Living In The Suburbs Feels Like Waiting.

There are days I wake up and I wonder how it is I got here.

How do I live in the suburbs? How is it I have three kids? Where has the time gone?

I turned forty last year but because I was pregnant and fairly miserable with sickness, I didn’t realize it. I didn’t have a big party, or invite anyone over. I think I spent it on the couch, horizontal and probably whining about heartburn. But I turned 40. Had you asked me when I was 35 what I would be doing for my 40th birthday, I’d have said I would be at my favorite restaurant surrounded by close friends, celebrating a pretty momentous milestone. But no. Instead it was just another day, one I barely even realized. A day that came and went.

You’re supposed to realize you turn 40, right?

I turned 41 last week. And if it hadn’t been for Facebook, I’m not sure I would have remembered.

Sometimes living in the suburbs feels like waiting to die. I know that comes off as horribly depressing. And overall, I’ll contend: it’s a depressing thought. But it’s also darkly comical. Living in the suburbs feels like waiting, waiting for what? I’m not sure.

I think we plan vacations and then look forward to vacations so we don’t remember that the bigger picture—or some ultimate goal—doesn’t actually exist. There are lessons for the kids, countless practices that include balls and expensive equipment coached by parents with unfulfilling day jobs. We schedule date nights at mediocre restaurants and drink overpriced wine. We discuss the kids’ practices or that upcoming vacation. We go home, pay the sitter, and then continue to wait some more. We make schedules that repeatedly fail because of course they do when you’re dealing with snow days, sick days, train schedules, kids and other people. And when those schedules fail we come up with ways to make sure they don’t fail in the future because failing makes us feel bad. And it sucks to feel bad.

Our walkway needs to be shoveled. And the trash needs to be put out. Recycling comes every other week and if you miss the alert that they moved it due to a possible snowstorm, your garage starts to look like something out of an episode of Hoarders.

Small rodents break into your garage and lick clean the cans you didn’t properly rinse but since they likely got a big dose of dopamine and left with a full stomach it’s hard to hate them. Good for the small critters who don’t have vacations to look forward to or date nights at mediocre restaurants. They don’t have plans that fail or Common Core math tests to bitch about.

Living in the suburbs feels like waiting—waiting to return to something that matters, something bigger than yourself, something you pictured when you were 21 and graduating from a college you paid a ton of money to so they would repeatedly tell you that after you were done you could do anything; that you could change the world.

Today I grabbed a single trash bag from below our kitchen sink and went around the house tossing random pieces of crap into it. I filled that bag up within 10 minutes while the baby babbled gleefully into an empty box of tissues. That felt great so I made a plan to do it every day for two weeks. I’ll fill up a trash bag full of our shit. And items from that bag of trash will eventually end up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean floating on a sea of garbage the size of Texas because that’s what we do in the suburbs as we sit and wait for upcoming vacations: we give up gluten, wear yoga pants from lululemon, fight about parenthood, drive big cars and destroy shit.

Then one day you find yourself in the quiet car on a train headed north on the way home from a job that brings you nothing but stress and someone makes a thoughtless mistake and you think to yourself right before the car explodes into a burning inferno, “What was I waiting for?”

I want to dig through the empty cans in a drafty garage and discover happiness. I want to run these thoughts out of my head. I want to find meaning in an empty box of tissues and not spend another dime at a mediocre restaurant. I want to walk among a sea of strangers in a city where you don’t realize you’re waiting because the backdrop is forever changing and its inhabitants are fooled by distraction.


  1. 18 years seems like a long wait. I’d like to see you happy, now.

    It’s posts like these that make me think that it’s true that some people are just city people, and if the city of your heart is too damn expensive for the raising of three kids, maybe there’s a fall-back city that would be cheaper, yet better than the suburbs. (I know, easier said than done, right?)


  2. I love this. Mama told me there would be days like this…and it’s always good to write about ’em.


  3. It’s so strange… this is what I felt like in my old (sparkly new) house. Last weekend, though? I spent an hour watching the birds in the backyard of my new (old, suburban) home… It makes such a difference to be living where your heart is.


  4. So much this!! Worse, I live in the burbs with no car, so I feel like I am trapped on top of the waiting. I have social anxiety, so no friends out here to speak of, and keeping my fingers crossed that that doesn’t rub off on my kids. I keep waiting for a change, but I know that’s not going to happen on it’s own, but I also know how resistant to change we all can be. I too turned 40 last year with out any fan fare. I told myself we would at LEAST go to a restaurant to celebrate, but that didn’t happen, I can’t even remember what we did that day. Likely the kids played in the sun, we had dinner that nobody really liked, kids went to be and likely my husband and I both played video games until the wee hours of the morning.

    I just finished watching a music video that featured a child bride living in Chad and it made me think that there are so many people living in such unspeakable conditions and situations all over the world that it is my responsibility to live the best fucking life I can in this relative Utopia I’ve been lucky enough to be born in. But I feel so locked in. Kids…school…walk dogs…make dinner…clean house…kids to bed…make lunches. Fortunately in a sea of depressed people, I am not depressed. I feel low sometimes, I know I could be doing better in all aspects of my life, but for now (there’s the waiting again) it is what it is.


