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Monday, August 08, 2005


Where the sidewalk never begins

We live in a suburb. A suburb that is considered by many to be prestigious. A suburb that is at times considered by me to be terribly wasp-ish and boring. There is much talk in my neighborhood of the politics of children's hockey. How you have to know someone, or have some kind of wealth, prestige, or power to get your kid to the pinnacle of Hockey. The High School Varsity Hockey team. There is also much talk of whose children misbehave on the bus (okay I do find this subject entertaining), and which mothers have had "work done".

My husband Jim Grew up here and is well versed in the nuances of this competitive waspy society. I mentioned to Jim once that Maggie might have a natural talent for tennis. Having Amazon parents, and appearing to follow in their Amazon footsteps at her tender age of not quite one, I think she could be good at it. I pictured her long legged and graceful in a cute little tennis skirt, ponytail swinging and she lobs the ball around the court. Jim's response to this was "There is NO WAY we can afford private coaching and tennis camp and NO ONE makes the team here without private coaching and tennis camp! NO ONE! There is no point in even TRYING! FORGET IT!" Tennis. How silly of me. Are there private coaches for how to maintain some semblance of self esteem in a High school where only the rich can play tennis? Sign us up. I think we are going to need it. My vision of Maggie suddenly changed from sun streaked leggy ponytail sporting tennis player to dark haired goth reject who wears black lipstick and writes poetry about inflicting cruelty to puppies and kittens.

Sadly, These are just a few of the typical characteristics of Suburban society. Perhaps the characteristic of Suburban life I find the MOST loathsome is the bizarre absence of sidewalks. I never understood this. I am left to believe the the city planners felt the citizens here were so prestigious, they would never have to walk anywhere. Walking was for poor folk. The welfare mothers and deadbeat dads. Walkers. Every damn one of them. Lice-ridden prostitutes? I heard they walk EVERYWHERE. Ragamuffin dirty faced ill-behaved children? TOTAL PEDESTRIANS. The unemployed and disenfranchised? ALWAYS WALKING. Walking, and providing people space in which to do so was seemingly considered tres gauche. Banish the thought of not being able to see the neighborhood soleley through the window of your sedan or SUV.

I grew up in an urban area. We had sidewalks. I learned to ride a bike on the sidewalk. I measured my progress by counting the squares I made it past before falling over. We played kick the can in the alley. We used the sidewalks all the time for walking, running, hopscotch, and yes, I admit it, recycling the occasional discarded wad of gum (how I managed to avoid getting TB is beyond me). Sidewalks are terribly practical in the function they serve of SEPARATING YOUR CHILDREN FROM TRAFFIC. Practical and tacky apparently.

Not in our suburban neighborhood. We plop our kids on their bigwheels and send them careening down the driveway DIRECTLY INTO THE FUCKING STREET. The street where oblivious soccer moms gab on their cell phones as their 6 foot tall SUV's whiz by.
"Here little Jimmy! Consider it your first lesson in surviving the Suburbs! Dodging Ford Expeditions while akwardly pedaling, wobbling and maintianing an upright position without training wheels! It will make you really good at Hockey! Maybe you will make the B squad and make us proud!"

Our children learn to ride their bikes in the street where they amateurishly wobble their Huffy’s directly into a head-on collision with the neighbors mini Humvee. Because suburban dwelling white collar bourgeoisie really NEED Humvees. How else would they make their neighbors feel financially marginalized while simultaneously squashing those pesky neighborhood kids like pasta dough through a fettucini machine? THIS is multi-tasking for the upwardly mobile. This is the way educated white collar folks should live! We are just so wealthy and SMART we don't need sidewalks. That would imply that we don't own Humvees! That would insinuate that we (gasp) have to WALK. WALKING IS FOR THE WEAK AND POORLY DRESSED! WALKING IS FOR LIBERALS AND COMMUNISTS AND WE DON'T NEED ANY OF THEM AROUND!

Some of my neighbors set out these little green plastic neon faux-children in the street with signs that say “SLOW DOWN! CHILDREN AT PLAY!” And every time someone smashes into one, we are all breathe a sigh of releif that this time it was just a green neon facsimile of a child and not the real deal. PHEW. That was lucky! Then we pat ourselves on the back for having the fortitude and bravery to live this rebellious suburban life. A priveleged thrilling high-intensity life without sidewalks.


Blogger posthipchick said...

we moved from the city (san francisco) to the suburbs one year ago, for my school and job, and are already plotting about the exact minute we can return to "normal" life.
the suburbs scare the shit out of me. you described it perfectly.

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Jenny said...

I am a lifelong suburbs dweller. I'm used to it, I suppose. But we have fucking sidewalks, so there you go. Low Class Suburban Environs, complete with liberals and commies and hippies and *gasp* blue collar folk.

