Tuesday, September 7, 2010

living with suburban syndrome

Please excuse the mess. I don’t have much time to clean during the semester, and you know, well, with me working part-time, we haven’t really had much money to do cosmetic repairs. And our house is so tiny that it feels cluttered. But please, come on over, just don’t judge me.

This is the usual disclaimer I give when I invite someone over, especially someone who hasn’t known me very long. Even as the words are tumbling from my mouth, I feel their insincerity, and I am immediately disgusted with myself for feeling as though I need to provide an explanation for the state of my carpets, or kitchen, or self, for that matter. No one has imposed this on me, mind you; it’s just that, despite my outward denouncement of “Mr. and Mrs. Jones,” I somehow find myself feeling, on occasion, that instead of refusing to keep up with them, that I have somehow failed to keep up with them, and this invariably leads me down a path into what I have often termed “Suburb Syndrome.” The symptoms include: feeling as though you are the Mistress of Mediocrity; seeing blemishes and disrepair in every room; diagnosing your child with every disorder known to the DSM. And so on. Suburb Syndrome is actually a more advanced form of Grass is Always Greener Syndrome, and often with consequences more dire.

Last week, I reconnected with my friend Elizabeth Howard, writer of my favorite blog, “Letters from a Small State.” We talked about getting our kids together for some playtime (I’m boycotting the use of the word “playdate”), and she suggested, at first, bringing her “brood” over to meet “my brood.” I said sure. This, of course, was immediately followed by the above disclaimer.

As it turned out, Elizabeth had to be home that morning, and so we were invited to her home instead. In her email, she said, “You are going to love our house. We have a tire swing in the backyard.”

I was immediately struck by this comment. I am surrounded by so many Sufferers of Suburb Syndrome, and so this celebration of Elizabeth’s own home took me by surprise. And at the risk of sounding sappy, it cheered my soul. To be quite honest, I love my house. And though I might provide endless excuses as to why it’s a mess, the truth is, I hate cleaning. If I have failed at anything, I don’t think it’s at being a parent or a “housekeeper” (ugh!); I’ve failed to look in between the piles of clutter, where Dylan has constructed a space ship out of Legos, or Alexa’s fairies are on a quest to find their giant friends in Middle-Earth. Where forts are being constructed out of chairs and blankets, and Hot Wheels cars are lined up in elaborate patterns. Yeah, there’s a stain on the carpet, and the tile in the kitchen (which Bryan and I have dubbed “shitoleum”) is peeling in the corners, but living in a Provincial Palace would mean sacrificing so many of the hobbies and activities that keep me sane.

And the truth is, my house really isn’t all that messy. And it really isn’t all that neat, either. But it’s bright and open, and in the yard is a barn that Bryan built with his own hands. Just across from the tree swing are two Adirondack chairs, with a table in between for your tea. Come on over; you’ll love it.