Saturday, February 25, 2006

Suburban Man

My friend Rick started it.

Rick has his own blog, (check it out at's great!) and he asked me to be a "guest blogger." I agreed. Shortly after The Birth of Suburban Man, there came the inception of City Mom. And the rest is history. Well, okay. Maybe not...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006
The Birth of Suburban Man

“The Birth of Suburban Man”
by Rick Kaempfer

I remember the exact moment I came to grips with my title of Suburban Man. It took me nearly ten years of gradual self-awareness to get to that moment, but it is seared in my brain. I was at a red light at the intersection of Rand Road and Elmhurst Road in Mt. Prospect, sitting in the driver’s seat of my minivan, waiting for the longest red light in the Western Hemisphere to turn green. “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC, a great rock and roll song from my high school years, came on the radio. And I cranked it.

When that pounding bass and powerful guitar filled the van, I realized for the first time what a great stereo the minivan had. This was a rare outing without one of my three boys in the car with me, and I hadn’t properly broken in the stereo since we purchased the minivan two years earlier. I started singing along with the lyrics, screaming them with the same reckless rock and roll abandon of lead singer Brian Johnson. I bobbed my head to the beat. I had almost forgotten the power of rock and roll. Yeah! If I had a lighter in my pocket, I would have lit it and held it in the air. Rock and Roll! I may have been lost for the last ten or fifteen years, but I was back. This was the real me. This song was speaking to me.

“Knocking me out with those American thighs,” I screamed.

That’s when it happened.

In mid head-bob, I suddenly saw something with my peripheral vision. It was the driver of the car in the lane next to me; a 16-18 year old girl driving a Honda Civic. And she was staring at me. “Kimberly” or “Jennifer” told me more with one facial expression than I had ever been told in a decade of suburban life. I’m not normally a lip reader but I read her lips on that Thursday evening as she uttered one simple word to herself while watching me rock out to AC/DC in my minivan.

“Ew,” she said.

It was an out-of-body experience. I was suddenly sixteen years old again, and sitting in the Civic with Kimberly/Jennifer looking at the 40-something year-old man in the minivan. I could see myself behind the steering wheel, and it might as well have been my father driving his 1976 Cutlass Supreme station wagon. Of all the preposterous sights; my 40-something-year-old father was cranking AC/DC. I had the exact same reaction as Kimberly/Jennifer.

“Ew,” I said.

Reality overwhelmed me at that moment and made me look in the mirror for the first time since I moved to the suburbs in 1996. I’m 42. I drive a mini-van. I have three children, all of whom think my name is spelled “Daaaaaaaaaad” because I’m constantly embarrassing them. I haven’t actually been knocked out by American thighs since the Reagan Presidency. I have a 2 ½ car garage because I need room to store my bevy of lawn care implements. I won’t go into the city during the weekend because the traffic is unbearable.

I was painting an unmistakable picture of myself. I had become Suburban Man.

I came to my senses at the Rand/Elmhurst red light that evening. Somebody needed to turn down that infernal racket in the minivan, and quickly, before some Justin/Zachary pulled into the turn lane and saw the same ridiculous sight as Kimberly/Jennifer. I reached over and slowly returned the volume to its rightful level.

And I have never, and will never, crank the stereo in the minivan again.

The next time Kimberly/Jennifer sees me at a red light, she won’t be alarmed by the delusional man behind the wheel. Everything will look as it should. I may be enjoying a Peter, Paul & Mary song on the soft rock station, but the volume will not reflect the power of the lyrical message. Sure, she might see me singing “If I had hammer, I’d hammer in the morning.”

But it will only be because I’m on the way to the hardware store.

And there better be a parking spot close to the door…

The Origin of City Mom

When Rick asked me to be a guest columnist on his blog, I agreed without hesitation. However, when the time came to actually start writing, I sort of freaked out. I have to write a column? Containing my opinion? About anything? What was I thinking?

I didn’t have any idea of what I would say. Then again, I am the same woman who wrote a 350-page novel. Having something to say, for me, is generally not a problem.

So, I checked out Rick’s blog for inspiration. Good stuff. My favorite bit is Suburban Man. From the safety of the 773 area code, I read about Rick’s suburban trials and tribulations with a smug, self-satisfied smile on my face.

You see, I am City Mom.

Ha ha, I laughed, as Rick lamented his minivan. Ha ha—those suburban stoplights sure are long. Ha ha, Rick got caught rocking-out to some cranked-up AC/DC. Ha-h—

Wait a minute. Could I be envious? Of the stereo in a minivan?

I think about the sound system in our Jeep and— Whoops. I admitted to the Jeep. Now I’ve done it. I’ve admitted to committing the biggest urban parent, City-Mom cop-out: buying an SUV. A minivan in denial.

But I need the Jeep, I tell myself. I need a vehicle large enough to transport the kids (I have two) and the dog (I have one) and all the giant rafts of paper products I need to buy at Costco. And have you ever tried to navigate a Chicago alley in January without four-wheel drive?

Before the kids were born, my husband suggested we get a station wagon. I pretended to be considering it, until a vision of my parents’ blue Grand Torino floated into my head, with a visible shudder. Next suggestion? Minivan, he says. (He’s always been the sensible one.)

Now the shudder transitions to full-blown seizure.

No. No minivans! I am City Mom. City Mom’s are cool. We wear low-rise bell-bottoms. We eat sushi. We don’t drive minivans!

Being cool. That’s what it all boils down to. I can give all sorts of reasons why we chose (Okay, I chose, my husband agreed) to stay in the city. And those may be fodder for another guest blog, if Rick is ever gracious enough to invite me back after all the vitriolic comments I’ll probably receive regarding my disregard, however tongue in cheek, for motherhood in the suburbs. And before any suburban moms write those vitriolic comments filled with examples of their coolness, you should know that I’m not terribly serious about any of this, but, that being said, I am fully capable of driving my Jeep out to any suburb to investigate rumors of suburban fashion sense progressing past 1995. Oh, kidding again. Some of my best friends live in the suburbs. They even wear black.

I love the city and I really, really wanted to raise my children here, but I was surprised at the opposition I faced. Friends and family demanded answers to yet another one of Kimmy’s crazy ideas: Have you thought about schools? What about gangs? How about all crime? I told them my husband and I had lived in the city for eight years and had so far resisted the urge to join a gang, and we’d never once committed a crime. (I don’t think that one incident with the parking ticket and street-cleaning truck should count.)

Perhaps more than anything else, my stubborn nature is what made me refuse to let go of the idea of living in the city with children. “Kids need the suburbs,” I was told. Yeah right. Just like I need my Jeep.

The real reason I love city living is not the restaurants and the museums or the ability to hop in a cab after too much wine at a girlfriend’s house, although I do love all of the above, the real reason is simple. I think it’s cool to live here.

So as I read about Rick, our hero, Suburban Man, perhaps the smile on my face shouldn’t have been so smug. I laughed with him in his embarrassment at being caught rocking-out to AC/DC at a stoplight, but doesn’t my jeep have a Grateful dead sticker on the back?

Perhaps the only difference, other than the obvious one of gender, between Suburban Man and City Mom is the area code. In terms of the quantity of Skittles squished between the cushions of the back seat of his minivan and my Jeep, in terms of petrified french fries under the floor mats, Rick and I are equal. Maybe it’s time we passed on the “baton of cool” to the next generation, to generation Z, or whatever they like to call themselves these days. I really don’t know. That’s how uncool I’ve become. But when I pass on the baton, you can rest-assured, I’ll be wearing my low-rise bell-bottoms and handing it out the window of my Jeep.

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