Okay it’s not my birthday until mid-November, but this week marks a year since suburbo-types was up and running. (Suburbo-types is only 1, but as my daughter pointed out, I am going to be 44, not 43 as my brain had originally thought. Nice.) It’s a natural time to think about this project, what I’ve learned and where it’s heading. Originally, suburbo-types was meant as a platform for my understanding of the truth of our relationships in suburbia, how and why we stereotype each other and to gain a fuller understanding of my fellow suburbanites. Alas, a year later, I have no solid answers, but the questions are evolving. And the truth as to why I began is starting to make more sense to my often hard-headed skull.
It’s a biologically human and rational inclination to desire contact and connection with others. In the months before I began the blog, my best friend Tracy moved away and I found myself wanting to get to know people more. Tracy was my lifeline as we raised our babies together (our kids are the same ages). We talked on the phone sometimes 3 times a day. My baby projectile barfed! Her baby sprout a tooth! I’m worried, I’m scared, I feel incompetent, I’m lonely! I was able to say whatever I wanted and I knew she understood. It is an intense time for all new moms, but it was made easier by Tracy who juggled making me laugh, listening to my incessant chatter and hearing every word I uttered without judgment. She is still there for me, but she lives 2 hours away, works and has a life of her own. So do I. But when she left, I wondered how I would ever feel as connected again. Not to mention the pain of living so far away from my family, especially my new niece.
In the wake of going back to work part-time, raising young children and navigating the suburban landscape, I found myself being incredibly judgmental and critical of my suburb-dwelling peers. I was constantly sizing people up, and in the end, I was really only judging myself. I realize I was making other people seem scarier than they were to protect myself from, what, getting attached and having THEM move away too? Maybe it was easier to keep everyone at arm’s distance. But as I came out of my shell, and as I met new friends and let myself (and them) off the hook a little more, I came to see that all of us hide a little and we certainly protect ourselves. Maybe we criticize others for how they parent, how they dress or what they say. I am guilty of doing these things too, but I am willing to let go of it bit by bit to make the suburbs feel less strip-mall and more Main street. In Dave Goetz’s book Death by Suburb:Keeping the Suburbs from Killing your Soul, he states that cultivating deep friendships (note: not the get your mail for you, wave from your car-kind), those that bring deep joy and satisfaction, is the antidote for social climbing, people pleasing, ass-kissing and perpetuating your mask. I know, deep, right?!
In the compelling book Incognito by neuroscientist David Engleman, he lays out a complex interplay between two parts of your brain. The first, the prefrontal cortex, does it’s best work by stretegizing and analyzing. It plans and thinks. It tells you that you have exactly 24 waking hours on the weekend in which to do laundry, finish that report by Monday, help with homework, make meals, prepare for the coming week etc. Then, the more primitive limbic system, or emotional control center, begins to feel the freak coming on at about 4 o’clock on Sunday when all that shit has no chance of getting done. It works the same way when you are building relationships . The prefrontal cortex examines what you will say or wear, then the limbic system causes you to worry about that joke you told or the red shirt that you wore that may have been just a little too low-cut. All of us have these two characters battling it out in our heads. For me, genuinely connecting to others and putting myself out there makes my inner soldiers a little less likely to get into full-blown war.
The suburbs have always felt a little lonely to me. They with their picket fences and closed doors. Unknown neighbors. Long driveways. Pruned bushes. What’s really going on in there? (okay, not everything: private is private) This writing, although making me incredibly vulnerable and fearful at times, has freed me to explore uncharted waters. Who is beneath the facade. Where the truth lies. All the topics for suburbo-types come from conversations I have had or overhead somehere in the ‘burbs. And the interviews are attempts to understand there is a lot to know about each of us. Really, it’s just so we all know that those we surround ourselves with are more than who we see. Of course, you don’t want to be too vulnerable. You don’t want to tell someone that you are living a shame-based existence the first time you meet them. The fact that you slept with the entire football team your sophomore year of high school? Probably TMI. You have to have a strong base to hold up the weight of the relationship. Thanks to you, I hope is what the community of suburbo-types is starting to do.
So, for the coming year, the blog will be focusing on more interviews, more subjects that maybe we all think about a little bit but don’t talk about very much and just being here for a safe 5 minute read during your busy lives. Please let me know what you’d like to see, any polite criticism (I am human, after all) and insights into your suburban life. I value your feedback and don’t publish it if requested.
Mt. Hood Mama Photos is responsible for the lovely image at the top of this post. My sister is responsible for the cute baby photo. And the cute baby.