Bizarro Army Stepford Neighborhood

Bizarro Army Stepford Neighborhood September 20, 2013
Our Lovely Army Duplex

The Army has plunked us down in beautiful Kansas, but boy is our neighborhood strange. We are back in the States for the first time in five years, after a lovely stint in Germany and we chose to live on the Army base here. For those of you who do not have experience with the military pay structure, every time our family moves we are given two options: 1) live in the appropriate size house on the Army post where my husband works or 2) accept a housing pay allowance to live off-post at an appropriate size house which we must find ourselves. Clearly there are pros and cons of both, but since we will only be here for one academic year, we chose to live in the Army house this time.

So here is the strange thing. These homes are grouped in neighborhoods based on the soldier’s rank and family size. That means all of my neighbors are within a few years of my age, have the same exact family income and roughly the same number of kids. We may have all landed in Kansas from different parts of the country and fairly different upbringings, but after ten years as Army families, there is a lot of sameness. There are probably 75 American Girl Dolls living within a 1/2 block stretch of me. Moms talk about pre-schools and soccer teams and Crossfit and our next duty assignment. There is a great deal that is comforting and it sure is easy to make friends, but it feels a bit artificial to me. I mean, where are the elderly people I teach my children to greet in the morning? Where is the mentor mom whose children have just left for college and who reminds me that these toddler years are fleeting? Additionally, the drama of a zillion 8-year-old girls trying to be friends is taxing. These girls can see out their bedroom windows when someone goes into someone else’s front door and then they go ring that doorbell. Soon you have 5 girls upstairs in your house whispering down the stairs not to answer the door if so-and-so shows up. When a set of friends sets up a lemonade stand on one side of the street, there is a competing jewelry stand 30 feet down on the other side. We had to put a carabeaner lock on our classy chain-link fence in order to stop random 5 year old boys from jumping on our trampoline without us outside.

Truly, it is pretty wild living in my neighborhood. A bunch of thirty-somethings with larger-than-average families and Dads working really hard. It is a strange little fake commune that I don’t think exists anywhere else after college. Maybe assisted living communities will be similar when I am there in 50 years, but right now this feels pretty strange.

So, tell me, what is a “real” U.S. neighborhood like? Does the same thing happen  — where age and socio-economic status group you homogeneously and create drama and envy, or does a variety of ages and professions keep things a bit more real?

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  • Kat0427

    AWOL, this is a fun glimpse into your life, thanks for sharing! I would say that most neighborhoods that I have lived in have been more balanced in terms of age group and family size. Some of the neighborhoods that I have lived in have been more socio-economically diverse than others – I would guess that the more urban you get, the more diversity there is socio-ecnomocially in a neighborhood, but I could be wrong about that. Young families are always looking for good elementary schools, so there will be some grouping around those as well.
    I always tell people that the most diverse place that I go on a regular basis is Mass! We see all ages, races, socio-economic groups, backgrounds, etc., and it is wonderful!

  • Juris Mater

    This is HILARIOUS, AWOL. I enjoyed every word. I guess living around people who mostly share your values and priorities is better than most current alternatives, but you’re right, on the flip side, a completely homogeneous community is a totally bizarre experience. Your commentary is priceless. Do you think you’ll live off the base next time?

  • FYW

    It really does sound like a Stepford neighborhood! It sounds so ideal on one hand but a bit unsettling on the other. And the girl drama! haha.

    At least in my neighborhood in DC, what Kat said is true! With the public schools being what they are in DC proper, there isn’t as much clumping I would say as perhaps in the suburbs where people move to be in good school districts. I guess we also live in an “up and coming” neighborhoods so perhaps the diversity will slowly disappear as gentrification continues, but I hope not! We have retired nuns in the house behind ours, a house full of young professionals next door, a reclusive middle-aged couple on the other side, a sort of halfway house 2 doors down, an older woman across the street, college students and a young family further down the block etc etc., all of various races. It is a wonderful community to be in! It is very different from the suburban neighborhood I grew up in, but even that was probably more diverse that what you are describing!

