Living An Old Nightmare In The ‘Burbs

“Where did so-and-so move?” I asked my hip, single sister who lives in a posh little apartment near the heart of Austin.

“Oh, you know, those McMansions in the suburbs,” she joked with that undertone of distaste that I distinctly remember having myself not too many years ago…

Ugh. The tragedy of having to move to the “cookie cutter” homes in the expansive suburbs. What a sorry and uncultured existence those people with childrenΒ must lead. They can’t even walk to a coffee shop, they’re surrounded by strip malls, and those poor people must always be in their cars since they’re so far away from anything fun. ~ Me, Age 25

Flash forward five years…

“Hey, those McMansions in the suburbs aren’t that bad!” I teased.

“I’m too old to care about living anywhere ‘trendy’ or close to the city. They have underperforming school districts, and we can’t afford private school, ESPECIALLY with how much a house half the size of my ‘McMansion’ costs there. And even then, that house would be, like 50 years old and probably have gold velvet wallpaper. I will take my ‘cookie cutter’ brick home on a quiet street, my HOA fees, and my strip malls. Plus, I don’t have to drive more than 10 minutes to get anywhere. Target is only 5 minutes from here, and that’s all I need,” I continued.

And then I realized I’ve fully become immersed in Suburban Culture. I am now one of them.Β Oh, how my 25 year old self weeps.

Oh, how my 30 year old self doesn’t care.

Life in the suburbs is good. We are blessed to live in a spacious, safe, beautiful home. We may not be able to walk to a coffee shop, but we can walk to the elementary school (an excellent one) that Kendall will attend (too soon!), a pool and 3 parks. They are luxuries I try hard not to take for granted.

Would I love to live in a downtown loft and take public transportation everywhere? Sure! Except, well, I’m not even sure that’s a reality in Dallas, and that’s just not the most practical situation for a family with young children and large dogs. Not to say people don’t do it, and don’t love it, but *for us* it’s not worth the trouble and the expense.

Scott and I often talk about what we’ll do when the kids all move out. How we’ll sell half our stuff and move into that hip downtown loft we dreamed of before we had kids. We’ll get our fun, urban existence eventually, but we’re okay with giving it up for now.

Basically, I’m living my worst nightmare from my 20s. I fought it hard, but it turns out kids really do change you and the way you live. I can think of worse fates than moving into a “boring McMansion in the cookie cutter burbs.”

Now, I realize not everyone with kids feels this way about the ‘burbs. What about you? Have you changed your views on how you live since having kids?

Kendall is 3 years and nearly 9 months and Leyna is 13 months old


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      • Ha! We are working on selling/buying right now and a requirement for the next one is that there has to be a Target at most 5 minutes away. Right now I have 2! I can get to 3 major malls in 15min or less. This is the life. too many one way streets downtown and, let’s face it, I am not trendy enough anyway. πŸ™‚

  1. YES! My hubby and I just HAD to move south to get out of the cold weather, away from our crazy families and far from the tiny town in which we grew up. Now? We are dying to get back to the snowy winters, crazy families and tiny town.

  2. I used to be scared of the suburbs, now I’m scared of a mini-van! I know it’s right around the corner!!!! I’ll officially be like my mom then πŸ˜‰

  3. I’m currently contemplating which MINIVAN we should get. :: cry:: I said I’d never ever ever drive a minivan. My 25 year old self is pissed.

  4. oh, goodness, have my views on housing changed since becoming more of a grown-up (ugh) and having a kid. i always wanted the quirky old house with lots of character and plenty of room to roam… now that i have a baby to take care of, i am so much happier with a tidy little lawn and i cross my fingers for our next home to be newer and more maintenance-free. maybe someday those farmhouse dreams will come true, but for now there is no friggin’ way i want to live where there are no side walks and limited snowplows and too many things to take care of… i like living close to town where we can walk to the park and say hi to neighbors. what a loser.

