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Ramblings on Suburbia

I grew up in the suburbs in New Jersey, on a short dead end street with a playground at the end that backed up to woods and marshland. My siblings and I grew up knowing, playing and fighting with our neighbors. I have countless memories of playing in the woods building forts and catching salamanders, creating a tiny town on our street with a post office, school and police station pretending our bikes were the cars we used to get around town, and late summer nights swimming in pools, playing manhunt and catching lightening bugs. It was far from a bad place to grow up and I wouldn’t change a thing, but if I had to choose a place right now to settle down to raise my daughter I wouldn’t choose suburbia.

It was never my goal in traveling full-time to ditch suburbia and all the things it represents. My goals were simple – visit new places, see beautiful things, spend more time together and add a little adventure to our lives. I didn’t desire to live outside the norm. I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into how choosing to call a certain place home could (and should) be a very intentional choice that represented more than just what I wanted, but more importantly my values. Now I can’t imagine calling a place home without considering how that choice will help me live my values and fulfill my dreams on a daily basis.

Each time we re-enter suburbia for more than a day or two I feel my anxiety increase. I feel sad and exhausted. I end up spending less time outside, more time running errands, consuming, using technology, and sitting in traffic. I feel like I want to run. Some of this may just be a product of how we travel and the need to take care of errands when we are near stores or having better internet to stream shows, but I never expected myself to start to feel so saddened by things I took part in EVERY SINGLE DAY of my life before we started traveling full-time.

When I look at suburbia now, through this new lens that I have gained during our almost two years of travel, I don’t see the suburbia of my childhood and it baffles me how I didn’t notice it’s disappearance earlier. I rarely see children playing outside, or people talking to — let alone becoming friends with — their neighbors. I see bigger and bigger homes, with smaller and smaller yards, I see more and more stores and less and less green space. When I hear suburbia I envision technology, consumerism, loss of freedom, unrealistic expectations, debt, and overworked, over-scheduled BUSY people. And I find myself having all kinds of emotions about it that I never had before.

I am not writing this with the intent to upset any of our friends or family who choose to live in suburbia. I am writing to journal my thoughts and to be honest about how I (we) feel as a record for Adam and I, for Imogen, and to share our genuine experience with others who may be interested in our journey. Suburbia certainly does not have to be the way I see it, and I am fully aware other people (possibly most people) don’t share my feelings on it. I hope you won’t read my words as judging but instead as a self-realization and reflection.

Certainly travel has changed us. I would have been naïve to think it wouldn’t at all, but it has opened my eyes in ways I didn’t entirely expect. It’s making me ask questions I wouldn’t have asked before about the norms of our society and how they influence not only our choices, but our community. Why do we think we need a big house with a white picket fence? When did it become more important to focus on work and money than relationships with those you love? How do we as a society define success? What is truly important to me if I strip away the norms society has placed on me? How do I create a community for my daughter that allows for and encourages freedom, play, exploration, curiosity, friendship, love and trust. I have so many, many questions. And not too many answers – not yet anyway.

I know there are some places out there where the suburbia of my childhood still exists. I was lucky enough to live in one of them for a few years in Colorado and we have friends that have been lucky to find another, but I feel like those places are few and far between. At the risk of sounding a bit hippy-dippy I guess I just want to invite you to wonder what it would be like for you if it was still like 1989? What if when peopled moved into a neighborhood they cared less about how many bathrooms they had or how big their closet was and looked to see if there were kids out playing with each other, neighbors sitting on a porch together enjoying a drink and conversation? What if people placed importance on relationships over things, time over money? What would that suburbia look like? And how did we go from the suburbia of my childhood to the suburbia that I see today?

These are the kinds of questions we will continue to ask ourselves and those around us, and we hope you might do the same. And if you don’t already know your neighbor go knock on their door and say hello – bonus if you bring some cookies.

About Jenn

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