The suburban dream, like many dreams, is firmly grounded in reality - so much so that it often does not even feel like a dream at all. It is an ideal, a representation of progress, that anyone can achieve if they just want it enough. Characterised by the nuclear family - one mother, one father, a few kids, and maybe a pet or two - few things seem so right.
And so, the middle class children who grow up in these idyllic two storey houses live perfect lives - they go to school and college and white collar jobs and live out their own suburban dreams - and few things seem so right. And these kids, if they’re lucky, they’ll grow up in a suburb with other children their age, maybe a few years older. They will grow up together, make up games together, create music videos to look back fondly upon in a few years. They will celebrate birthdays and holidays and go on trips together until they forge a bond that seems unbreakable; one that feels like a fact of life.
One day, though, this fact of life starts to feel more like a mirage, one day there, one day not, as the older children disappear into the world of construction, building an unshakeable foundation for the two storey house they will indubitably inhabit in the future - with endless internships and summer schools and sports teams paving the way. There is confusion, maybe a little sadness amongst the younger ones while they adjust to the new normal, as daily visits and playdates dwindle to seeing each other on “special occasions”. The little ones don’t understand these “special occasions” - weren’t the moments that made relationships, that made up a childhood “special occasions”? The world has shifted under their feet - but just a little, because big shifts aren’t really a part of the suburban dream.
Rest assured, this imperceptible change will disappear into the guise of normalcy within a few years; when the little ones mature into people who understand that people must grow up, and that means not having time for these things. They’ll look back at the videos and remember, vaguely, that the people in those videos are not indeed strangers; that they were friends, that they will be at the dinner being held next month. They will understand that the construction of the two storey house necessitates the gradual destruction of the playground that once stood in its place. Perhaps they’ll even welcome the change; there is a chance they won’t be able to wait to leave their homes to venture to new countries and get that job and change the world from the perfect, two storey house they have always wanted.
But maybe the suburban dream isn’t always as accessible as it was intended to be. The same unshakeable bonds, created by family ties and reinforced through tradition, still tether minds and souls to a time where checklists to tick off and to-do lists to complete didn’t exist, and birthday cake decorations were of greater importance than any transcript or college acceptance letter, when the tedium of a 9 to 5 job seemed more nightmarish than aspirational. The suburbs are a strange place to be. Perhaps Tolstoy was right to say that all happy families are the same; after all, the suburban dream is a failsafe option for contentment. What could possibly go wrong, with a safe, stable home, with access to a good education and limitless opportunities?
In the suburban dream, nothing goes wrong, nothing. But there is a very subtle wrongness that leads to this utopia, something similar to having the sense that one is dreaming about nothing at all, but not being able to wake up. Few things seem so right, or make so much sense - however, one can’t help but wonder as to the dubious reality of this transient, apparent heaven on earth.
BY Niyanthri Arun