  5. Yes, as our hip city dweller friends without kids say: “You’ve died and moved to [name of suburb]” We are totally in a sprawling suburb, but it has excellent schools, excellent well-maintained parks and bike paths, and a lot of kids. The neighborhood we lived in before was nice, but filled with nothing but retirees. Very few children around at all. Plus, we weren’t sure what the neighborhood would look like in five years. Now we’re super close to my husband’s job, but much farther from mine. πŸ™

  6. We live in Los Angeles and in the city. The burbs are not an option because they are way more expensive than the city. I love living in our 3 bedroom/2 bath with a yard duplex. We have no HOA fees. No property taxes which are ridiculous in LA . If something breaks the landlord fixes it. It is great! Rent is high but we wouldn’t be able to afford the burbs so this works for us. We can walk to 2 parks, 2 coffee shops, numerous restaurants and grocery stores. My friends in the burbs can’t! I love the city and culture for my 2 year old. Every city is different though. I don’t think comparing the burbs in one city to another is the same.
    I’m living the dream in the city!

  7. Ugh… I still despise the burbs. I don’t see myself changing anytime soon and moving to one, but who knows, time will tell.

    Yesterday I was just imagining how much easier it would be to move to downtown and be next to a light rail station. But that requires moving.

  8. I am really lucky.

    We just moved to one of those cookie cutter communities with the HOA fees and pool etc. BUT it is IN THE CITY. We weren’t ready to give up city life, and we got really lucky. So my husband is 1 mile away from work, all the coolest restaurants are a 10 minute walk away, and at the same time we have a community pool, private park and gym as well as a parking spot in our very own garage. Best of all worlds.

  9. I grew up in a very clique-y, very white Irish Catholic town in the suburbs and hated it, so I moved to Philadelphia in college. I loved everything about the city and was sure I would never live in the suburbs again. Fast forward to me having 3 kids, ages 4,3, and 16 months. I live in the same town I grew up in, 2 blocks away from my parents. Now I love it. I live in a nice-sized house in a good neighborhood (even though the rent is sky-high-I could live in a nice apartment in Philadelphia for cheaper) with my boyfriend, kids,and his mom, we have an amazing school district, and I can get anywhere I really want to be in 15 minutes. I wouldn’t dream of leaving now.

  10. I have no kids and I feel like I’m exactly where I belong in my little suburban house. Love love love living close enough to the big city to enjoy it, close enough to Target to get what I need at all times, and still in a safe place. Perfection.

  11. It is possible to live in the urban core and raise kids…in Dallas. We’re doing it. It’s different, not always easy, and it can be expensive, but we’re making it work, because it’s who we are. Though I have daydreamed (more than once) of how much easier it would be to move even just a few miles east and be in a traditional neighborhood with a house and a backyard. But I don’t think I could pry my husband away from downtown…and I’d miss it too. So here we stay.

    As an aside, I have no idea what we’ll do in a few years when our son starts school…I try not to worry about it too much, but it is a constant thought in the back of my head.

  12. What you are describing is exactly me! I am 37 living in a wonderful neighborhood in Denton so that we could be close to family, and so that I could be home with our three children. this would not be possible if we lived in Dallas still. Ten years ago I was the Dallas girl that felt so sorry for anyone that lived “No-Mo” as we called it (north of Mockingbird). I swore I would live in East Dallas (somewhere near Greenville Ave.) for my entire life. We renovated a tiny little house near Lake Highlands, and it was gorgeous. Well, then the children came….all I knew about myself went out the window. I quit my glamorous job as a producer, and we moved to a track home/cookie cutter neighborhood. I now drive a used gold mini-van, and live for my Bunco nights with the other neighborhood ladies. The other day I posted on FB how much I loved the dollar store, and could spend hours in there. I suddenly had a flashback to my 25 year old self, and realized how she would have felt so sorry for me after reading such a statement. I love my life more now than I did back then. Funny how life works.

  13. My husband DID live in a downtown loft (in Dallas) walking distance to a coffee shop, wine bar, rooftop pool etc. Until I got pregnant.

