In the early 1930’s in Fort Lee, New Jersey, my grandmother took singing lessons. It didn’t last long; one day the instructor took my great-grandmother aside and said, “Mrs. Hook, you are wasting your money.” My grandmother was sent down the street to tap-dancing lessons instead, and everyone was happier for it.
Also, they didn’t feel too busy.
Sunday I ran into a fellow homeschooling mom. “Why do I always feel so busy?” she asked. “We’re not doing too many activities.” She has only one student at home anymore, now a high school senior, and they moderate the extra-curriculars. It shouldn’t be a crazy time of life.
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
But I think I do know. I think it’s all the driving.
Here’s what our week looks like right now:
- Daily mass.
- School at home.
- 1 piano lesson on Tuesdays.
- 1 violin lesson on Thursdays.
- Boys go mountain biking or hunting or some such on various afternoons / evenings.
(No, I’m not teaching RE this year, so that buys us a lot of time.)
For all these things, we have to drive. What if instead of being Catholic I were Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal or Lutheran? I could walk to church. Two blocks. Let’s imagine my daughter then took her piano lesson with that flavor music director, instead of our Catholic one. She could walk to and from piano. Let’s triple-imagine: What if instead of violin at a publicly-funded school downtown, my other daughter had her classes at the school on our corner — one block away?
Now let’s get super crazy. What if instead of trying to figure out how to meet up with homeschooling friends from across the city for Little Flowers, all we had to do was pick which house (or church) in our hypothetically-shared neighborhood we’d host it at? What if the nice new family with four girls that I want to meet up with for a playdate lived . . . not twenty minutes away, by car, but twenty minutes on foot, right in my subdivision? What if my friend who’s miscarrying lived down the street instead of down the highway? How about my mother-in-law? And what if our good friends who live a mile away down a busy road were connected by a decent sidewalk?
There are two things going on. One is the way we live: Picky. We drive farther to get to the grocery store we prefer; we’d rather see distant friends who better match our personality, than socialize with near neighbors. And I tried being Lutheran, for nearly 90 minutes in 1998; it didn’t take. Nearly all our neighbors have the religion problem, too, it’s not just Catholics who are choosy about their churches.
The other is structural. No sidewalks — that’s a physical structure that’s missing. But also the way our car-centered life changes our expectations: We consider it normal to drive ten or twenty miles for everyday activities, farther for weekly or special events — and then wonder why it feels like we’re living in the car.
The cost is physical — having to make special time to exercise, having to cram in meals between outings. The cost is also social. Up front we win, picking and choosing the best of friends and hobbies from around town. In the long run we lose; we’re socially isolated from our next door neighbors,with all the decay and loss that brings.
I don’t like it. I also don’t have a sense of how to change it, or even of really wanting to make the sacrifices that would be required to change it. But there it is. Why I’m too busy and my great-grandmother was not.
It’s Tuesday, so I bet you’re looking for 3.5 Takes. Here’s Larry D., our host, entertaining you with the awesomely awesome Savage Chickens. And 2.5 More:
- Larry Peterson gets into the groove and rants against religious slackers in his special way I’ve come to love;
- the Mercy Project frees a batch of slaves, and discovers how many former-slave-owners were once slaves themselves;
- and Jen Fulwiler writes the post that inspired this one, though she’s not writing about geography today, she’s writing about
Have a great week!