This is Not my Home

A Perfect Post

San Diego for the weekend. Encinitas. A small beach town. The place I grew up. Hardly recognizable. Things change, I guess. I moved away about seven years ago. Change. Bigger and better and faster. Change. Welcome to America. Welcome to Suburbia. Blondes are getting blonder. The old are looking younger. Cars are getting bigger. Windows are more tinted. Houses are swelling, bloated and closer together until everything begins to look the same. Everything is the same. Is this Utopia? Hardly able to recognize how.




My old second grade class. My old second grade teacher. Now grey-haired. I sit before the class and read old stories and ask questions and write words on the board.

'A word is worth a thousand pictures.' I tell them.

They write it down.

The classroom is seemingly smaller every year I come to speak to Mr. R's second grade class. Some of the children from last year return to the classroom where they say hello and ask me to sign an autograph on their arm. They think I am famous because I live in Los Angeles. Because I once wrote for some crummy book series, because I was the homecoming queen at the High School up the street.

'Will you sign my t-shirt.'

'I'm afraid you might get into trouble.'

'I don't care.'

'Okay, then. Good.'

I watch the children, listening as they tell me about their favorite stories and how when they grow up they want to be writers too. We write a story together about the beach, and soon enough the bell rings and the children leave me alone with my old teacher.

I ask him how everything is and he tells me about the new rules. He explains that two children were suspended a month ago for kissing on the playground. My jaw drops in shock and he sees me and shakes his head.

'It's really sad what's happening...' He says. 'People are so afraid, these days.'

I tell him about my kindergarten and how there was a little boy and his name was Michael and we used to kiss under the slide. It was the beginning of boys and flirting and tingles and I wouldn't have traded my naive childish excitement for anything. Not even an ice cream cone on a summer day.


'They were suspended for a week,' he repeats.

'For kissing?'

Mr. R nods his head.

I don't know what to say. I shake my head and we both stare at the wall and say nothing. I am shocked. What man/woman writes this rule book, punishing children for being curious?

I stop thinking about it because it makes me sad.

I leave the classroom at the bell and walk out to my car. Its still early so I decide to grab lunch and spend an hour or so down by the beach. And so I drive:




I drive past what used to be the cow fields where my friends and I used to pick dandelions and look for four leaf clovers, the hidden valley where I smoked my first cigarette, and the wetland where I used to follow the neighborhood boys in the summer. (I used to call it fairyland.) Not anymore. No more fairy lands and meadows and cow fields. These places have long since gone. Now, a hillside covered with tract homes. A meadow covered with tract homes. A wetland, now dry and dead covered with tract homes.

I drive out toward the beach, park and walk up to the viewpoint, taking a seat on a memorial bench, in loving memory of a boy from my class who died. There are four benches. All boys that I went to school with, now dead. I remember attending each funeral.

I take a seat and look out across the beach. Moonlight Beach, my old friend. We used to make out on the bluff at dusk bare feet dangling over the sand. The bluff is now blocked off.

'Private Property. Keep Out.'

'Danger, Keep Away.'

I find a group of tall blondes in bikinis. I remember when I used to look like that. Tall, tan and busty with long yellow hair tangled in my bathing suit ties. I watch them without being seen. I could watch for hours and they wouldn't notice me. I am quiet these days. Pale, smaller in bust, larger in thigh, hair darker and longer. I am as unrecognizable as this place that I stand from. The lookout point and me, two strangers in disguise.

I try to relate to the scene playing out beneath me. The girls. The place. The time. But I cannot. They are supposed to be my past but in them I see nothing. Not a trace of my youth. I find it odd, disheartening even. I lean against the sign. Danger. You might fall off the edge.

Is this my home?

Children suspended for kissing. Fields bulldozed for tract homes. Flower fields replaced with strip malls. Starbucks and Petsmart(s) and Bed Bath and Beyond(s). There used to be ponds with crawdads, and playgrounds to kiss the boys on. There used to be bluffs to dangle your feet from. There used to be magic.

This is not my home.

I do not recognize this town. New with stucco and easy listening music. SUVs and Ten year olds buying diet books at Barnes and Noble. This is where I come from? My history?



A picture is worth a thousand words. A thousand thoughts. A thousand questions. I point to my past and say 'I was here,' except in all reality, I never was. I was a child here, under all of this, in the dirt and the sea and the sand and the fields and the playgrounds where kids were kids and boys were allowed to like girls. Yes. It has been buried. Six feet under. There is nothing left except perhaps a few bones.

There are far too many rules to be a child now. There are far too many capitalists to save a quiet little beach down. A quiet suburbia. I was a child here once upon a time, long ago in the good old days.

How scary, I'm only twenty-four.

Suburban roots die young. Trees must be replaced with storage units and apartment complexes. Schools don't have the money to risk sexual harassment suits.

And as the school board cuts down the trees to use the paper to print their lousy rulebooks, I fear for my son. I really do.