    We took a baby step to the burbs. Technically we are still in Dallas but we are aligned with the best Richardson ISD Elementary school which is within walking distance. It’s a great location, and actually there is a starbucks and grocery store STILL within walking distance.

    But our house was built in the 70s and has a laundry list of updates that still need to happen. If we were to move 15 minutes further out, we could have a brand new bigger home for less money.

    It is tempting I must admit.

  14. I spent my 20s living in a sweet 1920s brick townhouse in the GOOD section of downtown. Now, I live in the burbs. Do I miss being close to everything? Not at all. I don’t miss the “charming” doors that wouldn’t close properly, the “quaint” plumbing that had no water pressure and little flushing ability, the “gorgeous” leaded windows that you could feel wind through, the plaster walls that crumbled if they even saw a nail, or the 11 ft ceilings that made heating the place an expensive bitch.

    Now I live in one of the less cookie cutter (but still Stepford like) suburbs, I’m zoned for the best schools in the state and Target is a 7 minute drive with NO traffic. Downtown is only 20 minutes away and I’m more likely to go to the cool festivals because I’m not burned out from a week of having to avoid the festival setup while I walk to lunch/happy hour/grocery shopping.

    I almost forgot to mention – I have storage now. No more 2×2 closets. My bedroom closet is 7×12. Seriously. That’s how big my “true to the period” bedroom was before.

  15. What I’ll tell my 25 year old self is that she is freaking right: move to the country (or the country a few states away). As I am 25, I feel it’s fitting πŸ˜‰ We live in the burbs…around the corner from my in-laws, walking distance to 4 schools, parks, libraries, and grocery stores. And I HATE it! Granted, we got in a less cookie-cutter house with no HOA, but it’s still so fakely manicured, it’s disgusting. Our other option is the city, which would never happen. The country it is!

  16. We, too, moved out of the city in stages. First a condo in Chevy Chase – one block over the city line – with grass, big trees, good schools, and a playground and walking to restaurants and all of that. It was fabulous and if we couldve afforded a million dollar house in that hood, we would’ve stayed.

    But one fateful winter we all got sick one after the another and I Could. Not. Get. Away. from those two. The living room was steps from our bedroom. I couldn’t sleep undisturbed anywhere. No amount of restaurants or hipness made up for that. It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, it feels like, “OMG All! This! Space!” We are currently working on separate home offices – that’s how much we want to get away from each other now πŸ˜‰

    I don’t trust new construction so I’m glad we have options here in the DC area, besides old city or new mcmansions waaaaaay out. I guess that helps, too, knowing that we are so much closer in, with big trees and big yards, than the McMansions and barren landscapes twice the distance away.

  17. We recently moved from the cute 2 bedroom bungalow walking distance to everything to the big house up the hill where we have to get in the car to go anywhere. You know what? It’s totally worth it. No more 2 year old in our closet, the baby has her own room, and we have a garage! It’s not until you are trying to get two kids out of the car in the rain that you really want to have a garage.

  18. When my 25 year old self brings up this issue I like to tell myself that Richardson is less suburb-y than other suburbs. I am not sure yet if I am lying to myself or not. It takes too much energy to figure that out.

  19. I think that it depends what kind of city you live in. I’m a full on downtown city living mama. I have a 3 year old and a newborn and we have a dog. We live in a condo and our backyard is the various green parks right outside our condo. I love city living and am so happy to be able to raise my family in Vancouver, Canada. When its time I can walk my first born to his elementary school just down the seawall. There is a great sense of community and people here set up house and live.

  20. This is so funny. I think your 8-year old self who dreamed and play-acted about having a house and kids probably wanted exactly what you have right now! And who could blame her? It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it….. πŸ™‚

  21. We currently live in an adorable M Streets duplex between Knox/Henderson and Lower Greenville. We now have a 7 week old and our on our way to Coppell or Valley Ranch. City living only lasted 1.5 years for much. Just too expensive!!!

