005.

And then I began the drive back to DC. 40 minutes. Two tolls. Countless Olive Garden restaurants. Numerous Macaroni Grills. Row upon row of prefab housing, "all made of ticky-tacky and all look just the same." And then I came to my senses.

No, my daughter will not have a huge yard. She will not have a huge, expansive, brand new bedroom with all the mod cons (modern conveniences, in Scottish speak). But her back yard will be the National Mall. Her playground will be the Smithsonian Museums. Her worldview will include children who have both more and less than she does. Children who are Christian and Jewish and Muslim and Hindu and Sikh and no religion at all. Her education will be at a quality public school, held to high standards not by the DC school board but by parents like me who will demand them. She will not have a "wired" bedroom. She will not have a built-in intercom system (unless you count me braying up the stairs at her as a "built-in" feature of our home). No, she will have to "make do" with all the house that 1912 could provide, with some basic updates like electricity and plumbing, but minus the wireless, technological and electronic bells and whistles so many kids have come to expect.

I know that some day she will feel like she has missed out by not being in a white bread suburb, far away from the realities that DC forces you to acknowledge. And some part of me will always wonder if I did the right thing in not giving up on this sometimes frustrating adventure we call Living in the District of Columbia Sans Congressional Representation. But in the final analysis, I have to believe that growing up with a realistic view of the world--coupled with the ability to be in it but not OF it--is the best gift any parent can give her child.

Although, if you live in a swank pad in the burbs, we'd gladly visit and use your stuff!


Anonymous said...

I think your wrong about your daughter thinking she missed something by growing up in the city as opposed to the suburbs. I know that I at least wish I grew up in a city as opposed to the suburbs after living in cities for a while. Now that I'm back in the suburbs, I miss being able to walk everywhere (or if its really far riding a bike).

Miko said...

Awww...that's what summer camp is for! No worries!

Anonymous said...

As Peg Bracken once said:

There's no place like home, damn it.