Suburban Bliss

This post is part of The Social Butterfly Mom's Validate Thy Neighbor series -- an awesome and amazing campaign by a fellow ChicagoNow blogger.  #vtn is a way of using empathy to better understand people who have made different choices or have disagreements, by writing a post that embraces a choice or practice you yourself have not made.  Brilliant!  Bloggers, if you're interested in taking part in this truly cool idea, email her at thesocialbutterflymom@gmail.com.

Today the lovely and amazing Erin from South of I-80 and I are tackling the age old question of city v. suburbs.  As I city dweller, I will be championing the suburbs, and as a suburban mom, Erin will be touting the benefits of city living.  I am thrilled to be paired with Erin, as she is funny, smart, and adorable.

In 1992, I moved out of my folks’ suburban home, my childhood home, and into the BIG CITY – Chicago!  I’ve never lived anywhere else.  That first day, so proud and happy, I remember treating my family out to lunch as a thank you for helping me move.  We took a couple of booths and were a happy bunch.  When we got up to leave, I noticed my treasured super cute pea coat was gone.  Vanished.  Stolen.

Welcome to the Big City, little girl!

I learned a lesson that day, but honestly, I’ve never regretted one moment of my life as an urban dweller.  My husband and I are committed to raising our family here in the midst of America’s third largest city (but biggest in heart, yo).  The same city that drew my four immigrant grandparents to seek their own American dream almost a century ago.  I do not believe I will ever leave.

But still, this post is titled “Suburban Bliss.” I’m no urban snob.  Well, okay, sometimes, but not always.  I can see and appreciate and find value in those things the suburbs offer that Chicago, or any city, has a hard time matching.  Here are a few of my favorite things about the suburbs, but, sshhhhh, don’t tell my husband.  He’ll worry.

Schools.  Next year, our oldest boy will start kindergarten.  We’ve been forking over the cash for a suburban private school for two years now, resigned to invest heavily in his early childhood education, but are hoping he tests into one of Chicago’s selective enrollment spots for K-8.  Cause when you live in the city, your education plan consists of hoping for smart kids and that the luck of the Irish will shine upon you.

Yards.  Our back yard consists of a paved parking pad and an alley, our front yard is not much larger than a postage stamp.  That saves us a lot of time in the lawn maintenance department, but doesn’t lend itself to lots of fun for the younger set.  When our boy visits friends and families in the suburbs, he always marvels that they have a park behind their home.  And get this – my cousin built an ice rink in his yard this winter.  A little PVC tubing and some ninja tactics and they’ve got a winter wonderland right outside their door.     

My cousins hashing it out on the back yard ice rink.  This really is too cool for school.

My cousins hashing it out on the back yard ice rink. This really is too cool for school.

Cheap(er) Gas.  I might be committed to living in the city, but I’m not stupid.  Ain’t no way I would ever pony up for gas at a city station.  Nope.  Pfffft.

Ranch Homes.  So the suburbs really came into their own with the post-war boom of home loans and babies.  When you travel around to different areas of Chicago, there are great swaths of developments that came to be in the 1950s.  Oh, how I love that era.  It's got so much more style than today's McMansions.  Sadly, my dream home would never exist in the city, as the footprint of your basic mid-century ranch has no relevance in an urban location.  Yep, the only place I could call something like this my own would be the suburbs.  But a mom blogger can admire from a far and dream, or you know, the modern version of dream, pin!

Sometimes, just for kicks, I look at what our city housing dollar could buy in the suburbs.  Like this ridiculously cool ranch surrounded by so much nature and outfitted with floor to ceiling windows so you can actually see the nature.  Ah, yes, location, location, location . . . This one is currently available in Olympia Fields, Illinois for a song and a dance.  It's pretty much my version of the Barbie Dream Home.

Sometimes, just for kicks, I look at what our city housing dollar could buy in the suburbs. Like this ridiculously cool ranch surrounded by so much nature and outfitted with floor to ceiling windows so you can actually see the nature. Ah, yes, location, location, location . . . This one is currently available in Olympia Fields, Illinois for a song and a dance. It's pretty much what my dream house would look like.  Sigh.

Park Districts.  We absolutely take advantage of our local park, which happens to be one of Chicago’s “destination” parks, meaning lots of folks drive in from other neighborhoods to enjoy what it has to offer.  I think, though, that the suburbs pretty consistently put their money where their mouths are regarding parks and recreation.  I sort of drool when I take an online spin around surrounding suburbs’ web pages and their programming for the wee set.  It was a revelation when I learned last year that I, too, city carpet bagger that I am, could sign up my very own kid for camps and such.  Score one for city living, suburbs sampling!

Bakeries.  Of course cities have bakeries, but they’ve dwindled in recent years.  Most folks I know get their baked goods at the Jewel or Mariano’s.  That’s fine, but it’s not good, and big grocery stores can’t make an adequate donut to save their lives.  I can still remember Saturday morning donuts from Jansma’s Bakery when I was a kid.  My favorites now are Spunky Dunkers in Palatine and Bennison’s in Evanston.

Bennison's Bakery in Evanston, Illinois.  Best chocolate donuts around.

Bennison's Bakery in Evanston, Illinois. Best chocolate donuts around.

Malls.  Yeah, the suburbs got this one sewn up, lock, stock, and Crate and Barrel.  When I’m feeling blue and want to be alone, but out (you know what I mean, right?), the place I love to head is the mall.  Doesn’t even really matter which mall.  In the warm months I prefer Old Orchard, as it was made by the same developer that made “the mall I grew up in,” River Oaks.  In the Polar Vortex months, walking the baby in a mall is the only place I can take him out in a stroller.  Malls are familiar, comfortable, welcoming, and if you throw in dinner and a movie, well, you’ve got yourself a day.

So there it is in black and white. I live in the city, but dig the suburbs.  True story.

See, those two environments are not mutually exclusive.  Different families have different values and folks tend to put their money down on what matters most to them.  For some, that’s schools.  For others, it’s real estate or affordable housing.  For us, it’s culture and diversity.  Now that doesn’t mean that the suburbs are devoid of culture and diversity, just as it doesn’t mean that all city neighborhoods lack proper schools or middle class housing.

It does mean that folks everywhere pick and choose how to live their lives.  We live in Chicago, yes, but take great advantage of the suburbs.  We shop and dine and educate our kids there.  Just like, I hope, suburban dwellers take advantage of Chicago’s musuems, lake front, and ethnic neighborhoods.  That, my friends, regardless of where you live, is what we call a win-win.

You can read South of I-80's take on city life by clicking here.  

Filed under: Slice 'o Life

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