Friday, April 16, 2010
There comes a time in everyone’s life when the little birdie needs to fly from its nest, and today, I am that birdie.
I’ve decided to leave my comfort zone for a bit and expand my horizons. It is time to explore suburban neighborhoods beyond Regis Way.
I start my journey early in the morning. I head out of Regis Way to grab some grub at a little breakfast diner I’ve heard rave reviews about. Twenty minutes later, after passing underneath the 105 highway, I find myself next to a gorgeous beach stretching over 2 miles, at a plastic table underneath a large red umbrella. I have arrived at the infamous diner, Uncle Bill’s Pancake House on Highland Avenue in Manhattan Beach, California. The food is exceptional, but the view is even better. This small, seemingly ‘dumpy’ diner is in the middle of one of the most gorgeous beach cities I have ever been to. It is a place I would love to live. A place I would fantasize about living in.
I pass the time people watching. There are young families pushing two strollers, an attractive thirty-something man walking a pristine Scottish-terrier mix that trots show dog style down the clean black pavement, and even a group of forty plus thin attractive women pouring out of a local yoga studio, clad in bright active wear, chatting furiously as they walk to their cars. One woman gets into a BMW X5 luxury SUV, another into a small Mercedes sedan, the last walks towards the beach. I imagine that she’s walking to her extravagant beachfront home and I am immediately jealous. I begin to imagine what my life would be like if I lived here. I would walk from my beach house to the Starbucks on the corner of Manhattan Beach Boulevard every morning, take a jog on the bright grey cement sidewalk that runs along the beach, grab lunch at Katsu-Ya (which has the best sushi around) with my best girlfriends, do some work from home while lounging in the sun on the patio, and then end my day walking hand in hand with my hot dentist boyfriend while our black lab trotted happily alongside our feet. Ah… It would be the life!
My starry eye’d fantasy is interrupted by the loud huffing and puffing of my best friend Alex who runs up to my table, sweaty and disheveled, her long blonde hair falling out from underneath her navy blue baseball cap.
“Sorry I’m late!” She says. Alex is a student at Loyola Marymount University who is a nanny for a single mother in Manhattan Beach. She once commented, “I think she is the only divorced working mom in Manhattan Beach.” This is a stigma I’m only beginning to understand now.
You see, despite its ‘quaint’ and friendly exterior, Manhattan Beach is known for its pretentiousness and snobbery. Stereotypically, it is known as a place where most parents’ have a caretaker for their children, pay mortgages on 4000+ square foot million dollar homes and condos, and fight to get their children in the best schools, all the while competing against their neighbors for the nicest car and highest paycheck.
I’m following Alex around for the day so I can get a better idea of what life in Manhattan Beach is like, and if suburban life here is anything like Regis Way. As of now, I’m trying to put the stereotypes aside and see what impressions of the beach city I can discover on my own.
Alex decided that there was no place better that described the city, and the interactions that take place within it, then at T-ball practice.
We arrive at the field that afternoon to the sounds of little boys shrieking as they run away from, not toward, the balls that are being lightly tossed to them.
The first thing I notice about the practice, is that there seems to be a strong separation among groups in the stands. There is a group of Hispanic nannies chatting at the top of the bleachers, a couple of moms standing at the fence, and then a group of thin blonde women chatting loudly in the bottom corner of the bleachers.
I hear one woman complain, “I talked to my mom today and she told me about this movie I should see, and I’m just like god mom, just because I’m a housewife doesn’t mean that I have two hours in my day to see a movie.”
Alex turns to me and rolls her eyes. “Yeah like what is she doing between 9am and 3pm while her kids are at school? Getting her nails done? Going to spin class? I can’t stand those ‘in’ moms.”
“What’s an ‘in’ mom?” I ask.
Alex points to a woman standing alone at the fence, “See that mom?” she asks, “She’s not a part of the ‘in’ group of moms. She tries to fit in, but for some reason they exclude her. One time, she came to T-ball with this really nice wrapped gift. I heard her go up to one of the ‘in' moms and say “I know it was your birthday this weekend so I just wanted to get you something.” It was so sad because the ‘in’ mom just rolled her eyes, looked over at her friends, and then opened the present. It was a Juicy Couture jacket. It was the most awkward exchange I’ve ever seen. The ‘in’ mom was just like ‘oh thanks you shouldn’t have’ then turned back to her friends and ignored the mom who gave her the gift. So she just picked up the ‘in' mom’s trash, and then cowered away defeated. These women are the older version of The Plastics.”
Her reference to the snobby group of girls in The Mean Girls, begins to hit home. The set up of T-ball practice does feel very much like high school: the popular girls or the "in crowd" discluding those who are not like them.
Alex continues telling me how there are always three or four moms who clearly don’t fit in and try really hard to be friends with the ‘in’ moms. Of course there are a couple of moms who don’t want to partake in the petty cliques of Manhattan Beach and don’t care about being a part of the ‘in’ group as well.
"I feel like a lot of times for these moms, it's all about how much money you have, what your connections are, or what school your kid is in," Alex adds.
One time, Alex overheard parents talking about how if you don’t have your child on the waiting list for Montessori, a local school, when they are infants that you have to pay a hefty price to get your child in. One mother told Alex, “I kind of had to throw a fit to get my son in, but we did it! And now he’s in toddlers.” A comical feat that made it seem like getting your child into preschool would be the equivalent to the excitement one would feel getting excepted into an Ivy League College.
And this pretentious competitiveness among parents extends into the school system with the kids.
Alex continues that the 10-year-old girl she watches, is very conscious of her appearance and what she's wearing. “One day she came home sobbing because she was the only person in her class without an Abercrombie sweatshirt,” Alex said.
By the end of T-ball one thing has become clear. Manhattan Beach is a stark contrast from Regis Way. For starters, the median family income in Manhattan Beach is almost triple that of Westchester County, capping out at $130,000 in the an estimated 2008 census. Likewise, homes are double or triple in cost in Manhattan Beach, exceeding two million dollars for an ocean view. In addition, Manhattan Beach was ranked, 16th by Fortune Magazine in 2008 as one of the top earning towns in the country, while Westchester…well, didn’t make the cut.
I did not originally leave Regis Way for the day to explore a contradiction to my idea of suburbia, but that is exactly what happened. Before my venture south, I thought almost all suburban neighborhoods consisted of a special sense of community: where you say hi to your neighbors and pick up their mail when they’re away, not buy them designer jackets. And although Manhattan Beach has some of these neighbor friendly qualities, and although our Westchester community has nice homes and even similar fights to get our children into the best schools, the ‘uppity’ nature that I encountered with the 'in' moms in Manhattan Beach, makes me appreciate the ‘down-to-earth’ feel I get on Regis Way so much more than I did before.
At the same time, it feels odd for me to be criticizing the thing I desire. Although I love Regis Way, to say that I wouldn’t love to be rich, live in a huge beach house, have a nanny and take spin class all day would be a lie. I don’t want to be pretentious, but I would love that sort of carefree lifestyle.
So, I may have flown the coop for the day, but for now I’ve learned that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Sometimes what appears most desirable from an outside perspective isn’t always as desirable once you’re on the inside.
And so, I say goodbye to Manhattan Beach, but the fantasy still remains. The white picket fence, dentist boyfriend and black lab seem to be far away... and yet still within reach.
But for now, it’s time for this birdie to return back to her nest.
It’s time to go home to Regis Way.