  22. We just bought a house in the suburbs and when we found out we got it I cried. I have lived in Chicago my WHOLE LIFE and I am beyond terrified to move out to the suburbs and be “those people”. I also worry that we won’t fit in with our tattoos and piercings and our also pretty crunchy chicken having ways…AHHHH. I’m glad to hear it’s worth it. That’s what everyone keeps telling me, I hope it proves true for me too!

  23. This is exactly what I’m going through at this very moment! My husband and I can’t decide if we should move to the city or stay in the burbs (where I grew up).We’re leaning heavily on the latter. I had such a great childhood in the burbs and I want the same for my babies (2.5 and 10 mos). Plus I love all that extra square footage that come with the McMansions!!

    PS I just stumbled upon your blog today and each post I read so far has made me πŸ™‚

  24. I could not not have said it better! I too am living my 20 something nightmare….house in the ‘burbs, in a development (yuck), driving a minivan (wtf), in Jersey (woah!). But I will take my comfortable, spacious car, HOA fees, and cookie cutter house if it means I can get the kids in/out a bit easier, have someone else cut the grass and shovel snow. Kids are hard man…I need all the help I can get (that’s to my 20 something self). Great post Jill, really hit home!

  25. I fought the suburbs HARD. The first 18 months of M’s life were spent in a nice apartment downtown, 3 blocks from Scott’s work. It was awesome to be so close to the children’s museum, zoo, coffee shop, baby yoga, and our favorite “homies” (homeless people who are pretty much neighbors too). There were always people I could talk to and we had lots of friends around (apartment had quite the baby boom) and so it was nice for my sanity while I was a new (not too isolated) mom. But then we wanted a house (or townhouse or condo) and we canceled 3 contracts before we realized that maybe we could be suburban people after all…. Schools, safety, and wide open spaces are all worth it and luckily we can still walk to the coffee shop (if I’m caffeinated enough to walk the mile).

  26. Until I was 10 I lived on a 50 foot converted navy launch. I wanted “grass and flower.” (Even named my hampster Flower-grass. In one of those little “when I grow up” surveys they give you in Kindergarten I wrote “I want to live on a house on a big hill.”

    At age 10 I got my wish. Our family moved to the mountains (my parents didn’t like city living, and plus in California the mountains or in the middle of nowhere in the dessert are about the only cheap place to live.) I LOVED IT. Everyone else at my school wanted to get “off the hill” when they graduated but I wanted to get a job teaching where I went to high school. Either that or move to Oregon, or Maine.

    It didn’t happen quite like that. I fell in love, and the man I fell in love with and when he moved to Texas, and I followed him (even though the south and midwest were the only places in America I didn’t have an inkling of desire to even visit). We got married, planning to go back, but then the dot com bubble burst (and he’s a geek). California became expensive and impossible.

    Now I live in the burbs out here and like it a lot. I feel safe letting my kids bike around the neighborhood. I feel safe sending my kids to public school. Yeah, I’m happy here.

    But I still wish my kids could have the experience of walking out their back door, crossing the street, and exploring a National Forest. We went back there this summer and I was so homesick. If given a chance to live in the mountains again I would do it in a heartbeat!

    I miss the waterfront sometimes too but would NEVER want to live on a boat again (especially with kids). I like having a dishwasher and washing machine and a bedroom bigger than a closet, and I love NOT having to worry that my kids will fall in and drown if they go out to play. I can imagine how hard living on a boat was for my mom. She wanted off that boat from the moment I was born, but it took time to get my dad “on board” to get “off board” then more time to sell a WWII era boat.

    As for living in a big city…that was never my dream.

  27. I grew up in a tiny town in KY. I could walk to my cousin’s, another friend’s house, ride my bike to the ball park, the grocery store, and church. When I was 11 or so we moved to a farm. And once I entered middle school (which I had to travel 12 miles to), I realized all the other kids lived in the bigger city, with the mall, fast food restaurants, and in the suburbs. The majority of my middle & high school years my best friend and I (who also lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere) swore we wouldn’t do that to our kids. We’d raise our kids in the suburbs, or even a bigger city like Chicago or Atlanta.