  • Bethany

    Wow, AWOL, this takes me back to life on Ft. Carson, where within a stone’s throw I had 4 best friends who were all 20-something teachers with dogs. It was an ideal world for a wife dealing with a deployed husband and trying to keep busy, but I can imagine adding kids to the mix would have made it that much more complicated. In a way, it’s almost as if you can never get away from the military–for your hub at work, at school (thankfully you’re homeschooling!), at home. I will be praying for your endurance in this new world. Undoubtedly you will settle in and find great friends, navigating your way through what will be a wonderful year in Kansas! Welcome back to the States!! Wish we lived down the road and could pop in for dinner… all 7 of us. 😉

  • I do think urban areas are more mixed communities. What you wrote reminded me very much of the suburbs where I grew up. We tried to avoid those cookie cutter developments when we bought our house…but those developments do have their advantages.

  • Completely agree about Mass being the most diverse place we visit regularly. This is not the case, however, if you live in a very wealthy area.

  • AWOL_Mommy

    our chapel with daily Mass is even on-Post… no escape, ahhhhh!!

  • AWOL_Mommy

    JM, I am sort of addicted to on-post living because of how much it enables us to see Daddy. He bikes to work, we can bring him his lunch when I fail to put it in his bag, etc. ALL the trade-offs are worth that.

  • AWOL_Mommy

    B, your neighborhood there was so special. Remember when you saw E and I walking up hills near the hospital when I was 41.5 weeks pregnant with Viv and trying to induce labor? During OIF 1, with your soldier deployed, that was a no-brainer… simply gotta be on post. We would take all seven of you any day!

  • Mary Alice

    Wonderful! It feels like graduate school housing, we did that for three years as well, we called it the family dorm, because we were all pregnant with toddlers and totally broke, but it was wonderful. It is reassuring in some ways to be around people with similar incomes, because in graduate school everything was potluck and birthday parties were cupcakes at the playground, there was no one to keep up with and no bounce castles to envy.

    Our suburban neighborhood is a little bit more mixed, there are some people with older kids and some empty nests, but the truth is that the people we see all have kids around the same age, and we do have kids running in and out of each others houses and we do have to set boundaries. We don’t have too much drama though, I don’t think we have the critical mass for that, and the moms are all friendly enough that we try hard to make the kids inclusive.

    I saw some awesome posters once that neighbors put up on the front doors “we can play” or “we can’t play” I have been thinking of doing that because ringing the doorbell is pretty disruptive if we have things like piano practice going on.

  • AWOL_Mommy

    Those posters are ingenious, but I have to find a way to make them friendly to pre-readers as well. Some that ring our doorbell are 4 or 5!

  • Mike Miller

    Being much older, it seems like the kind of world I grew up in…and it certainly was great fun as a child to have many brothers and sisters and a large supply of local kids to pal around with! Enjoy.

  • Tessa Evans

    This is a real US neighborhood. I grew up in it. We always lived on post…10 of them. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

  • Mary Alice

    Pre readers! Be mindful of the gift it is to your children to live in a neighborhood where little ones can be out on their own like that — it is an old fashioned and wonderful situation that they will have to work out a lot of things without hovering parents, they will ride bikes and scooters and get chalk all over everything and make their own fun.

    By the way, all of our neighbors know our schedule for “doing school” so they don’t ring our doorbell when it is school hours, even those who are in preschool and looking for playmates in the early afternoon. I had to be really strict about this in the beginning.

  • Chels.

    This reminds me of when I was a kid! Even living off base was the same because MOST of our neighbors had army brats 🙂 It was great, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The neighborhood I live in now is much different. I’m the youngest, a few of my neighbors are in their 40s and grew up with each other, the rest are 60+ and I wouldn’t know their homes were inhabited otherwise. My kids have a couple young neighbors they COULD play with on either side, but in the techy age we live in there is not NEAR as much outdoor play as there was when I was a kid!

  • Jennifer Bailey

    Sounds like what we have at West Point! Neighborhoods full of kids and a constant ringing of the doorbell. We do cover our doorbell with a “STOP” sign that even the littlest of kids understand. Honestly, the hardest part of West Point for me has been the fact that every parent wants their children in piano lessons. It made it extremely difficult to find a teacher. We were waitlisted for a YEAR! Miss you guys and wish we were all at ILE together!