Wouldn’t it be nice, my husband once said, if we got one of those flag holders and put out different flags for every SEASON?
The day I put a flag outside my house, I replied, all grumbly and Daria-like, is the day you have permission to lock me in the trunk and drive our car into a lake.
When you move to suburbia (or return to it), you generally fall into one of two categories: gung-ho or #resist. My husband grew up in a small town complete with holiday parades and a local Woman’s Club. I grew up in Staten Island, a concrete-and-traffic-congested enclave with a pseudo subway and local Mob Wives. After several years of urban dwelling, he was gung-ho; I was #resist.
Looking back, it was kind of stupid and immature to be team #resist. I made a choice to move here. Why was it necessary to make sure everyone knew I came from the city, I was only here for the kids, and I would never, ever buy a Thirty-One purse?
In the end, #resist is just a different kind of suburban trope—one that’s as boring and cliché as the gym-going, PTA-cheerleading, coffee-and-wine-loving suburban stereotype I was trying to avoid in the first place.
It took me years to figure out, but being an individual in suburbia just comes down to owning it—in your own way. Instead of struggling against, go with what feels right. Pursue the people you feel a connection with. Take a leadership role that matters to you. Inject your personality and humor into your house, yard, and car.
It won’t happen overnight, but eventually you’ll find your own crowd, your own way, your own happiness. In the meantime, these can help you stay true to yourself.
The 1961 masterpiece Revolutionary Road treads a lot of familiar territory, and as eye-opening as it was to realize my grandparents’ generation did indeed deal with the same struggles I do today, I was also a little alarmed to see my own snobby ignorance in April and Frank Wheeler. You’ll find more characters and situations to relate to in The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer and Little Children by Tom Perrotta.
WRITE FROM WRONG
When you’re new and vulnerable, it’s embarrassingly easy to say too much too soon to too many people—and that can spell trouble in suburbia. Finding and building true friendships takes time. Before you really know the town crier from the local drama queen, buy a journal where you can vent your emotions, neuroses, opinions, and judgements. Otherwise, smile, nod, reveal nothing.
Even if you are thousands of miles apart, your oldest, dearest friends will always be a touchstone for what makes you uniquely you (and a good sounding board if the journal isn’t enough). Find ways to keep them close daily, whether it’s reminder jewelry or a photo collage, and connect real-time on the regular.
STICK ‘EM UP
Most of the time you can use laughter to make a statement in a completely non-threatening way. That’s why I love this 0.0 miles bumper sticker, which is maybe a little bit implying I don’t care how many marathons you’ve run, but is really just saying, I’m lazy and I don’t care who knows it. Ditto for this dino decal proclaiming “Your Stick Family Was Delicious.”
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
There’s a classic X-Files episode that sent Mulder and Scully to a suburban neighborhood with lots of conformist rules. I always remember Mulder putting a “forbidden” flamingo on the lawn and saying, “Bring it!” under his breath. You don’t have to be uber-tacky, but your garden is as good a place as any to distinguish your home and self from the rest. Go for laughs with a Disco Gnome or Dachshund Lovers wind chime or get creative: transform a plain wooden birdhouse into Dr. Who’s TARDIS or paint brick pavers to look like the covers of your favorite books. You don’t see those every day.