The latest school newsletter says 1600 new homes are expected to be built in our district over the next four years. I can picture them all now with their neutral exteriors, 1/4 acre lots and deckless backsides. Builders plow trees and pastures under daily as new subdivisions unnaturally claim the natural space. There are 30 kids in my daughter’s fourth grade class. Traffic piles up every weekday morning starting at 6AM at the corner stoplight.
I see breathing space disappearing.
My neighbors have high paying jobs, 2+ children, big houses, multiple cars, boats, ATVs, cabins, pristine yards and schedules reamed with activities, appointments and to-do lists. For many this is a dream come true.
I can’t help but think, “Lemmings”, but … I am in line headed for the cliff too.
Children: The great integrators
I once saw a letter in an advice column where an introvert said he didn’t want to have children because they integrate you too much into society. That was a light bulb moment for me. I like to integrate at my own pace into selective realms of society. I didn’t realize society was so all-consuming. I didn’t realize kids have so much pull. I didn’t realize I wasn’t meant for the cookie-cutter lifestyle.
My ex-husband and I chose the house the kids and I currently live in based on the school district, distance from his (high paying) job, the large rooms and fancy amenities, the beautiful yard, woods and trails, and the family friendly neighborhood.
It is all lovely but there are appearances to maintain. You are expected to volunteer at the school regularly, keep your house showplace clean, keep the yard golf-course perfect, and redecorate/update the house every few years. And if you could stay fit and join the country club that would be great too.
I feel like a broken cookie.
Venturing out to be a free-formed cookie
The time has come for us to leave our grand over-sized home. Since the divorce I no longer have the energy, resources or desire to keep up this big place. This is my chance to go rogue and stop the cookie-cutter living but…
Now my kids expect a four bedroom home with three plus bathrooms, an amusement room, a big yard, a dog and a boat. They want X-Boxes, laptops, Ipods, pads and phones, Netflix and Amazon Prime. They want to attend suburban prize-winning schools (only because their friends go there) that consider the family home an extension of the classroom. They want to play sports with 3-5 practices a week. They want multiple vacations, trips to Target and sleepovers. They want their lives full of things, activities and people just like everyone else in the society they know.
More simple and more meaning
I want space to live.
I want a just-big-enough home near water or a woods with a small yard or a large yard that nobody scoffs at if it turns a little brown from lack of rain. I want writing space for me and downtime space for my kids (be it their own bedroom or a basement to escape to). My own private bathroom would be nice, at 43 I think I’ve earned it. I want neighbors but not necessarily a subdivision. I want to know my neighbors because I run into them on the walking trail or we’ve shared a drink on their porch not because I can see into their kitchen or because I’ve had to talk to them about their dog barking or 7AM lawn mowing.
Or I want an apartment or condo with little to no maintenance within walking distance of cafes, parks, and coffee houses.
I want to work independently with a flexible schedule weighing in as more important than a big paycheck. I want to love what I do, take my time doing it and work hard. I want large blocks of time to focus, concentrate and dig deeply into the subject-matter at hand. I want few interruptions and a quiet but communicative environment. I want to connect with others but not regarding “fires to put out”. I want to create something wonderful not break something down. The more people I help the more productive I’ll consider myself. I want to live to work, not work to live (in a cookie-cutter existence).
Relationships, intimacy, connecting, oh yeah
I want meaningful conversations with my family, friends and partner. I want time for intimacy, self-discovery and leisure. I want to connect deeply not begrudgingly or superficially. I want to be less busy and more available for the significants in my life.
I want more internal peace and less external noise.
I want time after school to sit with my kids at the kitchen table and talk. I want to hum to music as I make dinner and help them with their homework. I would love to eat dinner together. Watch movies together. Read together. Play board games together. Travel together.
I don’t consider rushing the kids from point A to point B or activity A to activity B quality living. I’ve witnessed my children melt down from the stress of overload or mentally zone out because they’ve focused for hours on their homework or spent their whole evening running from one event to the next. Hell, I’ve melted down from overload and zoned out from too much forced thinking and doing. I’ve seen them ridicule each other for not participating in sports or not making it into the gifted and talented program. They are on the treadmill, can’t get off and won’t let others off either.
Is this how it is everywhere?
I realize the after school/work hustle is the norm anymore. Even my small idyllic hometown in Michigan runs families ragged with school activities, Walmart trips, sports practices, church participation and social expectations.
It seems like it is NEVER Ok to slow down. To say no. To retreat. You must plow forward, get it done, meet expectations. You must have, do and keep up rather than let go, be and rest.
Everyone gets burned out but is this way of living especially problematic for the introvert? Is this a lifestyle based on extroverted ideals? How do we quiet the machine?
If you liked “Cookie Cutter Life” then you may also enjoy:
Confessions of an Introverted Parent (space2live)
Turkeys Vs. Target: Space Vs. Convenience (space2live)