I grew up in a tract home, surrounded by other tracts of homes, surrounded by an urban sprawl of similar homes punctuated with strip malls in suburban San Diego. My father drove away every morning to his job and my mother stayed home and knew all her neighbors.
The most secondary education anyone in my family has achieved is my father’s Associate’s Degree. He combined his military experience and work experience to test out of certain requirements and completed night classes to earn the rest while I was a child. Like my mother, I married directly after graduating high school, eventually finding work in banking.
As a young newlywed I could only find jobs in retail at the local mall. I had to break into the banking industry by completing a free county “Regional Occupational Program” class to learn how to be a bank teller, where we practiced cashing checks out of shoe boxes with Monopoly money. Shortly thereafter, I landed a job answering the phone at a small bank in San Diego, eventually transferring to the real estate finance department where my salary stagnated for the next five or six years. I watched many college graduates get promoted above me, some of which I had even trained as new hires. I never thought I could surpass my father’s level of education, especially since I didn’t have the advantage of his military experience.
As a young married mother, the pattern of my day was certainly different than that of my mother’s. My days started before dawn, rushing off to day care, commuting to work, and in the evening rushing back again in reverse order. I drove into my garage, pushed a button to close the door, and never knew my neighbors. I didn’t know what “community” meant. I hadn’t experienced it.
Eventually I came to realize that my days as a young parent held a lot less meaning than the experience my parents had. That was when we decided to move to Bellingham. I stayed home with my son as he transitioned from kindergarten to elementary school. I chose a residence within walking distance of the school and grocery store in exchange for giving up my car. It was a lonely first year in this town, but gratifying.
As my son entered elementary school and my “free” time increased, I found myself developing a social network of my own on the Internet. My mother was concerned and distrustful – it was on the Internet, after all. How could I really “know” those people? I countered that it was safer than befriending whomever you happened to live beside; these friendships were formed for genuine reasons instead of just proximity. And besides, I told her, I would never have the neighborhood housewife experience that she did – my neighborhood was empty between the hours of eight a.m. and five p.m.
Eventually my online social outlet became specific to Bellingham. I made good friends, and met them in person by throwing a Christmas party. My closest friend, Alexarc, was worried as he watched me frenetically prepare for the...