I say go with the tennis - she'll have enough natural talent (and legs!) to play for fun, if not be an "a" lister. ;)

8:08 AM  
Blogger Denise said...

SIDEWALKS! Finally someone else who understands sidewalks the way I do!

I grew up in Charleston SC, actually at the time it was Charleston Heights and now it is N.Charleston. It was a suburb of the "real city" and we had sidewalks! As a kid, I thought everyone had sidewalks! As a teen I realized differently. The "city" had sidewalks and the SOME suburban subdivisions had them - not the really ritzy ones and not the lower class ones. We were solidly middle class and we had sidewalks.

Everytime I look at a housing area to move to, I look for sidewalks, and I rarely find them. It makes it hard for me to choose a house, I NEED sidewalks!

I could not believe my luck when my s/o other called me and told me about the perfect house - 5 bedrooms (enough for us to combine 2 families with 6 kids) an office (we both worked from home at the time) and a decent back yard. PERFECT! But what about umm sidewalks I asked. Ha, IT HAS SIDEWALKS she said.

It does. Glorious sidewalks! The children scooter and bike ride and hopscotch all over them. They count the cracks, they jump the cracks and they meet the neighbors walking their dogs down the sidewalk.

I love my house. :-)

12:30 PM  
Blogger Mary Tsao said...

In our little burb houses in neighborhoods with sidewalks fetch well over $1 million. By eating raman on nights ending with a "y" and going to Fresh Choice for our fancy nights out, we are able to afford a home in a neighborhood where half of the streets have sidewalks.

It's a start.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Jenn said...

Yes! A suburban dweller forever. We do have sidewalks, though. I mean, Buffy and Miffy can't prance around showing off their new boob jobs while risking their lives in THE STREET!

And the whole "must have a private teacher and camp and be a 3rd generation sports player" shit is TOTALLY MY 'BURB! "You mean Little Johnny has not played soccer since he was three? Have you been living in the jungles of Africa or what? How do you ever explain that?? Poor little Johnny will never amount to anything!"

I HATE IT! Welcome to Stepford, Meghan! muahahahaha

7:06 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

The new neighborhoods never seem to have sidewalks since it takes up valuable square footage better used for invading your neighbors privacy.

I can't wait till we move to the country.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Mindy said...

Heh. In our neighborhood, you can see who lives in "incorporated" San Jose and who's "county." I live on the border, which means that I have spacious, city-maintained sidewalks while my neighbors across the street have weeded yards right up to the street. You have to look under the many rusted vehicles on the lawns to see.

Also? They have t walk ACROSS THE STREET to talk to us, directly from their driveway to ours. The shame.

We give them a little waist-high wave sometimes when no one's looking.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Donna said...

Your 'hood sounds a lot like my little corner of L.A. Actually, my 9-year-old has never learned how to ride a bike because not only do the soccer moms SPEED up and down our street, but even though we do have sidewalks, we are on a hillside. And the trees on our street have such shallow root systems that the sidewalks all buckle at precarious angles. (The skateboarders love it. I find it terrifying.)

I don't allow her to play in front of our house (she has no children on our street to play with anyway - we have to set up playdates with her friends in other neighborhoods). She used to ride around on training wheels in the backyard, but to really learn to ride would mean shlepping the bicycle to a park and dodging everyone else on the bike path.

The kid can do a handstand on a 4' tall balance beam, so I have confidence that someday she'll pick up the basic cycling skill. Or spend years of therapy complaining that I never allowed her to learn.

Re the tennis: When your child is a little older, you'll start enrolling her in all kinds of "enrichment" activities. As a toddler, Megan did ballet and tap, then we moved on to tae kwan do (excellent for all children in helping them learn discipline and pride of accomplishment), art... and then gymnastics. Your child will let you know if there is something she wants to focus on, as Megan did with the gymnastics.

And if she shows talent, your husband will be so proud that he will go along for the ride. The escalation from a $50 per month one day a week class to 15 hours a week of coaching at the cost of a BMW payment will occur so gradually, you guys won't even know it. :sigh:

This is why I'll still be driving my 10-year-old Saturn when I'm a senior citizen.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous pjindy said...

Your darling, handsome big dutchman is missing the beat. Enroll your cutie-pie in anything you want just for the exposure value, not the college scholarship value.

What is wrong with intramural sports or community band programs. It is a cop out to think "if my kid can't be the best, she might as well not try". fogedaboudit. Let little maggie play.

And I speak of which I know, having had my kid scholarshiped through high school and then on to Princeton. My obseration: Parents just can't get too hung up on their kids trophy. You are not living their life, let them live their own, on their own terms.

11:04 AM  

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