    1. Kimc: I can’t imagine not having a car here. It’s one of the things that bugs me the most, having to drive everywhere.

      My goodness, I feel for you.

      Jessica: I agree. And who knows what the future will bring. If Toby and I are consistent with anything, it’s a consistency for change. :]


  5. I think you (and your words) are just so lovely. Sometimes I hear read something, and the truth of it is such a punch to the gut. It hurts so good.


  6. Yes. The suburban nightmare is real indeed. I struggle with the idea that This Is It too. All we’ve worked for, all of our success is ending up here–and teaching our children that this is what they should work for their whole life–repeating the pattern?–is downright depressing. Larger spiritual issues on top of sheer geographical ones. I too would prefer a walking city life, but as I think you suggest, is that just a more dynamic distraction from the purpose of our lives, and our inability to appreciate the Right Now moments?
    Deeeep thoughts. :)


  7. That’s how I felt living in small town Tennessee. I hated it. We had to get out of there. And then when we talked about moving to Atlanta, I had this fear that I would be living the suburban life, because that’s all I knew about Atlanta from when my in-laws lived here. Just houses and strip malls and nothing to do.

    We soon discovered Atlanta isn’t just suburbs, but full of lively neighborhoods within a big city. Okay, so we have to drive everywhere, but we can walk to some places too. I am so, so relieved it worked out for us because I couldn’t take anymore of the life I led for 6 years back in small town Tennessee.

    I hope you find your place soon.


  8. We moved to Alabama from Hoboken 6 years ago. I miss it everyday. I miss feeling anonymous, but also part of something bigger. I miss feeling like I was in the middle of the world. I feel so average now, and bored and boring.


    1. You guys, thanks for sharing these blurbs about your lives. It helps.


  9. We moved last summer from Chicago where I biked commuted and walked everywhere. Now we live in Baltimore, but in a neighborhood where I have to drive everywhere. Because I’m stubborn, I tried the four mile round trip walk to the store with the stroller for a while. Ultimately, we bought a second car though. Hang in there. You’re not alone.


  10. “letting the days go by let the water holds me down…same as it ever was. same as it ever was…same as it ever was”. I turned 41 in November. 3 kids and also a suburbanite. Sitting here in yoga pants. Driving a Honda Odyssey. This post hits very close to home. I don’t think this is at all where I’d imagined I’d be at 20 but 41 year old me is much more content that 35 year old me that had regrets of not living abroad and taking those adventures I had wanted. My adventures now are far less exotic than I’d once dreamed, but they are adventures in working mom-dom and the circus I live in and the life I manage to juggle. Some days adventures seem so exhausting. I loved this post


  11. Thanks for sharing this. I needed to find this today. I generally like my suburb life, but I’ve been feeling very lonely lately. And then I feel guilty for feeling lonely and sad, because what’s wrong with me? So, thanks for at least making me feel less alone. I appreciate your words more than you know.


  12. This is so spot on. I have nothing to add except, north of Boston, suburbs, snow.
    We don’t even do date night anymore…it all seems so pointless!


  13. That’s really well written Mihow. The details really clinch it.

    That sense of waiting is definitely real and common to many people, I sense. Our ancestors really were waiing to die at our age, and they didn’t have long to wait.

    Our fate in safer places, most of us anyway, is to live quite a short segment of our life in expectation and wonder, followed by an ever-expanding segment during which we sometimes (regularly) ask: was that it?

    The traditionally-conceived youth segment of our life is going to make up a smaller and smaller fraction as lifespans get longer.

    I think we need to stay young in our minds and have fun wherever and whenever we are.

    Re-experiencing life through the eyes of kids is a great experience, as you well know. Like a replay from a different angle.

    We also need to find new ways to have fun because there’s no going back to those glory days of youth. Even if you go to the same places and do the same things, there’s no recreating an innocent moment in time.

    Born in Britain, I swear by the reinvigorating power of the hobby. While I am waiting in my (icy) suburb I am going to try to write a few books, build some boardgames and maybe learn some new skills (like being healthy).

    And wait for grandkids to arrive, so I can do that replay thing again, but without changing diapers this time.




  14. I feel this constantly. I wrote about it on Facebook recently. I look around at this visually stunning but culturally/economically/politically desolate city I live in (Phoenix) that is nothing but a giant suburb with political climate that is downright hostile to the majority of residents and I wonder, WTF am I doing here? Then I remember that this is where my family is, the man I love is, and this is where my kid is thriving. So, I’ve realized the problem is largely in my own head. I need to find my purpose here, not someplace out there. I wasn’t fully satisfied living in a big city either…

    I also think, and you may disagree, that when we focus too much on place we may be transferring our own personal dissatisfaction and using place as the scapegoat. I think a lot of moms of small kids feel what you feel as well. Our purpose as individuals takes a back seat while our kids are small, they become our focus and our purpose. But where does that leave us? Some women are happy with that. Some of us aren’t. We crave something for us that isn’t tied to being a wife or a mother. Throw in some mid-life contemplation and you’ve got a recipe for some heavy thoughts. You’re not alone, though. I’ve got no answers, but I feel it too.


