Little Tract House on the Prairie

21 Feb

I had an interview with a creative talent agent recently. She was young. She was hip. She was urban; definitely a City Chick. “All of your work is really old,” she said. Ever cheerful, I said, “Ah, but I have a blog. I write and publish every week. It’s funny and lots of people like it.” She seemed impressed that I had been doing it for months.

She asked to see my blog. Her eyes shone when she pointed to the computer in the room and said, “Well, let’s take a look at it!” I pulled my blog up on the computer. “So, what is your blog about?” said City Chick. “It’s a humorous take on life in the suburbs,” I said. City Chick’s eyes glazed over like she’d taken a trip on a Krispy Kreme conveyor belt. Her mouth fell slack. You could hear the pigeons in the park thirty floors down.

City Chick didn’t read one word of my blog. That week’s post has one of my best lines in it but City Chick didn’t care; my blog is about suburban life, therefore it is of no interest to City Chick,

I used to be a City Chick. I lived in Chicago for years, both as a single and a married chick. My husband and I had a terrific apartment. We both worked downtown and took public transportation. Everything we wanted was within walking distance, including the beach. Like all proper City Chicks, I disdained the suburbs as a cultural wasteland. Then, my husband lost his job. Doing a little accounting, which is about how much accounting I can tolerate, revealed that we’d be better off owning a home. After a brief detour, we bought a house in Oak Park.

Oak Park is the suburbs for people who don’t want to think they live in the suburbs. There are nice parks, beautiful old homes and plenty of public transportation. Oak Park served us well for many years, though my husband might disagree. We had a beautiful old home. He would tell you that we had a mouse-infested old money pit. Oh, and the roof leaked. The roof leaked almost the entire nine years the house owned us. At one point, the roof leaked into the living room, the dining room and the family room. Many thousands of dollars later, the roof only leaked in the family room above the fireplace and only if it rained really hard. It wasn’t raining the day we sold the house.

A number of circumstances lead to our move from Oak Park. Finances played a role, as did the school needs of our son and the societal needs of our daughter. I made a list of our wants and needs. I wanted a big yard. My husband wanted a new house. Our son needed school programs for gifted children. Our daughter needed to live near other Chinese people. One location fit all our needs: Naperville.

Naperville. I was barely able to hide my derision. Surely, there must be some mistake. I, former City Chick, could not possibly move to Naperville. If any suburb were to me the epitome of suburban-ness, it was Naperville. Still, my research couldn’t be denied. The schools were good, my research said. The houses were affordable, my research said. The Chinese community is the largest outside of Chinatown, my research said. I will check it out, I thought. Surely it will be hideous.

So, I checked out Naperville. I found that a river runs through it, quite literally, giving the downtown area a quaint charm. I found houses I could afford that my husband would want to own. I found good schools. I found lots and lots of Chinese people. My research wasn’t flawed. We moved to Naperville in 2005.

I have a love/hate relationship with Naperville. Our house is relatively new but lacks in character. Still, there are no mice in the basement, the roof doesn’t leak and there are no carpenter ants, probably because there was no real wood used in the construction. Maybe some day a genetically mutated ant will emerge that grows to gargantuan proportions living on a diet of engineered wood. Until then, my windowsills will continue to act like pop-up sponges, growing larger with every heavy downpour.

The schools are terrific. There are good parks, though a shade structure or two would be nice in the newer ones. You can practically hear the children sizzle as they clamber over the play equipment. The downtown area is cute and we even have an Apple Store. Now, if they could just solve the parking problem.

Before I moved to Naperville, my image of the Naperville woman was a white lady in mom jeans, driving her silver minivan full of children to swim meets, piano lessons and soccer practice. While there are lots of minivans, the women and men behind the wheel are every color of the ethnic rainbow and speak every language imaginable. At one point, the families on our cul de sac (of course I live on a cul de sac . . .it’s Naperville!) included Taiwanese, Indian, Guatemalan and us. I worked at a preschool where I taught Spanish to Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican and Korean children. I think there were four white kids.

What I love most about Naperville, though, is the wildlife. City Chick may have it over us with nightlife, but it really gets wild out in Naperville. Chicago has its pigeons, Oak Park has its rats, Naperville has nature. One evening, early on in our life here, I overheard my daughter making coyote noises on the deck. When she got an answer, I hustled her into the house. In the city, people walk their pocket dogs because they have no yard. In Naperville, people walk their pocket dogs to keep the hawks from turning them into lunch.

When I lived in the city, I rode my bike along the lake and cursed the runners on the bike path. In Naperville, I run in the prairie preserve where I curse the cyclists and horse riders. But I can’t stay vexed for long. I fell in love with Naperville on the prairie trails. At the end of a long run last fall, I rounded a curve then struggled up a hill. Before me lay acres of burnished copper grass, swaying in the wind. The sky was clear, the sun was gentle. I was hot and sweaty and utterly alone with nothing but the land the way it was hundreds of years ago.

City Chick may look down her nose at my suburban life and maybe some day I’ll move back to Chicago. But, right now I’ll trade the Crobar (people still go to the Crobar, right?) for my little tract house on the prairie.

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4 Responses to “Little Tract House on the Prairie”

  1. Teri McCormick Hinton February 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Another DianBai mom living in the DC suburbs, where I have often fought suburban shame.But for all the reasons you cite, we live here happily enough. Thanks, Janice.

    • jmlindy422 February 21, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

      You’re welcome, Teri. I’m going to write about adoption soon. Just letting it simmer for a while. Which DC suburb are you in? We have friends in DC we were talking about just yesterday.

  2. acleansurface February 21, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    I suspect that my writing may be “old” and “suburban”, too. I am okay with that.

    • jmlindy422 February 23, 2011 at 10:37 am #

      Old and suburban has it’s charms. Kids and dogs in the city? I’m not so into that!

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