When my husband and I moved to South Pasadena two years ago it felt like the biggest move we would ever make in our life together, despite being the shortest. Our new house was less than five miles from our old one, but it seemed like we had moved to another world. Whether on York, on Colorado, or on the freeway, there is a distinct change in the scenery when you leave Los Angeles. Suddenly there are fewer potholes and the street signs are all well-lighted and legible, there is no graffiti, the houses are more landscaped and the businesses all freshly painted. Suddenly you are in the suburbs.
Despite growing up in a pre-urban Pasadena (the city has only in the last ten or twenty years grown into what one might call a city), I always fancied myself a city dweller. When I left Pasadena to move abroad, I made my homes in Athens and Madrid and travelled primarily to places like London and Paris. I moved back to LA and lived in Hollywood, Silver Lake, Downtown, Echo Park, all the busy eastside boroughs. And then all of sudden we wanted a yard and we ended up in Eagle Rock, and there our inland trajectory began. We started going to Pasadena for everything – to eat out, to hike and run, to shop. It was just so much nicer there. When I got pregnant we decided we were done once and for all with the crime and grime of Los Angeles.
I wish I could say that I missed living in the city, but I don’t. I’m content to live within the five block radius of my house, content to just read lots of emails about all the goings on in the city instead of actually going to experience them. Even my friends must come to me – Historic Filipinotown and Little Armenia are too exotic for my newly suburban sensibilities – but still I see myself as a city girl, or at least as fundamentally different from all of my suburban friends and colleagues. There is something about being in and involved in the urban experience, a coolness and a smartness about it that I value more than the warmer experiences of smaller suburban communities (call it my urban elitism). But do I want my daughter to grow up cool, or do I want her to grow up warm?
Before I got pregnant, I would have said that I wanted my kids to grow up cool – aware and edgy in the way the city kids were when I was growing up. When I got pregnant this all changed, of course, and we are in a change now again, considering moving even further east, a move even further away from the lives we had built in Los Angeles, away even from the life we have been building in Pasadena. Because foiling our attempts to remain even remotely urban is the fact that I work not just at the edge of Los Angeles, but at the edge of Los Angeles County, so far from the city that even the term suburb might be a stretch. Everyone I work with lives in those suburbs (many of them in housing subdevelopments and planned neighborhoods) that I still like to speak of disdainfully, and for the most part they are good people with strong values and sharp minds, not at all the stereotype we urban elitists like to paint of the bland suburban couch potatoes. I like the people that I work with, and over time they have grown to like me, despite the urban aloofness I carry from meeting to meeting.
One of the major challenges I face every day as a mother is balancing my all consuming cynicism for those typical trappings of normal, successful life (nice car, fancy jeans, quiet neighborhood, money to spend) with the desire for my daughter to grow up with all these trappings easily within her reach – the tension between my techno punk attitude and my hope that my daughter will be happier than I was, and I know that this move deeper into the suburbs would be a good one for my little Koukla. It’s a quirky, fairly upscale town, the schools are great, there’s a nice old park; in many ways it is like South Pasadena, only nicer (it also has a lively downtown, a movie theater, a record store, an elite college and the cultural life that goes along with it). But I see my friends so little now – do I really think this will improve if I move farther away? At best I manage four or five nights out a year now – how often do I think I will do this when the drive home could take two hours? And what of that passionate desire to not raise sheltered children?
There is still that part of me that wants to push back, to say that my daughter will be fine wherever we are and to make the decision based on what I want for myself. But I simply do not want to raise my child in Los Angeles, and I know that a move like this would be for the best not just for the baby, but for me. Instead of ending my days by driving home for an hour in traffic with a crying baby in the backseat, I will have that time to play with my daughter, to read her books, to make her a thoughtful dinner and to be fully present as I feed it to her. And with this new gift of not just time, but quality time, my hope is that I will find a little more peace in my mind and more lightness in my heart, lightness that will ease my transition into this new, unexpected life for me and my marriage and my family, and will ease my travels to and from the city that I will continue to love.