A few weeks ago, I extracted myself from my sleepy suburb to attend a charity event in New York City. At the end of the evening, a city dweller confided that her husband really wants to move to the suburbs. "He's dying to go," she told me, "but I just don't think I could deal with those suburban women." It was a bit of a City Mouse/Country Mouse moment. She, with her evening couturier, and me, in what could have been my prom dress. Part of me wanted to slug her. But another part of me couldn't really blame her, because I used to be afraid of suburban women too.
I know what the City Mice think about us. They think we are hovering soccer moms who drive unusually large cars and frequently opt for a ponytail in lieu of a shower. They think we've abandoned weekday dressing in favor of tennis whites or black yoga pants. They think we sip Chardonnay at lunch and then gather for scrapbooking in the afternoon.
Okay, I guess there's a seed of truth to every stereotype. With the exception of the scrapbooking and, of course, the tennis skirt (genetics being as unkind as they are), I am guilty of all of the above.
Years ago, on my kids' first day at their suburban school, I took a deep breath. Bring on the housewives, I thought. What will I say when the first one offers me a recipe for Snickerdoodles? Will some of them be in aprons? Curlers? I braced myself for gardening advice and a lobotomy.
Among these moms, all draped in small children and pets, I found a journalist just back from the Middle East and a woman who runs a foundation to help parents whose babies are in the NICU. There was a former accountant, a former Wall Street trader turned yoga instructor, and a former teacher who had just created a science enrichment program. One mom had just decided to go back to medical school after raising three kids. I learned a lot that day, but nothing about Snickerdoodles.
It turns out that most of these suburban moms have an impressive career behind them and a handful of passions that they are pursuing while raising children. Whether these passions are charitable, artistic, or professional, I have found the suburbs teeming with energy and creativity. At some point many of these women will hang up the ponytail and go back to work full- or part-time.
Individually, we do a lot of dropping off and picking up and pushing swings at the park. But the magic happens when the Country Mice gather. A group of moms in my town has raised $1 million in the past five years to provide support for people affected by cancer. Imagine $1 million raised by women who don't even have subways, sidewalks, or The Gap.
Because of our geography, we can reach over the hedge to touch our neighbors. Their lives spill into ours the way the smell of a freshly baked pie flows from a windowsill to the nostrils of a cartoon cat. There's little anonymity here; people, for the most part, know your business. In bad times, there is a silent group of women who gather to see what needs to be done. Like ninjas, they appear with dinner on your doorstep and escape into the night.
From far away I can see how we look. I'll admit it: I can become obsessed with things that relate to my children, I can't fit my family into a Prius, and I know my way around a glass of Chardonnay. I've used my Costco card more times in the past year than my Metropolitan Museum card, and I haven't really gotten dressed since Saturday night. And, God help me, I love living in the suburbs.