Inch by inch

The house is original to the town.  It is tall and yellow, with a giant lawn that flows into the lawn on either side.  There are no fences allowed here in Rockwelland; children stay more or less in their own yards, unless they are playing a game that requires a little more space, in which case they take over the neighbor’s yard by eminent domain.  There will be room for a garden, although I have been warned that it is often hard to find a spot where the trees allow in enough sunshine.  No matter – there is a spot on the front corner of the lot that seems to be far from any trees.  I drive by slowly whenever I can, picturing tomato vines and broccoli plants.

There are six bedrooms, seven if you count the office.  More space than we need right now, considering that all three children have decided to bunk together.  There will be space for the toys, for the art, and – my long-time dream – a room for the books.  Virginia Woolf would be thrilled to know just how many woman authors are finally getting a room of their own.

The kitchen is large.  They knocked down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room when they redid the house fifteen years ago, perhaps not imagining that they would have an awfully hard time selling the house without a formal dining room.  The house has sat and sat with a bedraggled little “For Sale” sign on the front yard, right where my garden will grow.   It is a victim of a devastated housing market and a missing dining room.

To me, of course, a giant kitchen is perfect. The kids can play and snack and draw and eat their boogers and do homework while gazing upon my loveliness as I cook.  Someday, if we feel the need for a formal dining room, we can expand onto the porch that spreads out all the way along two sides of the house.

It is not perfect.  The bathrooms will eventually need retiling, which makes visions of Home Depot dance in J’s head.  There is a one-car, detached garage.  The cellar leaks in one corner.  But it is a good house, one that has been a home and knows how to do the job right.

So, why the sudden doubts, just days before we finalized a contract?

As far as I can tell, it was a sophisticated case of cold feet.  Or perhaps not so sophisticated.  This town feels wildly unfamiliar.  It is a small town, but sometimes it feels like people are playing at being small town.  People move here from New York or Boston or L.A., looking for the small-town life, but in meaningful ways trying to recreate the lifestyle they had in their big cities.

Sort of like us.

The slowness scares me.  The whiteness terrifies me.  The fact that all the adults are over 30 and under 55 mystifies me.  And the predominance of Christians shocks me in just exactly the manner of a shower suddenly running out of hot water.

I grew up in a culture of Jewish superiority.  We may be short with bad eyes and a tendency towards allergies and asthma, but Jews are smart.  That’s why we predominate the Ivy League, Wall Street, and academia.  That’s why that whole conspiracy we’ve got going on will eventually result in world domination.  Of course, there are other smart people out there, but we know full well that none of them are as smart as we are.

The dumbest of the dumbasses, of course, are WASPs.  They are nice to look at, what with all that shining blond hair and those pretty straight teeth.  But, come on, we all know that Jews are smarter than Christians, especially the white ones.

While we’re at it, Jews are more liberal and tolerant than WASPs, too.  The only exceptions to the Jews-Are-Smarter Rule are blacks, Hispanics, and Indigenous People of assorted sizes and colors.  (We’d include Asians in there, except they already have their own stereotypes of superior intelligence.)  Those folks have been historically downtrodden, so we can ramble on and on about how there is value in all shapes and colors, all the while secretly knowing they can’t be as smart as we are.  Because Jewish people are smarter.

One of the most shocking discoveries I have made in the last ten years is that white Christians can be intelligent, accepting, interesting, warm, and funny, just as easily as they can be dumb, intolerant, boring, cold, and crass.  Or they can be some combination of those traits.  Imagine my surprise to learn that Jewish people are not, indeed, superior.  Yes, there are reasons for stereotypes, and I’ll buy that every generalization has some truth in it.  But, I am going to let you in on a very, very well-kept secret: there are stupid Jewish people, too.

Just, please, for the love of God, don’t tell anyone.  We’re only just now recovering from Zachary’s decision to debunk Santa Claus – let’s leave a few myths intact, OK?

When I first went to college, I was all afire with liberal fervor and a commitment to diversity.  Somehow, I made it through an entire undergraduate degree at a world-class university without realizing how completely limited my dedication to diversity really was.  It included Democrats but not Republicans, blacks as long as they weren’t Muslims, and men as long as they were either gay or involved in theater, two things that were by no means mutually exclusive.