GGC

40 comments:

Gina | 10:51 PM

I head home this summer for the first time in 3 years... almost 10 years since I graduated from that town. I fear what you just described. Fabulous post!

sunshine scribe | 4:10 AM

That was an exceptional post. I feel so sad and frustrated for your town and can undersand completely why you fear for your son.

Similar things have happened to the uptopia of a small town that I grew up in as well. It breaks my heart.

You are a great writer ... worthy of those children needing your autograph on their t-shirts :)

motherhooduncensored | 5:13 AM

I felt mixed emotions when reading your post - as always - sucked in by your writing and then saddened by your tales of suburbia gone very wrong.

If you read Warner's Perfect Madness, she blames a lot of our "fears" about public schools and social change to our own anxiety - however, I'm a firm believer that times of changed - less responsibility on parental roles - leaving schools to do the work - thus changing the atmosphere of what goes on. I'm not anxious - just worried like you.

MetroDad | 6:12 AM

Beautiful, sad, and touching post, GGC. I guess it's true what they say. You can't go home again.

Her Bad Mother | 6:22 AM

All that I could think while reading this was: eulogy. Funeral oration. Deeply felt ode to things (childhood, innocence, the idylls of our past, all that was once unspoiled) now gone.

The blessing of writing: keeping these things alive on the (real or virtual) page. The curse? Knowing to your bones that it is just a page.

Still. In eulogizing, you participate again, you really participate, however briefly, in those lost things. And, perhaps, appreciate them in a way that you couldn't when they were off the page...

Mrs. Chicky | 7:32 AM

Beautiful. Both deeply personal and yet all encompassing.

To pick one point out from the rest: It makes me sad every time I see report on the news of a young child being suspended or expelled for hugging or kissing another child. In another decade or two we'll have a generation of people who have no need or desire to have personal contact with another person. IM, email, cell phones and now no innocent touch from another child. What are we teaching our children?

kittenpie | 7:54 AM

This is lovely, girl. And I agree, it's getting harder to escape the plastic and find the magic. This is why we spend time at the park, not in front of the TV. Why although I live in the city and love it, we plan to buy a cottage so that she can spend lazy summers there discovering bugs hidden under rocks, birds and cicadas singing, fish jumping, and the silky calmness of sitting in a canoe at sundown. I want her to have some of the very magic you describe in such wistful tones.

Andrea | 8:31 AM

Once again, you have wowed me with your words. You bring to life so many of the things I've thought about since having a child, the things I think when I see the chain stores building up around me like gargantuan monoliths of the almighty dollar. In our quest for a faster, easier life through electronics and familiar stores in every town, we're stamping out the simple things, like dangling feet and tree climbing and k-i-s-s-i-n-g kids. I'm just as guilty of it as the next suburban shopper in my big SUV and my Old Navy penchant. But how do we stop it when those choices are becoming all that's left for us? I too, fear for the our kids and their ability to imagine as well. When I get home tonight, I'm taking my son for a walk and I'm not going to stop him from shoveling in the dirt or making mud pies.

Kristen | 11:18 AM

It is heartbreaking how much things have changed and how much things do change in such a small amount of time.

Christina | 11:32 AM

You just brought my childhood memories flooding back in to my brain in a few hundred words. My small hometown also has changed so much since I was there.

The bakery I grew up across the street from is gone, the creepy abadoned house down the street has been replaced with condos, and they're preparing to tear down my elementary school to build a better one.

What's really sad is that no place is considered safe anymore. I remember playing outside until it got dark every night, while my mom was inside not watching me. I can't imagine letting my daughter play outside until dark when she's 5 years old.

But thank you for helping bring back those memories. It felt bittersweet.

gingajoy | 11:36 AM

and you're only 24... i live in a relatively depressed midwistern city--industrial. but i live in an urban neighborhood, older homes being renovated and families and children who are all interconnected. i love this place.

it's when i begin to drive out the outer layers of the city and the revedeloped farmlands and malls that try to replicate the "downtown feel" with sidewalks and lamposts, and piped music--it's then that i get depressed.


beautifully written, GGC.

J's Mommy | 11:41 AM

Great post - very well written. I have to tell you though, I kept coming back to the part where you said you were only 24 years old! How wise for your age!!!

Carola | 11:57 AM

On a more positive note, this is something that all generations have to face, and trust me, your child will have the best memories of his childhood even if you fear he won't experience it the same way you did...and when he turns 24 he will look back and see -as you do now- that nothing around him looks the way it did when he was a child. Times change, not always for the best, but we can still make something good out of it.

grayelephant | 12:45 PM

i really enjoyed reading this post. it was beautifully written.

kvetch | 1:25 PM

So well written - I can picture it all - and then it brings to mind my own children. Much farther away than your own, but the ice cream shop turned bowling alley turned strip mall means I have nothing to show my own kids when we drive by. "Oh that used to be the bowling alley where I hung out when I was your age. And before that, it was this cool western/cowboy ice cream place. Yes, kids, look at the Payless Shoe Source and IMAGINE."

