The 'Burbs.

by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor

 

Last week I ran into one of my neighbors I barely know at the local Trader Joe’s. She didn’t recognize me so I introduced myself. “Oh yeah, I think I remember you. Weren’t you supposed to get the fire truck for the block party a few years back?”

 

I live in Encino, California. Although it’s a good ten miles from Hollywood or Silverlake or any other hip suburb where people are known to have “family tattoo night” or shop for kitschy Jesus candles, it’s still LA, so a neighborhood such as mine you'd think would be a freaking goldmine of fun moms, moms as laid back as a Darma after a nice "emeter" session at Scientology. But this is sadly not the case. The case is, the moms here are stiff. I'm sorry if any of them know that this is me writing this but let's face it, you're boring. A few of you are exceptions and if you're reading this then you know I'm not speaking about you. But the rest...lighten up! I think I may just not be uptight enough to deal with suburban life.

 

The first time I knew I was in over my head was less than two years into the neighborhood (the first one spend holed up in my house pregnant and sick) and less than one year into motherhood. I found out about the local Block party happening on my street and like a good neighbor volunteered to help out. I didn’t realize I’d have to join a committee but by then it was too late to back out.

 

"Stefanie, you are in charge of face painting, temporary tattoos and making sure that the local fire department sends a truck at 3 o’clock for the kids to climb on. We do that every year.”

 

“Okay. Done.” Sounded easy enough. I called the firehouse and asked if they could send a truck for some of the older kids. Mind you, my daughter at eleven months old couldn't give a rat's ass about fire trucks, hoses or hard hats, but I don't have a problem helping out and it was not hard to give the old fire station a ring and ask them to bring their shiniest truck. The fireman in charge sounded downright delighted and said they’d absolutely be there at 3 o’clock on the nose barring major emergency. I sent a reminder email the day before “just in case.” I’m responsible like that.

 

The day of the party came and while I tried to have a good time and make small talk with women about scintillating topics like kids’ craft classes, the difficulties of trying to change commercial agents for a seven year old who is going through an awkward phase and the merits of breastfeeding. Although I was practically bored into a coma, I thought I was doing an okay job integrating myself into my neighborhood and hoped I’d come out of it with a few friends or at least friendly acquaintances. Meanwhile, 3 o’clock rolled around and the fire truck hadn’t shown up. I kept peeking down to the corner at the place it was confirmed it would show up and it wasn’t there. At 3:10 p.m, the questions started: “Did they say they’d be here for sure? Are you sure you called the station on Balboa? Did you make sure to speak with Carl?”

 

lengeft1
10.20.09

Argh, suburbia! We moved into our house because the school across the street had an excellent rep for dealing with difficult kids (my 6 year old son) and because I was pregnant and renting a large enough apartment was too pricey. When we arrived, I was wearing Doc Martens, had a fire engine red buzz-cut, two tattoos (Not because they're a fad, I have always loved body art) and my cats. The "welcome wagon" ladies, the visiting church ladies (we have 6 churches within easy walking distance) and the new elementary school were NOT at ease with me. My new next-door neighbor was. Her then 10 year-old son caught me mowing the lawn with a non-power roller mower, and was very upset because of my "delicate condition". His mom told him, "Honey, pregnant ladies are NOT helpless". Instant friendship, despite our differences. I am not a joiner, I do not attend church or practice any religion, I am hardly conservative (in our area, 95% of the residents are conservative, Christian, and Republican), and I do not practice the suburban "can you top this" game. I do not drink any alcohol, I detest garden parties, block barbecues, pool parties and the like, largely because I don't like drunks, small talk or gossip. Bunco and girls' nights out are big here, as are Southern Living, Mary Kay and other sales parties. There is usually drinking, which means that I do not attend. When my younger son was in elementary school, and he played after school with his friends, I would sit with the other moms. I did make a couple of friends (those more concerned with me the person than lack of church attendance, eclectic clothing choices and refusal to volunteer). Some of the women were very concerned with each other, however, so much so that they were fair to bursting by the time the mom in question left, so that they could tear her most thoroughly apart. They were highly offended when I voiced my rather snarky opinion that they were like a bunch of ratty hens spotting a bit of blood on another, then pecking her to death, in absentia. O, well. I don't follow the Bible, altho I have surprised several rather insistent witnessing types with the fact that I have read it through (not the King James) twice. I don't read romances, like romantic comedies, tearjerkers about cancerous children and dead babies, or scrapbooking. Ew. My two favorite books are "The Once and Future King" by White, and "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller. My favorite bands, Pink Floyd and Dave Matthews. Movies, "Alien" and "Pulp Fiction". Favorite classical musician, Paganini. I do not fit in. I do not even care if I have lines in my face, or grey hairs. My "bake" isn't fake, nor do I "lay out". In the summer, I get in the community pool and do water aerobics for two or three hours. I use good sunscreen, but, hey, I'm half Southern Italian and just thinking about the sun gives me a tan. I do not wear Spanx, or hose (I think these are an insult and torment to women) and the gently bra'd 36DD girls are all natural. I have been asked some amazingly personal, intrusive and rude questions by the denizens of this suburban enclave...and the looks I receive reveal the truth: I don't belong. O well, what the hell. I'm not going anywhere for a long while.