It was not until my mid-twenties that I finally began to realize that people who believe in God are not necessarily gullible sheep or frightening fanatics.  I didn’t fully come to terms with that until a couple of years ago.  Other things I have learned along the way: having family money doesn’t automatically make a person soulless and being Latino doesn’t necessarily make a man a fantastic lover.  For the record, however, I have yet to find an Italian who can’t cook.  Again, sometimes there are reasons for stereotypes.

And Democrats do not hold the title to environmental awareness, compassion, fairness, commitment to the schools, or desire for peace.  There are plenty of Republicans flying those flags, not to mention people in other parties.

Of course, having learned such important lessons doesn’t stop me from falling back on what is comfortable and known.  Diversetown appeals to me because it is familiar.  I know the lay of the land in an urban-suburban community with lots of colors and economic statuses but only one world-view.  A big yellow house in an all-white town?  Not so clear on how to maneuver that.

Diversetown has plenty of activities to distract a girl from her own thoughts.  Places to go!  Shops to visit!  Groups to join!  Rockwelland has trees.  And lakes for skating.  And a whole fuckload of snow.

So, I freaked the hell out, to put not-so-fine a point on it.  I don’t know how to live a quiet life.  I may not be able to.  I don’t know how to live in a town where people are white and Christian and even possibly Republicans.  Hell, I just moved from West L.A.

Diversetown is awfully appealing.  I know how to go out and distract myself by browsing in a bookstore.  People there think like I do, vote like I do, and practice religion like I do, which is more or less ambivalently.

If only the schools were better.

We hit Diversetown this week, strolling the streets, talking to people in restaurants and grocery stores.  We called acquaintances.  How do you like your school?  How many kids are in your son’s second-grade class?  Is there a gifted program?

“No,” came the reply.  “There is absolutely not a gifted program in Diversetown.”

“How do the schools serve kids who need those programs?” I asked.

“Look, we all want the same things for our kids,” was the answer.  “We all want to believe our kids are gifted.” OK, whatever.  Personally, I’d like to believe my kids are happy and getting what they need out of their schools, but I understand why someone would think I am just bragging about my children and their superior intelligence.  But the question is still out there.  What do the schools do with a kid who is young for the grade but far beyond the curriculum?

“Well, these are all really smart parents, so the kids are all really bright, too.  These aren’t the kids of some big, dumb WASP.”

And there you have it.  That very attitude I have spent a decade and a half trying to train myself out of.  Christians aren’t as smart as Jews, but they have great genes for height.

I don’t need it.

We don’t need it.  We don’t need to immerse ourselves in a community that stands on its head to prove how liberal it is.  I have earned my liberal stripes, thankyouverymuch, and I don’t need a zip code to prove it.  What we need is a place where we can slow our lives down, stop being so impressed with ourselves, and just take some time to live.  Baking bread takes time and peace, and it can be as much of a political act as attending a protest.

“That is all very well,” Candide once said.  “But we must go and work in the garden.”

I’m going with the big yellow house.  And the bakfiets.  And the garden in the front corner of the yard.  And the white neighbor who doesn’t give a shit what religion or political stripe or skin color I am because she’s too busy reminding my kids to wear a bike helmet.  I hope that, as a part of this community, we will work to make it welcoming to all those who want to live here.

I hope we’re smart enough for that.

25 responses to “Inch by inch

  1. Go you!

    I’m 5’2″, have naturally dark, curly hair and an ethnic nose. I also think I’m pretty damn smart. There must be some tribe members in the family tree somewhere.

    SIX bedrooms??? How awesome. Except I would be tempted to fill them. (-;

  2. Yay on the bakfiets!

    And I hope that you will be very happy in your new house. I am totally in awe of the number of bedrooms.

  3. I love you, you know?

  4. Glad for you. I thought it was cold feet. We don’t regret choosing a place to slow down. The smarty-pants are here, but there is quite an abundance of the other end of the spectrum (they don’t call it Pennsatukey for nothin’). But I think it will make us a better family. Hope you post a shot of the house! (oh, and don’t forget to test the soil for lead before your planting — had a friend get burned with that after harvesting by her old home).

