The Backbone of the American Dream

If you’d asked me as a teenager, I’d have told you for sure I’d be getting out of here. That there’s no way at 33 years old I’d be living in my hometown where the biggest attraction is the Baseball Hall of Fame, 40 miles away. That I’d be raising a family not two minutes from where I grew up and an hour from a city that only makes national news when its basketball team plays in the Final Four. 

I’d have told you I wanted more. A bigger house in a brand-spanking new development, maybe near a major metropolitan area with bigger and better job opportunities.

But looking back I’m not sure if this was me talking, or the echo of so many voices around me saying that’s what I should do, that’s what I should want or that’s what would make me happy. And as I took my daughter for a walk through our quiet development tucked among clusters of 100 year old trees, it became clear that it was almost certainly the latter.

The sun is shining and birds are chirping. Dots of pink and yellow and purple paint the foreground amidst canopies of blossoming bushes. Spring breathes life into our little neighborhood.

It smells like freedom and fresh-cut grass.

A contribution to post WWII suburbanization, there’s a sense of history and work ethic here, and it’s palpable. The houses are imperfect with chipped paint or dented siding. Some are older cape cods and ranches; some newer, larger colonials; a few small brick cottages scattered throughout. They’re far from the “ticky tacky little boxes” of Melvina Reynolds’s 1962 satire on suburbia—far from shoddy or cookie cutter—all of them physical structures of craftsmanship and strength, beautifully reflective of the hands that built them and each owner’s individual pursuit of the American Dream.

The first people who built lives in quaint suburban neighborhoods like these poured out their blood and sweat and tears so that their children could have better lives.

My grandparents’ childhoods were poverty stricken. Their immigrant families had flocked to this country for the promise of work or freedom from oppression. And with a whole lot of grit and determination they built lives that were comfortable—each subsequent generation starting out a little better off than the last.

I had the pleasure of getting to know the previous owner of our home. She shared with me her family’s story, and some old photos of the house that her parents proudly built as the first and only home they shared together. One photograph shows her as a child held in the framework of the original kitchen window with her father, a wounded war veteran whose fortitude is an inspiration—like that of my father and grandfather and all the brave men who risked their lives for us.

So many stories like these—stories of hardship and hope—are woven into this backdrop. You can feel it in the air—the reality that nothing came easy for the past generations, and that those who are here now work hard every day to maintain what their predecessors carved out for them. 

Beams of lumber lean up against houses and piles of brick pavers lay scattered on lawns—evidence of DIY projects unfolding slowly as they’re squeezed in between family errands and hectic work schedules. Pride of ownership radiates from every rooftop. 

Some people say that undeserving things come too easily to those who don’t work hard. Some insist those who work hard never get what they deserve.

Both can be true, giving me an ever-deepening appreciation for places like this. These sweet spots where tough choices and sacrifice have paid off—where money isn’t spent frivolously and materialism rarely manifests because appreciation is far too abounding. Where there are few thoughts of entitlement and little is taken for granted.

The pursuit of happiness.

The destination of that third one looks different to everyone, and it doesn’t always include the suburbs and a white picket fence

But that’s the beauty of choice in this land of opportunity, and those who have unlocked their unique version of happiness have this in common—they never abandoned determination, hope, humility, and most importantly, gratitude.

Thanks to the sacrifices of those before us, our generation still has freedom. We have possibilities. We have choices.

For our family, choosing to plant our roots where the soil is already saturated with the values we hold dear helps us to never lose sight of that.

A special thanks to the previous owner of our home for sharing her family story and photos.
closeup of two sneakers on a red track surface, blue sky with pine trees in the distance

A New Season

Something changes when you become a writer.

Time slows.

You begin to savor the tiniest experiences.

You breathe in the details and your mind races for the perfect descriptions to relive them through written word.

Simplicities become complexities, yet somehow, everything seems simpler.

Spring is breaking, and it’s a perfect day for a run on the track outside the college
where I work.

I’m completely alone, with no noise but the rustling trees among distant creaks and
bellows of construction equipment. The bite of the hot sun on my forehead is tempered
by the stubborn breeze.

The track ahead is wide and striped, inviting me in like a blank sheet of notepad paper
awaiting a story.

What will the words be today?

There’s no feeling quite like the moments just before that first stride, especially in
solitude. But am I ready? It’s been so long.

I stare down the center lane of the track to where the lines converge and disappear
around the first bend.

It seems so far away.

“4 laps.”
The Mom in me urges in one ear.
“Just 4 laps is a mile—you can handle that.”

The Writer in me argues back.
“Just one lap. Just do one lap and see how it goes. Just take it one step at a time.”

I’m nowhere near the athlete I was before my daughter was born.

It was always my intention to maintain it as much as I could, throughout pregnancy and
after she was born. Not being a very emotionally resilient person, I’ve always defined my personal strength by my physical strength—logic being that if I can’t carry the weight of life with a strong heart, I’ll do it with strong arms and physical endurance. But new priorities yield new bodies, and now it seems I can barely make it up the stairs without feeling winded.

I start down the track at a light jog, and pin my eyes to the rows of pines on the horizon
instead of the next distance marker painted on the brick-red path.

Last year, I may have picked up speed and tried to beat a time.
Today, I pace myself, allowing the wind to fill my lungs with every intentional breath.

Last year, I’d have stayed tight and narrow between the lines.
Today, I waver back and forth across lanes, focused more on relaxing my shoulders
than the placement of each foot.

I don’t want this uninhibited moment to become a chore.
I won’t push myself or chide myself, for once.
I’ll move my body because it feels right, not because I have something to prove.
Today, I want to slow time; to bottle up every intricate detail of this moment so I can
hold this story.

The pounding of my shoes on the hard rubber drowns out the sound of far off voices
and singing birds. I can feel my heartbeat rising and I’m tempted to increase my pace
in tandem, but my chest feels heavy and burdened.

Running is a stranger to me now.

It feels choppy and a little forced—so much different than the smooth glide of my pen
on paper that I’ve come of relish.

I slow my pace to a fast walk rounding the fourth bend, and come to a stop at my
starting place.

I think that’s enough for today.

The track surface is warm and grainy as I lower myself down to my back. I tuck my
hands tightly to my sides and stretch out, perfectly centered between the middle lane
markers, gazing up at the unobstructed sky. Wiry clouds streak across the vast blue
canvas like cotton stretched on a loom. A blissful end to this chapter.

Something changes when you become a mother.

Time quickens.

And the desire to slow it down alters perspectives beyond measure.

I’m not the same person I was before motherhood.
Not physically. Not mentally. Not emotionally.

In this new season I no longer feel controlled by my limitations. I know what my body can do. I’ve seen what my spirit can conquer. Any strength that left my muscles has infiltrated and reenforced my mind. Though my lung capacity has waned, my heart is overflowing with love.

In these poetic complexities—this is where my time slows.

In embracing new gifts—this is where everything feels simpler.

And in this new season, my life is full.