Suburban Turmoil: Blame Bellevue’s zombies

Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 7:06pm

One thing I’ve learned from living in suburban Nashville is that my neighborhood has major horror movie potential. Oh, I know horror-in-the-suburbs has been done already with The Stepford Wives, but I think you’d agree that The Bellevue Parents would be way more terrifying.

The movie would open with the innocent trills of an electric flute and children frolicking on a playground. It would cut to landscaped flowers trembling in a gentle breeze, then a row of mirror-image houses primly keeping watch over a treeless avenue and finally, a neighborhood swimming pool bustling with families clad in Target swimsuits.

At first, everything would seem so normal. Better than normal, really. Bellevue is the kind of place where you expect everyone’s Facebook status to read, “Living the dream.”

But, this being a horror film, that dream would quickly turn nightmarish, as an ultra-liberal, gluten-free heroine moves to the neighborhood. Immediately, she’d start noticing them, volunteering at the local elementary school, every single day! Passing out snacks and drinks at soccer games! Driving minivans with rear windows featuring stick figure representations of each member of the family!

Our heroine would notice their detached smiles, their vacant stares and the way they always smelled vaguely of alcohol, and know in her heart that they were different from ordinary humans. After a day spent in the stacks at the Bellevue Library (on the Book Bully’s day off, of course), she would discover with wide-eyed terror that they were exactly what she’d secretly suspected…


“They really do have no lives!” she would whisper before using her knuckle to bite back a scream.

It’s a little too close to reality for comfort, right?  While our own parents fought to have both children and careers, many of my suburban neighbors are bypassing the corporate ladder altogether in favor of hovering mindlessly over little Sally as she does her homework, or shambling along the sidelines of Landon’s pee wee football games. They may not have a ghoulish pallor or ripped, dirty clothing, but they’re still easy to spot. Just announce that you’re looking for volunteers for the school spaghetti supper and see who comes stumbling out of the crowd, arms outstretched and with a dazed expression that bears more than a passing resemblance to the undead.

Scariest of all? This is what’s become of Generation X.

Yes, all that cynicism and Nirvana and flannel shirt wearing was simply layer after layer of protection, designed to cover frail psyches damaged by divorced and career-obsessed parents. Fast forward to today and witness how many Gen X parents are overprotective and obsessed with their children. This helicopter parenting is merely an effort, according to the experts, to fix what was broken when these parents themselves were kids, 20 to 30 years ago.

I’d like to laugh off the theory, but I can’t. I’m living it.

Twenty-nine years ago, I was my daughter’s age, dressed in Lanz pajamas and seated beside my brother night after night at the top of the stairs, as we listened to our parents arguing down below. A year later, I watched my father carry an armful of suits out the front door.

I remained pretty stoic about my parents’ divorce and my mom’s return to the workforce, but while I thought as a kid that it didn’t affect me, I was wrong. I’m a regular June Cleaver today because of it. I cook. I clean. I volunteer. I stay at home. And too often, I bite my tongue to keep the peace. I tell myself it’s best for our family.

But I’m not always sure it’s best for me.

“You’ve got to find your voice as a married woman!” my mother urged me once. “It took me a while to find mine when I was your age, but I did. And I never stopped talking!”

And that’s ultimately the difference between her generation and mine. My mother and her friends were the first to talk back. They made demands. They threw down their aprons. And when they felt the need, they divorced with no apologies.

Now, their children quietly go about the business of undoing all their work. We will give our kids the happy playground, the landscaped flowers, the cookie-cutter house, the neighborhood pool. We will fight harder to stay married, and beat ourselves up more if we fail. We will haunt our children’s schools and recitals and sporting events. We will be there, dammit, when they get home from school.

We will stumble through parenthood together, a generational mob with only one thing on what remains of our minds: giving our kids the childhood we think we should have had. And in true horror tradition, we will do far more damage than mere mortals could.