  5. It sounds like a lovely house. I hope it brings you peace and joy.

  6. I have to admit, Emily, I almost gave up on you with that last post. Your kids can learn plenty of things from this community that they would never learn from the evening news–that ALL people are people, and that white people, and Christians, and yes, even Republicans, are not inherently evil, love their kids, and want what’s best for this world.

  7. I would be interested in what you do with all those bedrooms, since I’m about to have six bedrooms myself and don’t know what to do. I’m thinking master bedroom, potential nursery, Little Girl’s bedroom, office, playroom/guest room (not sure about that one), and closet/craft room. And if you are moved to put up pictures, yay!

  8. “I have earned my liberal stripes, thankyouverymuch, and I don’t need a zip code to prove it.”

    Nodding emphatically at that one.

  9. Besides our remarkable height, did I mention my four year old is 4 ft tall, other nice things about my experience in small white Republican town include neighbors that loan you their rototiller in the summer and snowblower in the winter and mow your lawn while you’re in the hospital. Neighbors that let you have free picking of their fruit trees. Enough property taxes being collected to have a really nice rec center complete with 3 pools. Always having your groceries carried to the car by high school boys who don’t expect a tip. Teens can be teens, toilet papering and whatnot, without fear of being picked up as a criminal. Small enough that if teens are making noise in front of your house in the middle of the night and you point a flashlight at them and say, “I’m calling your parents!” they believe you and scatter.

    I also take a lot of joy in my veggie garden.

    • Seriously? Your four year old is four feet tall? You could add my three and five year olds together and get just about that…

      • Yes. He’s been 48 inches for about 6 months. He’ll be 5 in 2 weeks though. He towers over the rest of the preschool, except for two other kids who are within a couple inches of him.

  10. “I have earned my liberal stripes, thankyouverymuch, and I don’t need a zip code to prove it.”

    Yes on this! Have a similar story, we just moved from West Hollywood three months ago to a very white suburb (of Los Angeles still…so okay, not quite the jump you’ve made) and grappled with these same issues when we bought our house.

    After three months we know our neighbors, countless plates of cookies have been brought over, open house invitations, etc. (We didn’t know a single neighbor in our old neighborhood and we lived there for 10 years.) We planted a garden and our kids can go to an amazing public school. Like, for free.

    Anyway I relate. Probably because I also am smarter than everyone else. 😉

  11. Simply love your blog, Emily. I’m glad you chose your yellow house and know you will be happy there.

  12. you will find peace and joy in your new home (and probably frustration and chaos as well, but I predict more of the former). it is not always easy to live in a world that feels so different from you, but there is much to learn. And to teach.

  13. Emily, congratulations on your new home and neighborhood. As always, I really enjoy reading your writing as things are unfolding for you. I am envious of the many bedrooms….

  14. You plant your garden, and I hope everyone else plants one too. Bit by little bit.

  15. I am sure that you will make you house a home, and that one way or another, you will make a difference around you.

  16. you are a brave soul & an honest one. may you find that peace in your yellow house!

  17. Wonderful – and isn’t it fun that settling for quiet and safe is, for you, new ground and an adventure? Life is marvelous!

  18. I’m glad to know you feel this way…I know we diverge on quite a few issues, some posts leaving me so breathlessly shocked that I can’t even comment, but I’m so glad when I see ones like this- that somewhere under (both of our) unqualified, uncompromising exteriors, you have unbridled hope in some of the same things I do.
    A hearty congratulations on your choice- I hope you and yours are blessed in abundance by the new (and sometimes scary) surroundings!

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  20. Sorry I’ve been meaning to come back to this and your email, for which I thank you. I hope you didn’t think I was judging you in any way, I just couldn’t out my finger on what bothered me. You write so well and I admire how you work things out in a public space like this.

    I believe, from your writing, that you are definitely smart enough to make the best out of any choice that you make. Moving to a new place like this takes great courage and energy, I wish you and yours every strength and good fortune as you navigate these new seas.


  21. “out my finger” up there = put my finger – sorry

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