Not long after Ken and I got married, we made a list of our values. We wanted to set a foundation for making decisions that we could refer to when choosing becomes difficult. We have consulted this list every time a major decision has come our way. One of these values is that we will live and work within our immediate community. So, we try to keep the majority of the things we do, and the places we patronize, within our neighborhood, and we live within walking distance of where Ken goes to school. At first, we had to compromise because we just couldn’t afford to live near MUSC, but we were offered a place at a rate that we couldn’t pass up and moved into our current apartment when I was pregnant with our oldest child. We live downtown in a little pocket of dwellings at the edge of the Elliotborough neighborhood. It is quaint and charming and (most) of our neighbors are great, but we don’t have a yard.
When we first moved into our space, it seemed perfect. Ken’s walk to school was just ten minutes and my drive to work was about fifteen minutes. This was such a relief because before, with our one car, I was always having to drop Ken off and pick him up from school. We knew in the future when he would have to work strange hours, this set-up wouldn’t be sustainable. Moving downtown solved this problem and offered a few more perks as well. We had a grocery store we could walk to when short of anything and didn’t have to consider traffic or flooding to get there. It was nice to be able to hit up happy hour with friends just a short distance from home, and we had several friends living just blocks from us. And, we had no yard, which we were happy with because we had too many other things to do, than keep up with that nonsense waste of water and resources.
When we had a baby, I decided to stay home. We bought a nice stroller and I took our daughter on epic walks down to the battery and all around the historic district. We walked to the gym so I could get in a workout, shopped at the nearest hardware store and supermarket, and strolled or biked to the library and aquarium. We attended the community work and learn at the MUSC Urban Farm every other Saturday and got some gardening and fresh produce, without the responsibilities of our own garden. An occasional trip to the park to swing on the swings provided us with some outdoor play and the no yard thing wasn’t a problem.
Then, one day our baby got older and started to move around. The appeal of being able to let my kids run around in a yard, or just not having to go somewhere to play outside struck me. Our outdoor space consists of a gravel driveway shared with several other units and a porch of our own. There’s no place to throw a ball, play in a sprinkler, or have a bunch of people over for a cookout. I feel guilty on the days when I don’t get the kids to the playground and fear my daughter’s inability to jump and her fear of anything “messy” is a result of a lack of access to opportunities for gross motor practice and exposure to the outdoors. Not to mention those times when we do make it to the park and I find they’ve removed the slide, or someone’s left a used condom in the play area (True story. I shudder at the memory of it.) All of this has me pining for the yards of my childhood to give my kids a place to play and, as one of my neighbors says, I hear the “call of the suburbs”.
Recently, though, my retired neighbor bought some land behind his house, put up a playground and invited us to use it whenever we want. There the kids have access to swings, a slide, a teeter-totter, and a sandbox just steps from our back stoop and with reasonable assurance there won’t be any used condoms. The suburban call isn’t as loud as it once was.
I fixed up our porch with plants, a table and chairs, and moved my daughter’s easel outside. We blow bubbles and play with play dough. And, now that it’s hot I started filling a tub with water and letting the kids splash and play in it. The suburban call grows fainter.
When it rains we have great puddles to play in in our neighbors’ parking lots. We walk to the local produce shop and buy treats from the small overpriced grocer up the road, or get pastries from the yummy bakeries nearby. The suburban call grows fainter still.
We continue to hit up the urban farm and the library and are more inclined to participate in events at The Joe, Brittlebank Park, or Hampton Park than if we lived off of the peninsula because then we would have to fight traffic and find parking. We attend parades and watch the bridge run runners. The suburban call becomes a whisper.
Dad comes home for lunch and we stop by his lab to say hi on our way home from the park. We spend way less time in the car and still have no yard upkeep. The suburban call is barely audible.
When I remember these benefits, I feel better about this place we’ve chosen to raise our children in during their first years of life and find contentment in that. Do you live in an apartment, or not have a yard? What do you do to ensure your children get outside? What are the tradeoffs to living in a different place that make it worth it for you?