Small town New Hampshire was a good place to grow up (for part of my youth). It seemed that every other family was a young couple with kids my age. I spent lots of time playing around the neighborhood and in my friends’ homes. It was the sort of neighborhood where, when it was dinnertime, moms would just yell at the tops of their lungs out their front doors and expect that, wherever we were in the neighborhood, we’d hear. And, we usually heard. I spent so much time at my friends’ houses back in those days that I got a good impression of the little quirks that made their families unique. And it was great social practice as I had to change my behavior at each home to fit expectations. Families are unique; they place importance and value in different areas of their lives. Since childhood my own quirks have changed and grown. Those idiosyncrasies make us different, but probably no less weird than many families who have their own special issues. Those families back in my old neighborhood were alien to me, but now that I’m the same age as the “adults” from my old neighborhood, they don’t really seem that strange, just quirky.
The Trendy: One family in my neighborhood had it all going on. Their house was constructed with the newest architectural flair, they owned all high end appliances and the fanciest VCR (that weighed under 20 lbs), drove trendy cars and were generally the hippest people in the neighborhood. We liked their home because they had a fancy play room. But, we were very careful to stay downstairs in the playroom because upstairs it was easy to break stuff and get in trouble.
The Kid Centric: The opposite of the trendy family was the family whose house looked like a Toys R Us. Unsurprisingly, the kids in this family were the coolest in the neighborhood. Their house was always the congregating spot for the start of any adventure. It was the default location when we weren’t sure where to go or where to meet. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure we drove the parents of this particular family insane. But, it was their fault for making their home into a playland.
The Dark and Creepy: There’s always one family that seems a little off their rockers. These people’s house was perpetually dark inside and it had a very distinctive smell which to this day I’m sure I could identify. For a long time I was a little scared of them. It turns out that the kid who was my age in the family was really cool. The more time I spent with him the more I liked him and the less weird his family seemed. Sometimes people are just so different that it takes time to warm up to them. Their house didn’t seem so dark once I got used to them.
Estrogen Central: A family of three girls will do that I suspect. Every corner of the house was festooned with some sort of flower pattern or ruffle. The beds were all 4 posted canopy beds with really tall and cushiony mattresses. The wallpaper was in pastels, the toaster had a strange doily cover and the place smelled like spring all the time. We didn’t spend much time there.
Everything is Breakable and VERY Expensive: We had a rich neighbor. Doesn’t everybody? These were the people who lived in the biggest house and owned all the most expensive stuff (but not the trendiest). Going over there was to learn respect for ones position in life. It seemed none of us ruffians was good enough to enter the place, and nobody ever told us we were wrong to think it. Some people need a more useful hobby.
The Very Uncool: That’s how I saw my house. I remember wanting a pair of Jams (those dorky flowery shorts back in the 80′s). Instead of getting me a pair, my mom bought the fabric and tried to make them herself! Wow, was that dorky, and I was mortified. I’m not going to go into detail about all the super dorky things we did, wore and owned but in retrospect it was pretty funny. My parents didn’t give a crap about being cool, and I suppose that sorta makes me who I am today.
Who are We?
I have to admit that we’re probably the dark and creepy family in our neighborhood. Everything we do seems to be backwards, and we spend a lot of time doing our own thing without regard for other people. We aren’t really dark and creepy, but that’s probably how other people see us. We’re also somewhat trendy, but not entirely. I want my kids to dress well and to have nice things. My first video game system I bought myself when I was in 8th grade (NES) because my parents thought they were useless. Today I have more video games than anybody I know, and my kids play them frequently. It’s just an example of how kids end up seeing what their parents did to them and spend the rest of their lives trying to do the opposite. The grass is always greener, right?
Who Are You?
You can probably think of more descriptors for families that were or are in your neighborhoods. I’m curious how your family now is different than the family you grew up with. Does your parenting reflect an intentional effort to steer away from how you were raised? Looking back at my old neighborhood I can see the forces that shaped these people into who they were, and I speculate a lot of it had to do with how they were raised. The kid centric family was probably raised in an everything is breakable family. The trendy people were probably raised as the perpetually uncool. Life is somewhat about extremes. It’s hard to strike just the right balance, to do things without overcompensating for the shortcomings you perceived in the past. My kids? Who knows what they’ll be. In 30 years I’ll probably visit their homes and shake my head at how far they’ve deviated from what I intended for them.