A few weeks ago I met my husband in the city for a charity event. There are three things you can count on in such a situation: it will take me the entire day to figure out babysitting and carpools for my kids, I will arrive 20 minutes early to the train station, and I will be grossly overdressed. Such is the plight of the overly enthusiastic suburban mom who rarely gets to bust out during the week.
As we were leaving the event that night, a city dweller was telling me that her husband really wants to move to the suburbs. “He’s dying to go,” she told me, “but I just don’t think I could deal with those suburban women.” It was a bit of a City Mouse – Country Mouse moment. She in her evening couture, and me in what could have been my prom dress. Part of me wanted to duck into a nearby phone booth and emerge with a cape and a large S that marked my role as champion of the Suburbs. Another part of me couldn’t really blame her, because I used to fear suburban women, too.
I know what the City Mice think about us. They think we are these hovering soccer moms who drive unusually large cars and frequently opt for a ponytail in lieu of a shower. They think we’ve abandoned weekday dressing in favor of tennis whites or black yoga pants. They think we sip Chardonnay at lunch and then gather for scrapbooking in the afternoon.
Okay, I guess there’s a seed of truth to every stereotype. With the exception of the scrapbooking and, of course, the tennis skirt (genetics being as unkind as they are), I am guilty of all of the above.
My first impression of the suburbs when I moved here eight years ago was that it seemed like a day camp for women and children. There are very few men around during the day, and the women and children mill around between the schools and sports and music lessons. Weekends are visiting days for the men, some with whistles around their necks, some with tennis racquets, and some ready to tackle household chores.
Taking my kids to their first day of suburban school, I took a deep breath. Bring on the housewives, I thought. What will I say when the first one offers me a recipe for snickerdoodles? Will some of them be in aprons? Curlers? They looked sportier than I thought they would, in tennis whites with leashed golden retrievers at their sides. This suggested both a tennis match and a long walk with a big dog. I knew I was way out of my depth.
Among these moms, all draped in small children and pets, I found a journalist just back from the Middle East and a woman who runs a foundation to help parents whose babies are in the NICU. There was a former accountant, a former Wall Street trader turned yoga instructor, and a former teacher who had just created a science enrichment program. One mom had just decided to go back to medical school after raising three kids. I learned a lot that day, but nothing about snickerdoodles.
It turns out that most of these moms have an impressive career behind them and a handful of passions that they are pursuing while raising children. Whether these passions are charitable, artistic, or spiritual, I have found the suburbs teeming with energy and creativity. At some point many of these women will hang up the ponytail and go back to work full- or part-time. For now, the local talent pool is stocked.
Individually, we do a lot of dropping off and picking up and pushing swings at the park. But the magic happens when the Country Mice gather. A small group of environmentally-conscious mice recently helped pass a City ban on single-use plastic bags. Another group has raised $1 million in the past five years to provide support for people affected by cancer. Imagine $1 million raised by women who don’t even have subways, sidewalks, or The Gap! In fact, the work of these women, which goes so far beyond the bake sales I remember as a kid, is the engine of this town that keeps our property values high and our schools excellent.
Because of our geography, we can reach over the hedge to touch our neighbors. Their lives spill into ours the way the smell of a freshly baked pie flows from a windowsill to the nostrils of a cartoon cat. There’s little anonymity here; people, for the most part, know your business. In bad times, there is a silent group of women who gather to see what needs to be done. Like ninjas, they appear with dinner on your doorstep and escape into the night. It is done in silence, no thank you’s and no ah, it was nothing’s.
What grows in this community is an army of people who show up for each other. While it’s sometimes nearly impossible to do, showing up is often the most heroic thing you can do for someone. The suburban moms show up at City Hall to fight a building proposal. They show up to wish a beloved teacher a happy retirement, years after their child has left the school. And they show up en masse to support a friend who’s trying something new.
From far away I can see how we look. I’ll admit it: I can become obsessed with things that relate to my children, I can’t fit my family into a Prius, and I know my way around a glass of Chardonnay. I’ve used my Costco card more times in the past year than my Metropolitan Museum card, and I haven’t really gotten dressed since Saturday night. And I love living in the suburbs, mostly because of those suburban women.