Saturday morning in the suburbs was an eye-opener to me. We were spending the weekend at my brother and sister-in-laws and, sitting in the kitchen, still in PJ’s and sipping coffee while paging through the latest US Weekly, I became aware of an amazing phenomenon.
It was about 7:35 am and the doorbell rang.
“Seems too early for UPS,” I thought. “Maybe it’s the paper boy,” I said to myself, wondering if such a thing even exists anymore.
“Ding dong.” Another doorbell ring.
Whoever it was really has something urgent to say. “Hmmm wonder if they have Jehovah’s witnesses in this hood…”
She got up from the breakfast table, coffee in hand, and scurried over to the door.
“I think I know who it is.” She half-rolled her eyes and half-smiled. Now I was curious.
The very millisecond after she unbolted the lock and swung open the door, I heard their high-pitched, giggly voices.
“Hi Mrs. Jones, can Emma come outside and play?”
“Sorry girls, she’s not awake yet. I’ll tell her to call you after she has breakfast.”
Wow these girls were on an agenda!
Not more than 15 minutes later, the doorbell rang again. Persistence! I smell future Mary Kay careers up in this mug.
“Ummm, can Evan come outside and play football?” This time the voices were lower, a bit awkward, with the occasional Peter Brady voice cracks sprinkled in. Again she explained that he wasn’t awake and they’d have to wait until he had some breakfast.
Fascinating. All this action before 8 in the morning—and it only continued to get busier. When the kids finally woke, they scarfed down some toasted bagels and milk, and then they were off! They disappeared out the front door in 2 consecutive door slams, and from then until late into the afternoon, we’d see them occasionally from the kitchen window, in groups of 4, 5 even 8, running, skipping, jumping (because of course one of the neighbors did have a trampoline!) in the vast expanse of connected backyards. It was really idyllic…
And I felt really guilty.
Though I could do without the crack-of-dawn wake-up calls, I kept wondering: by raising our kids in the city, were we cheating them of this wonderland of fun and friends, the freedom to roam and not have to be chaperoned and shuttled around to make sure they were safely out of harm’s way? Were we selfishly forcing them to stay when in reality they would be better off getting up in the wee hours and waking unsuspecting neighbors with friendly early morning doorbell rings and frolics around the cul-de-sac?
During the long drive home and the days that followed, I wrestled with the questions. And then, come Saturday, the doubts subsided.
Why do we stay in the concrete jungle, where our houses are smaller and the yards nonexistent, where picket fences are replaced by battles for parking, where our kids are confined to supervised play dates versus the nebulous boundaries of neighborhood life?
The rituals of our mornings in the city remind me why. Like in the burbs, we’re also up at the crack—only in our house the pounding on the door is followed by firm little footsteps that lead right up to my bedside. The little grinning face directly in front of, nearly touching mine, heralds the rule: there’s no sleeping in in this house. And much as I love my sleep, I happily submit.
There’s an ease, an effortlessness to rising at this time. Before she wakes, the city is, in a word, a revelation. Serene. Glistening. Full of latent energy that slowly comes to life—before our eyes.
Just as they are immersed in the bliss of backyard bonding, we need only look as far as our window to see an ever-changing canvas of sky behind that amazing cityscape. Before the daily bustle begins, we hop into our car and zip through the streets like we own them, all the while admiring the parade of precious dogs sniffing the air, wagging their tails, and seemingly proud to prance around in their parkas and silly knit sweaters. Dedicated runners dot the sidewalks and lake paths, blood pumping, breath puffing, and cheeks rosy from the rush of the run and the brisk morning air. And every body of water—from the usually bustling river to the North Pond Nature Sanctuary by the lake—gleams, still as newly polished glass. When we get to the park, the kids take off, running, squealing, chasing each other across the open stretch of green grass.
It’s the same pure joy I witnessed in the backyards of suburbia.
As parents, whether in casual conversation or the nagging soundtracks that play out in our own heads, we’re often forced to defend our choice of city v. suburbs. Yet the perceptions of calm and chaos, urban versus suburban, are sometimes not as clear as we think. Is one truly better or worse? Or are they just different?
We’re all faced with choices to weigh, competing interests and priorities. But in the end, each one of us is simply trying to share with our kids the world that we love; give them a taste for the things that we crave; make them feel loved, secure and inspired by their surroundings.
What side of the picket fence do you fall on? It doesn’t matter. It’s all about embracing your choice. No matter where, immerse them, expose them, inspire them…and they’ll be better off because of it.