RedGal
09.08.09

I love this article, I completely agree. I am not a "joiner" at all and hate when people try to bully me into stuff like this, it just makes me refuse even more. I certainly don't feel like I am missing out on anything. I will say this, I go to truuconfessions.com a lot and I think you would be surprised at the amount of women who don't feel like they belong.

andreafellman
09.03.09

Ok- We need to be friends! I have been there and can totally relate to the awkward mommy moments when others take the "Mommy World" a bit too serious! I live in Pasadena- just on the otherside of LA, its no Hollywood hills or Silverlake either, maybe one day we can meet in the middle and shop for Jesus candles together:)
http://savvysassymoms.com I am going to add your books to my blog for Recommended Reading for all Sassy Moms! Thanks

PrincessLorie
09.02.09

I live in a community just like that... Everything involves a committee and if you don't volunteer to help with whatever they are planning you are just not civic-minded enough. Never mind that I don't have kids, The Hubs is retired & I am disabled... I just don't belong!!
Time to go "eat some worms!!"

madtortuga
09.02.09

Could it be that she remembered the "don't give a rat's ass" attitude and not the actual failure? After all, from what I can tell, some kids are really obsessed with fire equipment and if it didn't show up (and you really didn't care), some moms had some rough night consoling their kids.

I find that many women (and men!) are boring. Certainly not all, certainly not limited by location or occupation. But too much "soccer kiddie" talk is no worse than the endless "guess what restaurant I went to" talk, the "wine snob" conversation, or the "trying to lose weight" blabbering. Frankly, "shopping for kitchy Jesus candles" or "family tattoo night" sounds both weird and dull too, taken at face value. I'm neither "hip" (tattoos) nor "cool," (curlers for block party) but I have found friends who reflect my values and interests in a variety of places and meaning in unexpected places, from discussions about children's craft projects to deep conversation about critical hermeneutics.

magpie2
09.02.09

Oh Lordy, I hear you on this one. When my oldest was in kindergarten, I used to get frustrated with the art projects they would assign us parents here in my 'burb - who are these parents who have endless time, patience, and craft supplies, for crying out loud? Not I, that is for sure. For one "wintry scene" project calling for white objects, I just threw in the towel and used a tampon. Cut up and arranged just so, it made a great sled, thank you, and got a laugh from someone on the staff who had a sharp eye. Spare me from the need to be the perfect Martha Stewart - I have other fish to fry!

investinyou
09.02.09

It's not just the 'burbs my dear...it's hard out here for a mommy:-) Esp. one that likes to make "off-color" jokes and the like. Oh well...we have to have friends from all walks of life!

bkstar
09.01.09

Its worse when you have an older child and not little ones - burbs mom only care when you have little ones and multiple little ones but when yours is older than theirs - watchout you become nothing. Don't get me started if you work for a living. Love this article btw!

momma
09.01.09

Don't blame this on "the burbs", blame it on LA.....just moved and have noticed moms being so much more sincere, not obsessed with getting everything perfect for their kids and easier to talk to without getting bored.

NagDmomma
09.01.09

Really, I don't think you can rule out women based on their geographic location. I've lived in both the city and the burbs; been the fire truck organizer and the onlooker...people can be crappy no matter what zip code. I think creating an 'us versus them' mentality just goes back to insecurities about our own parenting style. When someone complains about an activity I organized, I just thank them and tell them how much their expertise will be used next year when they are in charge. Sorry your experience hasn't been so great.