I grew up outside Chicago in a green and leafy suburb. Wheaton boasts a cute downtown, friendly post office employees, tight zoning restrictions and a ban on overnight street parking. The first time Greg visited my hometown was the Fourth of July. As we ambled over to Main Street to watch the parade, he looked around at the kids in patriotic hair bows and the families who'd left lawn chairs along the curb to stake out their spots, and he said, "You grew up in Disneyworld."
My current address, outside Washington DC has, shall we say, a slightly grittier feel. At least, our neighborhood does. We're off a main drag that's home to a couple of gas stations, used car lots and a 7/11. I'm somewhat hopeful because a yoga studio just opened up where Curves used to be. That seems like gentrification, but I really do miss the restrictive zoning and overnight street parking ban.
Several of my friends have stayed in or returned to Wheaton to raise their families, so when I visit, it's easy for me to fantasize what my life would be like. There would be friendly chats at the Jewel, the grocery store where you always run into someone you know. On Thursday summer evenings, my girls could run on the lawn at the town band concert. I would be able to see the doctor and dentist without waiting nine months for an appointment, and there probably wouldn't be huge waiting lists to get into a decent preschool. I wouldn't have a neighbor who (illegally) parks a rusty white van with flat tires on his unkempt property. There would be no bus fumes on my daily walks. And the babysitting would be fantastic: adoring grandparents, plus an evangelical college chock full of women who have pledged not to drink alcohol, many of whom are training for their elementary education certification.
I do recognize my wistful fantasies for what they are. While it might be easier to find a good babysitter, real life would be much the same there as it is here--and even more difficult in some ways, as our recent trip confirmed. Greg came with us to Wheaton, but worked in his firm's Chicago office every day. One morning, he boarded the express train along with a daddy who was with his two girls, around 7 and 8 years old. As Greg settled into a seat not too far from the family, he heard the father explain to his daughters, "Men are naturally superior to women. For instance, in athletics, men outperform women in every single sport (except some equestrian events, where women ride male horses). But that's okay, because girls are more organized and are better at keeping house."
You really can’t go home again, even when you go home again. My dreams of suburban bliss burst upon hearing about Greg's commute. The views expressed by that man do not represent those of Wheaton or all its citizens. Chauvinism is alive and well everywhere, and in today's crazy political climate, I'm more likely to hear that kind of conversation in DC than anywhere else. But, he tainted my daydream. I can't stop thinking about those two little girls who may believe their only hope for equality lies in equestrian events.
Ernest Hemingway described his home town of Oak Park as having "wide lawns and narrow minds." Twenty miles west, Wheaton's lawns are perhaps wider. And, apparently, there's at least one idiot who could give Oak Park a run for its money on both counts.