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May 21 2013

Since Living in the Suburbs, I Need to Take More Risks

By at 9:28 am

subway entrance new yorkWhen your hottest social engagement is taking your toddler and baby to Tasti D-Lite and then proceeding to read four different Curious George books at bedtime, you may have fallen into a bit of a rut. I know I have.

First, a disclaimer: I love my kids, Tasti D-Lite, and Curious George (and in that exact order), and I am more than happy to spend any free time I have in things that involve all of those elements. And my dismay at falling into a rut feels a bit disingenuous when my husband constantly implores me to institute some sort of official date night, or when he supports my much-coveted “me time” by doing more than his share.

But the real issue at hand is something a little different than needing a date night (which yes, honey, I do want to set up at some point) or being able to veg out on the couch with a book. Since moving to the suburbs and getting over the unique thrill that is driving on New Jersey highways, I’ve become a little vanilla–or more vanilla than usual, since my edginess before moving to Jersey basically consisted of taking a Women’s Studies class in college, and, for a time, having two earring holes in each ear instead of one. I know: crazy.

Basically, I’ve come to realize that I almost never take risks, challenge myself to do things that scare me a little bit, or even just step outside my normal routine. My days are mostly work, dinner, and bedtime with my kids before, finally, a grocery store run or other assorted errand before catching up on TV while falling asleep on the couch. I could just shut up and enjoy convention, because anyone who’s gainfully employed and has people who shriek with joy when she comes home at night has no real grounds to complain. But while there’s no genuine need to step outside of an established comfort zone, one could argue that remaining firmly entrenched there makes it impossible to grow as a person.

My real wakeup call came three weeks ago, when I took the subway for the first time in over two years of suburban living for an appointment in Midtown Manhattan. I used to hang out in the city every chance I got, spending entire days just walking through it, but I hadn’t done that in over two years either.

The entire experience went a little like how it must go for a pro-athlete who becomes a couch potato for a decade and then decides to work out again: in other words, embarrassingly, and resulting in sore muscles.

It was like my own little Requiem for a Dream: everything was faster, brighter, and louder. Where I once thrived on seamlessly weaving in and out of crowds with the beauty and symmetry of a dancer’s fluid motions, I was now clumsy and flatfooted, miscalculating the space between elbows and hips and narrowly missing collisions. When self-appointed subway platform preachers exhorted all of us to repent or risk entering Hell, I paused to hear more, my first mistake, and then received a sharp elbow bump, leading to my second mistake, when I actually looked for an apology (everyone knows that being a true Manhattanite means never having to say you’re sorry). Upon exiting the subway, I didn’t stride confidently to my destination but instead, asked for directions.

Adding insult to near-injury, my fall from urban grace culminated in getting hopelessly lost in the Port Authority’s Bus Terminal, or what I now call the Labyrinth (minus the Minotaur). The wayward and the drunk weren’t the only ones crying angry tears and muttering incoherently under their breath in the terminal that evening.

Since I finally made it home, in true neurotic fashion, I have been examining what my awkward adventure means ever since. I wonder if I’ve become so old fogey-fied by the suburbs, convention, and general inertia that when venturing outside those things, I find I no longer fit in. At the risk of sounding like Carrie Bradshaw in one of her many self-narrated, cutesy reveries while writing her fictionalized column: am I no longer a Manhattanite, but Manhattan-lite?

Maybe that’s the cruelest trick the suburbs play on you, after you realize the pizza store closes at 8 p.m. and Blue laws mean no shopping on Sundays: it makes you so uncomfortable in your once beloved turf that, resigned, you halfheartedly shrug your shoulders and simply acquiesce. You become even more complacent, and more afraid to do something different and thrilling and requiring more nerves than sitting on the couch watching that episode of Friends for the 400th time. I’ll eventually buy a minivan if I have to, but I want to do something that challenges me and forces me to face my fears, which include but are not limited to public speaking; going into a situation where I don’t know a single person; and the word no, because I am literally terrified of rejection.

At the very least, I figure that facing my fears must be a lesson in good parenting. After all, if you can’t model taking (safe) risks for your kids, they, too, might become static, unvarying, afraid to be different or learn how to flex and adapt to the many changes that life always, inevitably, brings.

So I am making a resolution, and holding myself accountable to it, by publicizing it here: I will do one thing each month that takes me out of my comfort zone and plops me into uncharted territory.

It doesn’t need to be big: it can be re-familiarizing myself with subways and city streets, taking an acting or dance/hip hop class, or trying Karaoke or bungee-jumping (the one at Six Flags, that is–baby steps!). But whatever it is, it will be uncomfortable for me. It will be scary and I probably won’t sleep much the night before. And hopefully, I’ll grow as a person, and a mother, because of it.

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