i promised myself, when i finally made my exodus from the suburbs, that i would live an urban lifestyle for my adult life. all those times i had my angsty daydreams of walking to independent cafes in handmade local styles and drinking hot tea while reading shakespeare’s plays (or writing in my own journal), i built up an idea of a “cool” life. the style i would choose as an adult. no car. grocery shopping at the weekly farmer’s market. decorating my chic urban apartment (in my towny feeling neighborhood) with art purchased from the artist themselves at spring and summer  outdoor festivals.

oh yes. and i lived this way…for about seven years.

i even got married during this time, and pregnant to boot. i finished grad school and started two new jobs. and i moved twice. i’m still in the same zip code, but that last move took me into an entirely different lifestyle. it’s amazing how a little change…a few miles north, can change many things. and how i never missed those things until they were gone. all of the sudden i:

  • did not live in walking distance of a public library (i can drive to five in 5-10 mins, but i can’t walk to one. what am i supposed to do when it snows?)
  • did not have a cafe (or three or five) across the street from my apartment. there is one in 10 mins walking distance (sketchtacular), and two a 15-20 min walk down to the lake. i do not count the starbucks 15 mins away.
  • did not have a local-organic-boutique grocery store within a 5 min walk. instead, i can walk to a local-organic-boutique grocery store in 20 mins. and the asian super store market is about 15 mins away by foot.
  • did not live near a major bus hub. ok, i still do. but that major bus hub is still a 20-30 min walk.
  • had two cars for my household. ugh.
  • did not live in a secure building on at least the second floor. i had no idea that the amount of bugs and dirt tracked into the house would go up so exponentially.
  • did not have at least one summer festival happening OUTSIDE MY HOUSE. at one point it was so commonplace, that i would actually leave the neighborhood during these weekends. ah, what a fool i was.
  • did not have my choice of bars, cafes, wine bars, clothing boutiques, chocolate shops, restaurants–all within a five min walk.

boohoo, i tell myself. it’s amazing the things i feel like i have to have to be living the life i promised myself i would.

i spent most of the first year in our new place–a brick row house next to a school with a giant soccer field–in a sleep-deprived dream state with a little infant sleeping on my lap, hating this apartment, and everything about it. the kitchen is tiny, and is actually a kitchen/laundry. i felt like i was living in the urban suburbs…no art. no urban culture. no festivals. no weekly outdoor movies, no live music audible from my bedroom window. we live next to a community college and i often feel like i am living in the university district–lite. lots of students.  and the apartment itself–despite having access to outdoor space there was no place for a garden. not even a place for my patio set and umbrella. the fireplace is unusable. the downstairs bathroom still feels creepy to me. it’s the middle unit so i don’t get multi-directional light anymore. where are my vintage wood floors and floor to ceiling windows? where are my counters in the kitchen? where would i roll out (hahaha) pie crust? (i guess at the time i thought i’d be making a lot of pies.)

it’s been a year this month. and i have to say, i have grown to first tolerate, and now have real affection for our neighborhood. here’s why:

  • there’s a park with a playground a few moments away from my apartment. while this isn’t the first time i’ve lived near a playground, it is the first time in quite a while i’ve had any reason to frequent one. my husband and i take our 10 month old son to the park in the evenings. we though the park would be barren after 5 pm (like they were in the suburbs we both grew up in since one parent was usually at home to take kids to the park during the day). but the park is vibrant after six with whole families playing together. many know each other and meet up nightly after everyone is home from work. they speak all different languages. i walked by the other night to hear very little and very large voices coming out of the top of one of the pine trees. in Russian. i loved it.
  • speaking of languages, my new neighborhood is richly diverse. i am not the only non-white person in a multi-block radius. many of our neighbors are new to the united states and bring their wonderful music, smells of delicious foods cooking, and fashion sense to the community. since they aren’t ‘native’ to the culture of the city, they are friendly and sit out on their porches at night.
  • so we actually have met many of our neighbors.
  • we have a lot of neighbors who walk by our place pushing strollers, walking dogs (or both), or simply running, or out for a stroll with a latte. i’m not unused to people being around all day, having spent near a decade in popular neighborhoods, but i am unused to the idea of people gathering without the necessity of spending money. they aren’t “meeting up for a coffee” or going out for a drink, or shopping the cute boutique. they’re walking, and the focus is on the human interaction. i love that more than i thought i would.
  • the soccer field is always busy with organized sports.
  • ok–i can still walk to a grocery store. not my favorite one, but one with a large imported foods section and decent produce…and delicious bubble tea. i can’t walk to a farmers market, but who wants to drag all those apples back home anyway? i can walk to the lake, and around the lake, and yes, there are a couple cafes down there. though i can’t stay there long since me and the kid have to be always on the move.
  • i love having a back door. i open the front and back doors, both equipped with screens, and sit in the fresh breeze.
  • i can hang flower boxes since i’m on the ground level. i love my flower boxes.
  • my apartment came with several large, luscious rose bushes all around. amazing roses i could never grow myself somehow seem to thrive right on this spot. i don’t know if i am supposed to, but i pick them.
  • we can walk to one Salvadorian restaurant, which is always full of babies, so no one minds when mine screams. also, the food is amazing.
  • our neighborhood isn’t “cool,” but neither are we…anymore. my husband and i lament, from time to time, our youthful lifestyle of being in the know about which restaurants were opening, what was at the art gallery, and wearing the works of boutique artisans. we also cooked complex and delicious meals. now we try to figure out what kinds of food we can have delivered because we’re starving but neither of us are awake enough to drive, and trying to eat at a restaurant sounds like a torturous misadventure.
  • there is a p-patch going in up the hill.
  • from time to time there is a guy selling strawberries on the corner of my street. i love these.
  • we leave our neighborhood. for years, people came to us. we lived in cool places with walk-able attractions. we always meant to go to another neighborhood…but we were too lazy. now, we’ve got to get in the car anyway, so we might as well go somewhere interesting.
  • there are actually some art installations around…ar123739980038132

i’m not thrilled about living near a mall, driving all the time, and i really just can’t let it go that i can’t walk to a decent cafe in less than 5. but i’m getting there. i love walking to the park with my son, and pushing him on the swings. i like making tea in the kitchen when the back door is open. i enjoy knowing my neighbors on a first name basis.

am i ready to make a break for the true suburbs? no. never. for now. but i feel like learning to love my new neighborhood is part of learning to love my new life. and i miss things from my previous years, but i wouldn’t, couldn’t, trade those things for what i have now.