21 April 2008

Contemplating Suburbia et al.

The Cul-de-sac
Across from the one-runway airport in our town, down the hill, there is a street with only ten houses. Nice houses, the kind you see in TV sitcoms, the kind people who have 2.5 kids and a dog live in. It ends in a loop, with a little grass and a young tree at the center.

Matilda's friend lives in one of these houses with her family. They have a beautifully landscaped yard, and what seemed to me to be an impossibly clean, almost staged house (where are the crayon marks on the floor, stacks of unread magazine, the mis-matched curtains and children's artwork?). The house wasn't devoid of life, rather it was full of perfectly ordered life, something that fills me with a sense of inadequacy and unreality: how does this sort of life happen? Does it happen?

There is of course, something to be said for living on a street down which toddlers can safely pedal their Radio Flyer tricycles, and having a sun-filled breakfast nook. The idea that if I lived that life, my children would be born with an innate knowledge that crayons are for paper, and that dinner is served at six-o-clock sharp is dreamily fantastic.

The Farm
When I was little I had a pet goat. Her name was Thistle and my dad built her a little goat house in the back yard. She was a sweet goat, and she had come to us from a farmer who lived nearby. This farmer's house was the kind of place where a kid could get lost for hours, full of treasures and junk and more treasures, it was always dark and cool inside. Some of the rooms were so full of lamps and tables and knick-knacks that it was hard to imagine anyone living in them.

Every square inch of space was used - things were hung from the ceiling and walls, brightly colored glass bottles lined the window-sills, and the space beneath tables and chairs was stacked with boxes and papers.

My memory of this farmhouse has undoubtedly been merged over the years with others like it - artists' studios, loft apartments, rambling country houses with secret rooms and full attics; all wonderlands of color and fantasy, an adventure waiting around every corner, the kinds of places where children are equally likely to be invited to help paint a mural in the bathroom, to muck out stalls in the barn, or to be left alone for hours to entertain themselves.

The Way We Live
Our home is lived-in. It has not been carved from a two-dimensional television set, it doesn't invoke fantasies of the American dream. Neither is it crammed full of the treasures of a lifetime: light can reach the interior of the house, and so can a gentle breeze when the weather is as it has been. The painted wood floor is full of scratches and the linoleum in the kitchen is lifting up at the corners. The posters of our own youth have been replaced with the paintings, sculptures and Barbie art dioramas of our children.

Our lives are lived-in and even though I experience suburbia-lust and then a quick flash of shame, followed by a straightening of my shoulders and a lifting of my chin when I am confronted by picturesque three-bedrooms on charming little cul-de-sacs, and even though the disorder of my life frustrates me and turns me into a screaming banshee more often than I care to admit, I hope that when I am an old lady I have the kind of home where children can get lost for hours exploring my collections of books and shells and bottles, and then help me paint a mural in my bathroom.


Misty said...

I love this post...
I need to keep myself in check.

jennifer said...

I want a home that my kids remember fondly and feel comfortable in. I want a home where the neighborhood kids feel safe and know they can build forts and spill and it'll be alright.

I loved this post.

SilliGirl said...

My friend and I call those moments "dishwasher moments." The phrase was coined when I was living on a bus and she was n a converted shed, neither of us with running water (although we did have electricity and access to the farmhouse) and we loved our lives but every once in a while we'd have these moments where we'd want to trad it all in for a house with plumbing and central air and our kids in school and enough money to have hired help and the ability to use plastic wrap without feeling guilty for destroying the earth.

I am doomed (destined) to have that crazy old farmhouse, and I am glad for it, and you will be too when your grandkids beg to visit you

BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) said...

I really love this post. I found it via Amy at Milkbreath and Margaritas.

We live in an "older" but comfy home (built in 1968). We have the scuffed hardwood floors, the imperfect vinyl floor in the kitchen, the dog hair. I grew up in a big old white farmhouse in the country. Occasionally I gets pangs of new house fever. I want a brand spankin' new house dammit! ;)

But then I realize the important thing is that we are all happy and that we have a true home.

Queen of Shake-Shake said...

I live out in suburbia and don't like it. But my house is messy and the carpet is already stained, even though it's only 2.5 years old. The fridge is cluttered with art work.

Yet the boys don't have space to roam or things to explore and discover. We have a 6' fence instead.


A happy medium, please?

andi said...

Loved this post!

As a kid, I lived on a farm and I can't say I'd ever want to do that again - somehow I'm a city girl. I'm grateful for the neighborhood we live in - cozy, old character houses on a tree-lined street. Kids run freely down the sidewalk and are welcome into each other's houses.

Sometimes I get suburbia lust too - mostly thinking about having a house that doesn't need to be repaired - then it quickly passes when I remember how much I loathe those cookie-cutter, treeless neighborhoods with their SUV-filled garages.

Cathy said...

We lived on a cul-de-sac for the year we were in San Antonio.

By the time we left, I LOATHED it.

Cul-de-sacs work only if you have normal neighbors. Otherwise it's just too many crazy people crammed into too small a space.

beta mom said...

hey nell -
I've lots of catching up to do, but this particular post catches me squarely where we live (no pun intended!). We grew up in what was my grandparents farm house which was about 200 years old. Despite the great love I had for that house, I LONGED for a split level ranch! Now, we find ourselves in a very similar place. There are plenty of people on this island with picture perfect newer homes. Ours is a little "threadbare" as Megan would say, but we love it, and it loves us. Ironically, it's also the place where all the kids like to come and play!
What's with the move? It sounds like there's a lot going on - I hope you are well.