"Is My Life Really Different?" Sarah Kelly (2005)

Ann and I have been friends for forty years now. Our friendship began in San Francisco when her family moved to a house across the street from mine. We are as close as sisters, yet we’ve chosen two very different places to raise our families. Ann decided to stay in San Francisco and I left the city for a quieter, slower pace of life in Rohnert Park. Or at least I thought it would be quieter and slower.  Ann and I don’t see other as often as we’d like, but we call each other frequently and our lives are as similar as they are different.

Ann and her family own a small house in San Francisco with a small backyard. They have little interaction with the other people that live on their block. Her children seldom play in front of the house. There are not a lot of neighborhood children for them to play with and there is a sense that playing in the street is no longer safe. On weekends and school vacations they frequent the zoo, Golden Gate Park and the beach. Ann’s children attend two private schools (grammar school and high school) and most of their school friends live in different neighborhoods in the city.  When it’s time to shop for food Ann has her choice of corner stores, ethnic stores or a produce stand, all in her neighborhood. There are also several large grocery stores to choose from. Ann loves to cook, but on the rare occasion that the grocery shopping couldn’t get done there is a wide variety of small restaurants for her family to choose from. Fast food and chain restaurants are fairly new to San Francisco and still are not considered the norm for dining out.

We own a large home at the end of a cul-de-sac in Rohnert Park with a large back yard. Our neighbors have become our friends and our lives have become intertwined. Our children seldom use the yard. They prefer to be play in the cul-de-sac with the other children from our street.  Sometimes I sit and watch them, but I’m also comfortable with their being outside without me. My children go to the school a few blocks away and most of their school friends live in within walking distance. They spend a lot of their summer vacation at the local swimming pool or and their friends run in and out of our house.  Instead of shopping at several different grocery stores and buying produce at the corner produce store, I go to a large grocery store and do all my shopping at one place. I enjoy cooking, but we try to go out to dinner once a week and it’s usually to one of the many chain restaurants in Rohnert Park.

Ann and I lead different lives if one is only looking at the outside of our homes and habits, but if one looks closer to the daily routine and activities that consume our families one could see many more similarities than differences. There are the constants in our lives. We both have homework struggles; we are both trying to teach our children how to clean their own bed and bathrooms on a regular basis. Ann and I both frequently need to get two different children to two different places at the same place. Volunteer hours at the children’s schools eat up our time and basic household chores get overlooked or forgotten. And as much as we both enjoy cooking, we’re grateful for help in the meal planning stage. We spend hours trying to figure out how our mothers did it all. We laugh at our children’s antics and rejoice their milestones. Many of our days are spent with a schedule in one hand and car keys in the other. Our own basic needs – haircuts, doctor appointments, etc- are often canceled or forgotten about because of a field trip or class presentation.

Ann and I share deeper worries. Each of us has a child that needs some special attention and care, sometimes at the expense of our other children. We spend hours trying to figure out how our mothers kept up with it all. We share the same worries about our daughters and sons growing
up in a time where they are constantly exposed to sexual images and violence in the media. Ann and I pray that our lessons and values will provide a compass for our offspring as they navigate life’s challenges.

When I moved away from San Francisco and my best friend I did so hoping to find a simpler, calmer lifestyle. I wanted to give my children the security I felt growing up surrounded by a community of neighbors. Some of what I wanted has come to pass. My children are able to walk to school and most of their friends live in the neighborhood.  We feel safe letting them play outside with little supervision. However, I discovered that no matter where we live the way we would live would be the same. The forces that make my family who they are would be the same forces anywhere.  The compass my husband and I use to guide us is the same compass in Rohnert Park as it would be in San Francisco. Once again I realize that it is the people in the private space that make the difference to a home.