    1. I wish I could like this comment. Michele. I will write more soon. You touched on something very important. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I’ll add more soon.


  15. I hope your outlook has gotten better since you wrote this – meaning, I hope you have been feeling happier. You can make the most of it – take your kids to volunteer at clothing drives. Spend weekends in the city at a hotel, and immerse yourself with the locals (but please, by all means, realize there are other people who use that sidewalk dominated by the baby stroller! :) ).
    You and your husband should try to get to a club, where no name bands play. Somehow, that is therapeutic to me (i live in a city, though, but eternally single and with no intentions of having kids, i do at times feel the sentiments from this blog posting of yours.) What will the local band experience do? Reinforce to you that you are doing OK. Your duty is to your home, your kids, your family – and you are doing a bang up job. The younger people at that club – remember, they are still finding THEMSELVES, let alone a grand plan for their looming middle age. So really, you aren’t doing too badly.
    I hope I helped more than annoy!


  16. The sentiment portrayed in this article definitely picks a common neural twitch that’s familiar to most suburban residents. I find it transient and fleeting at best and a little more than that during the gray wintery months of the great northeast. I was curious if the author took some action to surpass or suppress this feeling or just chose to ignore it? Like the previous comment suggests, some sort of self reward in the form of an impulse purchase or impromptu experience would seem befitting. At times a move to a bigger house would also prove to be a huge distraction to keep the suburban spirits high… Do tell!


  17. Brilliantly said, and relieved to know I am not alone in feeling this way! That’s another part of it, no one speaks of it. My kids are teens and I still relate to this, even more so. Bc their childhood is almost over and I constantly worry they’re going to end up in the ‘burbs waiting too.


  18. […] I am so relieved to find out that I am not alone, so many other people have shared their stories here, here and here. What big life decisions are you afraid […]


  19. It’s all for “the schools”. You can’t get a great education in the city without paying big money, so we move out for “the schools”.

    I’m sitting at home skipping another neighborhood party where the same people, eating the same food and drinking the same drinks, sit at the next house in the party rotation. Nothing real is ever discussed. Nothing of substance is accomplished. Nobody feels better for having gone. What hurts most about the suburbs is the pretending that this is what we’re all supposed to be doing.

    Years of income are poured into maintaining homes and maintaining the things that maintain the homes. We choose this versus the family spending a month in India studying history, or a month in Europe studying architecture, or a month in China studying … hell, studying anything. We’re too broke for real traveling. Every day is a vacation full of creature comforts better than anything humans have experienced before, yet we “vacation” from endless pleasure on a cruise ship or in “Mo Bay”. A life of endless pleasure but no joy.


  20. Yes, isolation finally starts getting to you. No matter how much you try to supress the feeling of “life passing you by”, the feeling still creeps in, especially in the cold , snowy winter days. At the same time, when the “sense of wonder” is gone, living in the city would probably not become a miraculous cure eather. It could divert, intertain but for how long? …and then what? Being filthy rich and having any choice of life available to you would be a nice way to start changing things. But for now…..I am just happy to know I am not alone in my feeling and that in 4 months spring comes again…..


  21. If you’re looking for an end goal to be working toward, can I suggest a proletarian revolution?


  22. I think you might be my sister who sounds like you and looks like you with your cat here. You even seem to have identical lives. hmm…..

    If you’re bored you’ve got to do something about it. I’m going to go out west and eat fried chicken and hot tub here soon. I just need to shake things up.

    Cut your hair or dye it or something. You don’t look bored at all. You look quite content. So no one knows you’re bored but you.

    Interesting to me that so many people feel the same way you do about living in the suburbs too. I wonder if everyone’s just having the same boring experience and only some people are talking about it.

    Do something weird maybe. Like something you wouldn’t normally think to do but have always been curious about. Just go and do it. That’ll give you a thrill.


  23. I agree with the author of this article, suburbia is morbidly boring.
    I had to learn to drive in my late thirties when we moved from downtown.
    I told myself I can always drive back to the city life, museums, festivals, busy streets, but I never do.
    It’s exactly the feeling of waiting, like suburbia is moving closer the end, next to the old folks home then up to the cemetery.
    We spend 2-3h a day in the rush hour traffic. The streets have no sidewalks and are so empty if you take a walk you feel like in a creepy apocalypse movie where all population died. My few friends live too far, in different suburbs, we can’t socialize often, so there’s absolutely nothing fun to do. I hate suburban soccer. My only coping mechanisms are red wine and online shopping and I am doing so much reframing I burn calories from it…


  24. Ha! I feel this sometimes. Same age too. 41. I mean, we love our house, and have good schools, but yeah suburbia…


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