    Flash forward to now. After living 3 years next to Vanderbilt’s campus in Nashville where Starbucks was literally adjacent to my parking lot (yet I snub my nose up at Starbucks, and opt for other local shops, still within walking distance, just a longer walk!), and better yet my favorite restaurant/bar was within stumbling distance home, mere yards away, we bought a house actually closer to downtown, but in a less affluent area. Nashville is much smaller than Dallas, and it’s amazing we are technically zoned “downtown” and have a house we love with a garage, grass, and great neighbors. Now, many of my friends would probably sneer their nose up at where I live, but I’d prefer our life here to anywhere out in the suburbs. Yes, we do have the occasional homeless person walk through the alley, sometimes they might try to bum some money, but more often they ask “How you doin’ today?” and go along their way. I’ve never felt unsafe in my neighborhood, but I know from neighbors, about 7 years ago it was. My neighbors include Vanderbilt professors, a commercial/video director, lawyers, doctors, restaurant owners, but also people with lower incomes. We live in a neighborhood often referred to as “in transition”. It continues to improve for the better. I love that my future child (due in May!) will grow up in a diverse area with neighbors of different ethnic backgrounds. Seeing as my child will be multi-ethnic, this was important to me. I hope we stay in this neighborhood for a long long time. We literally cannot imagine our lives in the suburbs, where most of our coworkers live. We can walk to the Nashville Farmer’s Market, the state capitol, a coffee shop, restaurants, and more. And I can still be at two different Target stores in less than 10 minutes. I say all the time Nashville is a great place for us, because while it is a “big city” (especially to a farm girl like myself), it feels like a small town, because I can get to any part of town I want to in about 20 minutes or less. And, we’re about 2 hours away from our families in KY.

    PS. Sorry I wrote my whole life story… I get a little long-winded….

  28. I have to dissent and say that living in the suburbs is painful! I am bored. My kids are bored. It’s just boring. We have more space but a less interesting house, and less interesting environs, that’s for sure. We have to travel everywhere in cars, and have to shop at big box stores. The people we meet are nice but safe; the express themselves by buying things instead of pursuing their passions.

    We moved out here after 10 years in Chicago and I am counting the days until we can move back (the job keeps us here for two more years). Can’t wait until I can walk with my kids past beautiful old brownstones to hip shopping and funky diners. Nights out with my city friends — actual artists who create things for a living. And a way more diverse set of friends for my girls to play with.

    Sorry, different strokes for different folks, I guess. But after three years of living here, I hate the suburbs. For us, the best thing we can do for our kids is live happily, expose them to art and culture, different ethnicities, etc.

  29. My husband and I both refuse to live in the suburbs, ever. I grew up primarily in rural areas (we moved a lot), and always wanted to live in a city. My husband grew up in the same suburb his whole life, and moved to NYC the second he graduated from college. I’ve lived in various cities for the past 10+ years, and have no desire to leave, even though we now have two kids. In fact, we were living car-free up until a few months ago, when it just became too hard to schlep my kids on the bus/el all the time. I’m in Chicago, which is a pretty family-friendly city, though!

  30. We actually lucked out and have the best of both world’s. We live downtown, but our nighborhood feels like it’s miles away from the city. Almost every home is over 100 years old (hellloooo, neverending remodeling projects!) and everything feels very ‘Normal Rockwell-ish’ in the ‘hood, but the conveniences of modern city life, i.e. public transport, museums, parks, coffee shops!, and great restaurants are all within walking distance. I guess the price we pay for living here is always (ALWAYS) having something in the house that needs fixing/painting/hanging/rewiring. But still, I wouldn’t leave our little suburb-in-the-city for anything. (Except getting to see snow once in awhile. I miss snow.)

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