Though I lived in quaint college towns in Indiana for the first 22 years of my life, I've always considered myself a city person. After graduating, I spent the next decade in New York, Washington DC, and, finally, Chicago, embracing all the opportunity, excitement, and craziness that come from life in a big city. (I affectionately labeled my last neighborhood the "intersection between hipster and homeless," and it was pretty much true.) The good, bad, and ugly of the city? I loved pretty much every minute of it.
And then my husband and I had our first child, bringing her home to our cozy fourth-floor walk-up. Suddenly, the drunken fights we occasionally heard in our alley, the morning dog walks down four flights of stairs, the lack of storage space, and my husband's two-hour daily commute to his job in the suburbs all seemed a bit ridiculous. Four months later, we were officially suburbanites, living 45 minutes away from our former big-city home. While my husband and I often reminiscence about our time living in Chicago (the food alone is worthy of some serious nostalgia), we both feel like the burbs have the city beat when you're a parent of little kids. Here's why.
- The space. Our mortgage is the same as it was in the city, but we more than doubled our space and added a huge yard, complete with an existing play structure. That means there's plenty of room indoors for the mountains of stuff that seem to arrive the minute you have a child. And, while we still take plenty of trips to our local parks, my kids are equally happy running around our backyard, which has multiple clean and functioning bathrooms steps away. Anyone who's visited a big-city park with a baby or recently potty-trained toddler will understand how amazing this is.
- Preschool. When I first signed my now-4-year-old daughter up for preschool two years ago, I asked one of my city-dwelling friends if she thought the $160 a month sounded about right for a two-day-a-week program. She actually laughed in my face. She was paying 10 times (!!) that for her daughters to attend the same amount of hours at their preschool. Add in the fact that I didn't have to put my daughter on a wait list or through an interview process, and the suburbs get an A in my book.
- Drive-throughs. I fell in love with our suburb on the first day we lived there, primarily for one very important reason: drive-through Starbucks. On that first day, I also made a stop at the drive-through bank and the drive-through pharmacy, and my then-infant daughter slept through the whole thing. Now that I have two kids, I love my drive-through Starbucks even more, and grabbing the two of them a quick lunch is a lot easier when I can drive through Panera or Chick-fil-A. (I don't support the company's stance on gay marriage, but my kids are addicted to those nuggets, and at this stage in my life, I'll admit avoiding temper tantrums is higher on my priority list than making political statements.)
- Cleanliness. When my kids get dirty in the burbs, it's because they were playing in dirt, like actual mud, in our backyard. In the city, just walking around in sandals can leave the bottoms of their feet black (anyone who's lived in New York during the Summer can attest to that truth). When I took my baby girl out and about when we lived in the city, disinfecting any and all surfaces was the norm; not so much for my suburban-born son. Granted, he's my second and I'm more relaxed, but somehow fewer people and more space also made things feel inherently cleaner. So go ahead, buddy, pick your graham cracker up off the floor and eat it. I'm good with that.
- Traffic. I go into Chicago pretty often, and for some reason, every single time, I'm shocked by how long it takes me to get anywhere. Like 30 minutes for a mile is normal. Why this continually baffles me is a little crazy because I lived there for SEVEN YEARS and dealt with it daily. I blame my children, who have exhausted any and all of my patience, but mostly I blame it on the suburbs, where "traffic" might add an extra couple of minutes to your trip, and there's always an easy and gridlock-free alternative route. And when you have two screaming kids in the backseat, that will save your sanity.