A Laptop Naptime Mama

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Safety of the Suburbs?

Living in the heart of Manhattan, we are used to imminent danger. Every day we step out of our building and are confronted with the growl of cars, the roar of speeding trucks, and the whoosh of New Yorkers hot-footing it to the nearest coffee shop for their daily caffeine fix. The clangs and “wheee-oohs” from fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars, drone into our apartment day and night. We live a stones throw from Ground Zero and from our window the empty space where the twin towers would have been is a haunting reminder of the terrorist hotspot in which we live.

We get used to the danger, however. Blasé, even. And it’s only when we leave the city and head for the small towns, suburbs, and countryside that we remember what it is to exist without the shadow of menace and hazard looming over us. The quiet streets, the unlocked front doors, the sounds of leaves rustling in trees, the smiling townspeople, it is all such a contrast from the clear and present danger of New York City.

Or so I thought.

Thanks to Brad’s sabbatical this semester and his parents kindly letting us stay in their home, we have escaped the city for a couple of weeks and are now holed up in a sleepy suburb of East Tennessee. The setting is ideal for the out-of-town break we had in mind. Benny has a big house to run around in. The weather is much less bitter than in NY. And the peace, quiet, and bustle-free days means Brad and I can, at last, get some deliciously uninterrupted writing time.

Not only that, I can take my daily run in the big, open world. In the city I’m too scared to run on the busy, exhaust-filled streets and have to exercise on a treadmill at the gym. Being in the suburbs means I can breathe fresh air as I run, watch darting squirrels, and squint happily through the morning sun. A far cry from watching the clock on the treadmill and trying to avoid getting a machine next to the infamous grunting gym-goer. Running outside makes for a seemingly quicker and more fun workout.

Not a safer workout, however. I discovered this the day after we arrived in TN; the day of my first foray into suburb-exercising. For the first twenty minutes all was going fine. The sun was out, the birds twittering, the air was crisp and clean. And, even though I was running on the neighborhood streets, I hadn’t seen one car. When the first car did emerge, though, everything suddenly changed. The driver of the car did see me – thankfully. However, they were clearly so excited about spotting someone on the nearly always deserted streets, they grinned, waved animatedly, and nearly swerved over in front of me. Luckily, my jumping onto a nearby lawn and the driver’s sudden realization of what was going on, averted a nasty accident.

And its not just a morning run in the suburbs where danger lurks. The twenty-four hour grocery store is another perilous place.

In NY – the city that never sleeps – we have delis which open all night, bars that stay open til the wee hours, takeouts which will deliver to your door at 6am. But we don’t have anything like these gigantic open-all-hour Walmarts and K-marts which are dotted around the suburbs. For townies like us, these places are hopelessly alluring with their wide-aisles, their endless supplies of just about everything – from cheese to fluffy towels to air rifles. And, of course, the most appealing thing of all is that you can roll up at 11pm and shop until you drop.

But, these places have a potentially dangerous side too. Not only does late-night shopping wreak havoc on your checking account (especially after a beer or two). Physical dangers also lurk in those deceptively light and shadowless aisles.

Last night, after the afore-mentioned “beer or two,” Brad and I with Benny in tow swung by the local K-mart. It was close to midnight, the store was practically empty of shoppers, and staff were few. This meant, much to our delight, we had the place to ourselves. We headed immediately to the sport supply section and to a barrel load of basketballs (earlier, we’d spotted a basketball hoop in a nearby park and decided we needed a ball). We spent the next ten minutes, bouncing balls up and down the empty aisle. Despite the thudding of balls and our raucous laughter, not one single member of staff came by and berated us for using the store as a basketball court.

Finally, bored of bouncing, we moved onto to the toy section. Brad and I busied ourselves tutting and ranting together about the shelves and shelves of plastic crap being sold to kids. We knew Benny was nearby because we could hear his ecstatic shouts, “Look, Thomas the Tank Engine!” and “Wow, Cars!” (he doesn’t share our views about the over-consumption of toys, of course) After a minute or so of this, we heard a loud and unfamiliar vrooming noise. Brad and I quickly turned and were confronted with a terrifying sight. Benny had climbed onto a shelf, mounted a kid-size quad bike, and was careening along at top speed toward the abyss!

We rushed toward him but Benny – who’d (cleverly) worked out how to turn the little machine on but who (not so cleverly) hadn’t worked out how to turn it off or steer – plummeted off the shelf. The drop was small, just a few inches, but the quad bike nevertheless rolled over and Benny was thrown unceremoniously to the ground. Thankfully, there were no broken bones, cuts, or grazes. Benny didn’t even cry. He was too busy reveling in his little stunt and asking if he could get back on the damn quad bike.

Okay, so you might argue, that our parenting wasn’t on top form. Perhaps we should have been keeping a closer eye on our little monkey. But, I don’t know, the suburbs are no longer seeming as safe as I once imagined. Danger, I’m beginning to realize, skulks around every corner. Not just the ones in New York City.

For more of Joanne Rendell's mommy blogs - including "Fishing for Poo," "Should Mommy's Wear Thongs?" and "What's that dangly thing between his legs?" then Click Here to visit her at the popular website, Get Crafty. To return to the Role Mommy home page, Click Here


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