Kvetch | 1:27 PM

Ok, I meant much farther away than my own CHILDHOOD. I'm 42.

Emily | 1:41 PM

Very touching, and very sad...so many things we say goodbye to over the years, things we don't even realize we are leaving behind...

((hugs))

Mommy off the Record | 1:44 PM

What a beautifully written post. It is truly sad to go back to a place you once lived and find it not just changed, but almost violated.

It is hard to see CA get paved over in so many places. Even up in Northern CA where I live, the farmers are being bought our left and right so that track homes and big box stores can be built. What will be left for our kids but a concrete playground?

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 3:16 PM

Ack. I know. It makes me sad and sick and scared. It makes me want to leave America. The "dream" is forced down our throats. I want none of this manufactured living and ironically I feel the only way to escape it is to stay in the city.

Mom101 | 3:40 PM

This has left me breathless. A stunning portrait of not just the changes in your hometown but the changes in you.

You should not just be "famous," you should be famous. A perfect post if I've ever seen one.

rhonda | 4:30 PM

What an amazing post. I fear for my kiddos too :(

Jason | 4:53 PM

Great post - hit home for me as we live in Encinitas, across the street from the ocean, in the house where my dad spent a few of his teenage years, and where I spent many a summer as a kid. We'll most likely be moving out by year's end; my grandma will sell the place, and it'll be razed to make way for a McMansion.

reluctant housewife | 5:34 PM

This was beautifully written! With every post we get to know you a little better.

Petite Mom Blogger | 7:32 PM

I really enjoyed reading this post. You are an amazing writer. I,too, worry about things have changed and how those changes, too me, aren't for the better.

Looking back on how school was for me and how it is now is frightening. That is why I am constantly leaning towards homeschooling my children.

Jamie | 9:22 PM

This post really moved me. The golf course across from my husband's childhood home, the little house where his parents have lived for more than 30 years, has been bulldozed and stripped and tract homes are being constructed. They cut down massive evergreen trees. There was a meadow and woods and now there is a WalMart and a strip mall. It is sad. Thanks for sharing this moment.

Pattie | 5:55 AM

Hi. I'm a first time commenter. Found you through Another Mommy Moment.

This was a wonderfully written post and so true. Kids are not allowed to be kids anymore. The simplicities of childhood are lost, and it is sad.

I had a similar experience going home recently...houses razed to make way for an airport expansion...stories of Kindergarten kids getting charged for "sexual harassment" for kissing little Suzie on the playground *shakes head* Sad, so Sad...

d_evans | 9:36 AM

Wow. You made me tear up inside. Been reading your blog for awhile now and your last post made me think I should at least comment. This post is amazing and really makes you think. Thank you.

Dutch | 12:29 PM

what's even more sad is how universal this feeling is. so many of us can't go home anymore, because Wal-Mart bought it an built a supercenter there (or something along those lines).

Stephanie T. | 8:13 AM

Thanks to Mom-101 for directing me to this truly "perfect post." Beautifully written, touching and sad.

I'll be adding your blog to my daily reads from here on out.

Kristin | 9:12 AM

I clicked here from Mom 101 and you captured the haunting morphing of suburbia in a really heartfelt way.

I am with Stefanie above, you're bookmarked.

Stacy | 10:53 AM

Mom-101 pointed my way here. She's right. Perfect post. Bravo!

Funny finding you today. I also cliched today about a picture being worth a thousand words on my blog.

modmom | 12:21 PM

great post!

Stephanie A. | 1:11 PM

This is a fantastic post. Very touching and sad. Fantastic writing.

But the entire time I was wondering- how did you get "smaller in bust"? What I wouldn't give to be smaller in bust.

Suburban Turmoil | 1:16 PM

Brilliant work. I love this post. Congratulations on your award. You deserve it!

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 1:26 PM

Stephanie A-

*cough* two breast-reductions *cough*

Jozet | 7:50 PM

Beautifully written. Very much a "perfect post".

neva | 8:29 PM

stunning post... i know the area you describe only too well. strike that. i knew the area you describe--tho' it's been a good 20 years since i set foot there.

just keep looking forward, because, as you so poetically discovered/noted, you can never go back. but, that's okay, because that's not where your life is... it's in front of you, where it's always been.

congratulations on a well-deserved "perfect post".

Nancy | 6:06 PM

Came here via Mom-101. Beautiful and touching post -- it is always strange to go home and see what's the same and what has changed.

Rebecca | 12:00 PM

You're an amazing writer. I somehow came upon this while looking for a memorial for my best friend who died falling off the H Street look out two years ago. Things have changed here, it was touching to read what you had to say.

meanie | 9:10 AM

don't know if your are a social distortion fan or not, but this reminds me so much of their song "story of my life" ....that song has always resonated with me, everything changing, trying to get something back that isn't there any more....