By Jessie Horney
Boy, am I sick of talking about the real estate market. I can’t even remember what people used to say at dinner parties before we started conversations with “Guess what my neighbors just sold their house for?” The valley is changing, from our tax-assessment values to the number of craft breweries in Garden City. And while I certainly don’t feel old enough to talk about how Boise used to look ‘back in the day,’ when you get a group of natives together (30-somethings included), soon you’ll hear tales of a two-lane Eagle road, long-distant phone calls to Caldwell (that’s not a joke) and a downtown with nary a cool coffee shop in sight.
I don’t need to explain the growth in our state and our cities, because even if you haven’t heard the numbers, you’ve felt the change. And honestly, even if you’re not from here, you are probably annoyed that other people had the audacity to move their families here after you did. There’s more traffic, houses are overpriced, and is it just me or are people grumpier at the grocery store now? The valley feels bigger and more cramped all at once, a crowded version of the open west that we didn’t mean to make.
Well. Ladies and gentlemen, transplants and locals, I have amazing news. I know the way to cure our ills. Would you like fewer cars on the road, more friendly faces on your errands, and that hometown feeling that made us move (or stay) here in the first place? Here’s your solution:
Don’t look for the best piano teacher.
Pay less for the soccer team.
Go to your local school instead of the trendy one across town.
The Big Idea: Live in your own neighborhood.
There is a phenomena amongst us 21st century parents explained like this: Maybe if we give our kids the very best, they will be the very best. And if they’re the very best, maybe their life will be good, and if their life is good, they’ll be happy. We have a strange obsession with our kids’ happiness, fleeting and impossible to measure though it may be, and we have let the world around us play that obsession like an expensive, time-consuming fiddle. I’d love to pretend that I am above (or beyond) such entrapment, but then I put my youngest daughter in ballet. I picked a studio based on the drive time from my house, in keeping with the message I’m preaching in this article, but then something happened. I thought she was good.
She’s 5, so of course she’s not good. Five-year-olds in ballet just look at themselves in the long studio mirror and trip over their own pink slippered feet. “But look at her arm extensions! Look at her strong legs!” I said to myself, convinced of her future in dance. Then I had it: I had the thought that’s contributing to all that traffic that’s making us so mad. I wonder if there’s a better studio than this one. I looked at that preschooler prancing around in a tutu and wondered if maybe I should get her the best teacher I could find.
The best school. The best team. The best church. The best, best, best because anything else isn’t fair to my very special family.
In pursuit of a narrowed version of the dream life, we have spread our lives too thin. It takes discipline to stay close to home. Why meet at the little park when we could drive to the new one? Why go next door for a missing ingredient when we could just pop over to the store and avoid a chatty neighbor? Why settle for the soccer team close to home when we could get our kid on the best team in the city (cost, drive, and lack of talent be damned)?
The why is what matters; we invest in neighborhood resources to keep our connections strong. When we stretch the diameter of our lives too far from home, the line weakens. We don’t know our neighbors. Our kids can’t bike to their classmates’ houses because everyone lives in different parts of the city. People are grumpy at the grocery store because everyone is a stranger and a line of strangers is way worse than a line of friends.
If we want our city to stay warm, connected, and close, then we have to lead the way with our warmth, connection, and proximity to home. We have to remember that little ballerinas don’t need the very best teachers to be happy; they need parents who aren’t stressed by traffic, lack of time, and the chaos of a life lived in pursuit of the top. Your kids don’t need the best piano teacher; they need a community that knows their name and cares about their family. We need each other. And sometimes (a lot of times) that starts by learning our neighbors’ names, walking to the park instead of driving, and learning to love the place where we live.
Jessie Horney is a writer and speaker, and the director of Wonder School, a non-profit preschool in Boise.