I’ve lived in the same suburb of Portland my entire life. We moved once, but only up the street into a house with new construction. How first world of us.
During junior high and high school I often hated our suburb. I was different from most of my classmates: I wasn’t particularly interested in sports, my mom worked full-time and thus didn’t have time to schmooze with the supermoms, I hadn’t known my
clique friends since kindergarten. I didn’t really connect with this extremely interconnected suburban identity.
As soon as my older sister could drive, we spent as much time in Portland as we could. We drove farther to movie theaters and grocery stores. When we went out for dinner, we preferred Portland restaurants to the ones in our own town. We avoided our nearby malls at all costs. All of this to minimize the chances of seeing people we knew and to get away from the sometimes overwhelming social web.
Sometimes the suburbs are a curse.
During my senior year I felt a huge shift. I was about to leave my town’s interconnectedness, so I started appreciating it. I stopped avoiding my classmates while running errands. I initiated conversations with people instead of pretending I hadn’t seen them. I no longer dreaded the possibility of seeing a familiar face any time I left the house. I started valuing the feeling of small-town community.
That community network showed its strength yesterday at my sister’s 20th birthday celebration. I noticed that one of the kids I’d taught to read at my after-school job in high school was sitting at the next table over. As we got up to leave, I stopped at their table to catch up for a couple minutes.
The mom was shocked I remembered her son was going into 2nd grade. I was surprised she even recognized me with my short hair. We discussed school and I asked if she and her husband had ever done a sake tasting at that Japanese restaurant. They said no, they didn’t have a babysitter, so I offered up my number so they could have a date night.
I didn’t avoid them or pretend not to recognize them. In fact, I was thrilled to run into people from my past community. And, who knows, our existing connection to each other may turn into a job.
Sometimes the suburbs are a blessing.