Friday, October 24, 2008

rural/urban ramblings for parents

First of all, lets suspend all "realities", ok? Cause thats boring.

Now, I want to tell you that I have a huge thing that I obsess about, a yin-yang, a black-versus-white that I always think about: Rural versus urban. What do I want? What is better? What is cooler? Where do I really want to live? (again, we live right here and we arent moving. this is about vibes and dreams)

I think that fresh air and simple living absolutely and totally ROCK. Vermont, trees, no raking leaves, burning firewood, making a big huge cauldron of soup for little kids who wear moccasins and sleep in trundle beds made of logs, digging and playing with shovels and rocks, rosy cheeks, goodness, anti-consumerism, back to the land, hearty healthy goodness and pure human existence, that is what I LOVE. A little patch of unspoiled land, wood smoke and oak leaves, wool sweaters and hearty grog, a chess set, an old truck, books and maybe radio reception. A garden, a real garden that you live on, a drive into town being a big deal, popcorn made in one of those metal roasty-things, tree houses, you know. EXCEPT: Actual living in the actual "country" seems to actually mean bored angry hicks on crystal meth, nothing to do except get wasted and shoot things, high unemployment rates, scary trailer people, loneliness, lack of access to 911 service. I picture me and Steve sitting under the stars...and then I picture the kids growing into adulthood "wanting to get the heck out of this retarded hell-hole" and leaving me behind with the chickens and the neo-cons. sucky, right?
Ok, so urban dreams: Some gorgeous walk-up apartment , maybe a brownstone, in a vibrant community, jazz music fills the air, people of all colors hanging out, museums, concerts, markets wafting the incredible smells of far away delicacies into your window, writers, musicians, all coming to call, a truly eclectic lifestyle, all inclusive, open, lots of eating at the sidewalk cafe, lots of coffee, bagels, and colors. Vibrant, full, rich, human. NO shortage of experiences, ideas, liberal paradise, intelligent companionship, gorgeous mid century modern furnishings, old and new and poetry slams. EXCEPT: actual living in the actual big city seems to actually mean gun fire, crime, exorbitant rents, no fresh air, no quiet, no peace, no solitude. Materialism, shopping, exhaust fumes, no stars in the sky, no animals besides pigeons, electronica invading all manner of daily affairs, kids not even knowing what a treehouse is, let alone having the space to actually build one, things like creeks, bogs, and swimming-holes all replaced by chuck e cheese and the indoor splash zone at the 300$ a night hotel, chlorine-burns included.

SO what do I actually hate? Suburbia. God I hate suburbia. But so many of us live in it, and the attempt to have it all is actually at its highest possibilities in a suburban setting, I guess. Depending on what metropolis you are a part if, if you are at all, we could feasibly have our creek and our museums, too. But at what price? Isnt there a hollowness in making a tree house from neat and tidy pressboard from Lowe's? Isnt there a hollowness in growing a garden just for fun, and not really bothering to care if it goes bad or gets eaten by suburban bunnies, because, really, we are just gonna eat at Red Robin anyhow? Isnt there a strange irony or something about our gas guzzling treks to "vacation" in the over crowded cement-pads we call camping, or for that matter, our gas guzzling treks to the city to get our lil' cultural groove on and have a night of Greek food and open mic in that part of town?

I have no solution, really, and I do not think I am onto anything new here. People in NewYork flock in droves to Central Park, and people in rural areas crave and demand the same shopping opportunities as their city neighbors. So, what? the rich, they have more than one house-bam-solved. The trend is also to maybe move away to a little cabin by the lake when we are old, when the kids are grown--which brings me to my real existential dilemma, if you will: How and what is the best way to raise our kids? Is it fair to keep them out in the country when they are trying to navigate the unsteady waters of puberty and the only other kids they ever met were at the truck stop and whose dark circles under their eyes told of glue huffing and sexual abuse? Is it fair to keep them in the high rise apartments, away from nature, away from the sounds of our planet, the birds, the trees, the rhythms of the sun obliterated by the billboards' glare, never growing familiar with an old Oak, never "knowing" a creek or befriending a squirrel, never "building" anything that wasnt made of red and blue plastic, or eating anything that wasnt lovingly prepared and preserved for ultra shelf-life from the flickering fluorescent aisles of megamarket incorporated? Would your toddlers have heart attacks if your cable tv went out?

Luddism?... Love it. Hate it. I know all about it. Its the reluctant feeling that we sort of laugh about in our family as I kind of pretend in an earth-mama/maternal feminist leaning that I dont know how to hook up the DVD player, or "work" the Ipod(s).

Our circle of friends has done smashingly well at straddling these lines, in inner ring suburbs, with intelligent/artistic/liberal leanings, love of technology and real camping, love of coking over the fire and wearing clothes that they certainly did not sew themselves. (But they could!)

Maybe this is where we really are, gen X, embracing all we have inherited, appreciating the arts, the quirks, the things our dual income parents in the shoulder padded 80's thought they had to eschew for us, maybe this is exactly where we are and maybe the only thing that has to change at all is the guilt and the dissatisfaction.

We have friends who like to call themselves Urban Homesteaders, raising rabbits, honeybees and homeschooling, right in a regular neighborhood, on a regular block. I like that idea. We have friends who are amazing cooks and hikers but hire out all of their yardwork. We have friends who are musicians, repairmen, repairwomen, blue collar, white collar and all sorts of family situations. But none of us lives in the actual city or the actual country and none of us are suburban jerkos, obsessed with our lawns or going to the mall.

