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?