We just got back from our summer vacation. We stayed with family in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. The house had 3 levels, a front yard, a back yard, a driveway, circulating air, and many other traits that we City-dwellers half dream of and half scoff at. But we only scoff because we are jealous. I have not lived in a house with a yard or owned a car for 3 years and it now seems so leisurely, almost indulgent, to me. Part of that is, I’m sure, because if I didn’t find joy in the way I live, it wouldn’t be worth it to live this way. I look at it as an adventure or a challenge to overcome and every day I feel like I have achieved something. I also don’t mind not having a car or a yard right now because I really enjoy the activity level of city life. I walk a lot, I go up and down a lot of stairs, I carry children and bags and groceries like a pack mule. I think of moving to the suburbs, of owning a car, and I think that I would miss that part of city life — of relying on my body so heavily, of using its strength and endurance as part of my daily life, rather than only for recreational running and sporting.
But that is because I am selfish. At least a little bit. Two weeks of easy access to private green space and private transportation has opened my eyes and mind to the joys — and ease — of suburban life, mostly in regards to raising children. It was amazing being able to take the menchildren out in the bike trailer and not worry about the busy streets or navigating crowded sidewalks. It was amazing to send Manchild 1 outside and see him play with his cousins while I helped out in the kitchen. It was amazing to belt the menchildren into their carseats and not be worried that they would wander away and be lost. We all enjoyed the added breathing room, the feeling of being close but not so close that we were always touching, and the freedom to wander the house and yard without running into someone else.
I am not sure I realized the proximity in which I live with my children until I was freed from it. Until recently, I have felt good about taking the kids along with me just about wherever I go. I couldn’t very well leave them by themselves, and it’s not like they had anything else to do anyway. Plus, they didn’t have many needs and traveled easily: as long as I was stocked with diapers, snacks, and books we could go anywhere. But Manchild 1 has developed some pretty strong opinions lately and he certainly doesn’t want to be dragged along with me on all my errands. I try to give him time to play at the parks we pass while we are out, but there isn’t always time. Now that we’re back in the City, I can’t help but think about how easy would it be to send him out in the yard. And I wonder: am I cheating them out of some necessary experiences by always being so close to them? And while I feel like I am using my body to its fullest extent, do they have the space and the freedom to learn to use theirs as well?
Kids will grow up and learn and thrive in cities and suburbs and the country. I know that. And I’m sure that my kids are not going to be deprived of all the pleasures of life if we end up staying in the city forever. But I would hate for them to miss out on some of the things I loved growing up — playing, unsupervised, in the yard, car rides with the family — simply because I’m too selfish to give up my ways.