We are choosing to raise our kids right here because of the neighborhood. It is amazing, a truly supportive community, with activities and friends and a real sense of kids first. Yeah, lots of those kids you never see--they go from school to lessons to dads house to moms house to daycare to grandmas to school to lessons to camp..their little feet rarely stepping out of the car. But for all of those poor little souls, there are tons of kids who really do play with sticks and mud and who run run run until their cheeks blaze pink and it has nothing to do with tokens, flashing lights or high fructose corn syrup, bless their hearts.

We have a unique opportunity and burden raising kids right now. Too many choices can be a burden, but such an opportunity, as well. Read up, learn alot, and follow your hearts, parents. Then put down all those books and just be with the kids. Watch them, listen to them, see what feels right, see what brings out their best, see what does not. Build your lives accordingly, as finances will allow, remembering all along the vast majority of people on Earth who do not have any such trivial "choices" to make at all!


Kelley said...

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Your writing ability is so lucid, so thoughtful. I think in all that spare time you have ( ;D ) that you should write a book. You really have a gift, Joy.

Housefairy said...

Good old Kelley--I feel like I blog for just you and me sometimes : ) Thank you for being so supportive and always "getting" me even when I bandy about more stereotypes than I probably should, and even when my thoughts are choppy and my verb tenses dont align. I love you!

funpaul said...

I saw an interesting documentary a little while back called "The End of The Suburbs"

It suffered from a too much '50s suburban kitcsh for cheap laughs, but the information presented was interesting to me. I'd heard a lot of it before, but there were some points that were made clearer to me.

It starts with a history of the suburbs. The earliest arising in the 1920's as a kind of country home for affluent car owners. Cities at that time really were dirty, polluted, crowded and the notion was that country life was clean and wholesome, etc.

The development of street car lines led to the development of suburbs along rail lines, making the suburban life more accessable to broader sectors of the middle class.

After WWII: Levittown=type suburbs arise. GI Bill, chicken in every pot, everyone should own a detached home, etc. Made possible by widespread ownership of relatively affordable automobiles (and vice-versa: automobiles selling well because of the new suburbs).

Then: sprawl as each successive ring of suburbs becomes less rural.

The film explores the pluses and minuses of this new mode of life.

The interesting part to me was the pointing out that all this sprawl was possible only because of incredibly cheap gasoline. Once cheap gasoline is done -- and I would say despite the present dip in price, it is pretty much done -- the outer suburbs become incredibly expensive to live in. They will wither and die, becoming new slums, as the population tends to contract towards the center in order to reduce commute times and fuel costs. We hope that new mass transit schemes will figure into this.

I think it's interesting to think that suburbs in the American style are an invention only about 90 years old. The technological and industrial explosion revolutionizes social organization at a phenomenal rate, and we are holding on for dear life trying to figure out what happens next, whether we can find a way to influence what happens next, and how we can find a worthwhile way to live within the wildly changing world.

Kneelingwoman said...

Well, I'm one of your "urban homesteading" friends with the rabbits and honeybees and a garden we really do eat out of ( but we have to beat the wild critters to the food ) and all and, as we've spoken of on many occasions, we dream of moving North......

I've come to the conclusion, however, that what I love about the Northern part of our State is the pristine wilderness of it and if everyone who dreams,as I do, of moving there actually does it; there goes "pristine wilderness" and eventually, the UP becomes a suburb too! So, I visit and I pay my respects and offer my love and stay put on my little urban farm so that the UP remains the UP.......

I really love urban homesteading, actually, because it introduces the idea of sustainability into an area and an ethos that doesn't typically think about those issues. Growing food instead of lawn makes sense ecologically and, for me, politically and socially as well. Opening my home, living in a state of hospitality where neighbors and friends drop in for dinner and hang out until our conversation runs it's course for the day...that is priceless to me. I have lived in this same neighborhood for almost 20 years now ( in June ) and I have that sense of "Place" that Wendell Berry talks about in his writing. I have children unborn buried in our garden, giving us life through the food we grow there. Our families first dog, a couple of our rabbits, are also part of the "land" out back......we couldn't leave.

I actually like the "grunge" of Detroit, the neediness of the city, having to deal with the reality of poverty and want and knowing that I can do something to change it. I wanted my children to be where they could understand and appreciate that there are people who are poor, and suffering, and my hope was always that they would grow into compassionate young people who would set their hearts to healing others. So far, I'm not disappointed. We can all bloom where we are planted!

Judit said...

Joy I've never done the rural thing, but before children we lived in Brooklyn for several years (preceded by 1 year on the Upper East Side, but we got priced outta there in a New York minute LOL). Park Slope, though yuppifying fast, our old tree-lined block of brownstones is totally the urban paradise you describe, but who can afford to raise a family in that setting without a wall street or corporate law job? No one I know. Our friends from there have either moved away, built serious careers, and/or still have no kids in their late 30s.

Right now, we are living the compromise too. In a city that's large enough to have a public bus system, in a neighborhood that you can walk downtown from; but we have a yard that's wider than the driveway and three trees grow on it -- and most of all there is plenty of diversity and a great sense of community!! It is a very happy medium. Plus there is a patch of real nature down the street in the park with real uncultivated wild woods and hiking trails up the hill to precipitous cliffs and breathtaking views below and we can see our rooftop from up there! :)
G had a friend over all day last Saturday. They were up the climbing tree from 7:30 am until about 2 pm, working on a very creative installation project way up in that tree. Passersby in the street stop to look at it now. It's assembled from a flag, a bucket, a bird feeder, and a tambourine hanging by strings fastened to a stick structure resembling a squirrel-sized tree house. :D

I second funpaul. The End of Suburbia is fascinating though terrifying. I was obsessed with its ideas and predictions for weeks after I viewed it.

Anonymous said...

oh my god, i could have wrote this. mind if i link from my travel blog? wow.

(amber, who is posting under her other blog name because she is lazy)