Learning To Cope With "Countryside" Surroundings

How to deal with the dreaded "s" word.


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Illustration by Tim Foley

It happens all the time. I’ll see someone I haven’t seen in a while — a well-meaning relative, or an old friend, or some passive-aggressive urbanite  — and they’ll ask, How is life in the suburbs? It’s a question I’ve struggled to answer without a dodge, shuffle, and/or negotiation.

“You know, it’s actually more like we’ve moved to a small town,” I might start. Anything, anything, anything but the suburbs!

But why? I grew up in a suburb, it was all I knew, and it was perfectly lovely.

“It’s a village,” I’ll continue, “with a cute little town center of independent businesses. No Starbucks here!”

I guess I feel discomfort at someone equating me with the lack of diversity, lack of good design, and lack of intellectual curiosity that I equate with suburbs. But is that all?

“We’re in one of the Rivertowns. On the Hudson Line,” I’ll explain.

In recent years, as parenthood and the bossing of small people have taken the place of any other sort of bossing I might have done professionally, as well as much of the moneymaking in my life, being able to say that I lived in Brooklyn afforded a little anchor identity, a coat of armor against losing too much of myself.

And, beginning a humblebrag: “It’s not that far upstate, but we do have turkeys and baby deer in the yard.”

I know some people don’t intend the suburbs question as a dig. But I recognize that others, if they’re the sort of city dweller I was, find themselves contending with so much grit and agitation, while also sacrificing both square footage and the calm that the color green, the sound of water, and ample oxygen provide, that it might feel a little bit good to knock someone down a notch who didn’t stick it out. In other words, If I can make it here, etc., etc., with the “here” sometimes including a view of frozen dog poop and broken bottles after the snow melts, rather than the yellow hope of daffodils.

“The other day a bear ran down our street!”

Which, admittedly, could be construed as a positive or a negative. The good news is that moving to the suburbs — or a village, or upstate, or this breathtaking, semi-rural area served by both Metro North and Amtrak — is such a damn relief that I am able to let go of whatever snobbery I feel towards others. It’s sort of like finding religion: others may be embarrassed for you, but if you’re the one who found it, presumably you don’t care anymore. You’re happy in the clutches of your new thing.

There is more than one way to live, I now see clearly out the wavy, antique-glass window, just past the stand of maple and oaks in the distance. Besides, this new lifestyle entails its own form of snobbery. 

Would you like to visit us at our Hudson Valley farmhouse? Come and you can see for yourself.

And that’s all I have to say about that.


Meredith Phillips is a writer and editor who enjoys long walks along stone walls and is battling a nascent fear of coyotes.

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