The Bellevue Parents ends when the happy children from the playground have grown up and their parents have died off. No one’s around to cut their meat anymore. No one will lend them money or wash their clothes or stand over them to make sure they get their work done. They wander about aimlessly in rags, completely unable to do for themselves.

Blame it on the zombies.

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17 Comments on this post:

By: house_of_pain on 9/3/09 at 7:20

Save Bellevue: disband the Hitler Youth Soccer Association.

By: howelln on 9/3/09 at 10:50

Funny column, but way too true. They are raising a generation of children who have never been allowed to fail, and therefore, have no coping skills.

By: clarasax on 9/3/09 at 12:36

Terrific column. Very true. Each day I struggle to put down the housework for a few moments and do something fun for me as a person, not me as a mom or a wife.

By: WordGirl on 9/3/09 at 12:56

I've sort of noticed a zombie quality to the moms mentioned in your posts about Punky going off to school and the pressure for you to dress like a mom now. (Thankfully, I feel no such pressure in our East Nashville school!)

I do think there's a rubber band effect in mothering where we do some things the exact opposite of how our mothers did them. I, for example, cook from scratch as much as possible and want new recipes constantly. My mother cooked only because we would starve to death if she didn't. She never tried new recipes and still hates to cook. A friend whose mom had a really cluttered home keeps the neatest, cleanest home you've ever seen.

So while there's some logic behind doing the exact opposite of our mothers, I draw the line at telling others to copy my own neurosis. Let's each have our own neuroses, shall we? Then we can be neurotic individuals instead of zombies! Weird, but much more fun.

By: victorygardener on 9/3/09 at 1:25

I feel the same way, Lindsay, and I'm not even a parent yet!

I love to cook and bake and clean and make sure my house is kept up because my mom didn't do that stuff as often as I thought a mother should, at least from my child's point of view. I think that having endless strings of takeout pizzas and macaroni and cheese between work and rehearsals and dance classes and basketball games led me to desire more for my family and my kids.

I know I definitely bake more and clean my house more often because of it. My mom only really baked around Christmas, and it was great when she did, but I though that moms should bake more because my friends' moms baked more.

And, as far as the zombie analogy, brilliant!

By: WiseMama on 9/3/09 at 1:56

VERY interesting take on today's parent, Lindsay! I have already shared this on my FB and hope to see what others think as well.

Love the analogy of this and would love to see more on this (if you have more to say!)

my new blog:

By: akinoluna on 9/3/09 at 3:16

Wow. The line about our moms being the first to "talk back" really makes you stop and think for a bit. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like when women couldn't "talk back" and "make demands" for themselves.

By: marywritersblock on 9/3/09 at 3:35


Excellent post and outstanding writing. I, too, see that my husband and I try to compensate for our own parents' "sins of parenting." But I hope and pray I'm never a helicopter parent.

On a lighter note, I have always said that the Bellevue Library was the armpit of Bellevue. I laughed at your description. Had a run-in there earlier this summer:

Mary@The Writer's Block

By: mandyhornbuckle on 9/3/09 at 3:37

Well, zombies or not, if this generation is fighting harder for their marriages to work, then I say that’s a good thing. The divorce rate in this country is embarrassing. Very good article.

(And you’ve visited my blog already, so I’d kind of rather you visit my new non-profit that launched this week, and if you like it, tell your friends! :)

By: CarolynGrona on 9/3/09 at 6:30

Wow, Lindsay. It's just this kind of thing that prompted me to start my blog. Because I agree. There's a whole generation of us who were dramatically affected by our parent's divorces and now are showing those effects through our own marriages and parenting. Good work!

It will be interesting to see if the succeeding generations who have also been intertwined with high divorce rates follow in our footsteps or take another direction completely.


By: Steph. on 9/3/09 at 9:01

Wow--you really make some good points about our generation that ring true--at least for me. We have zombie neighbors as well...just go read my PTO post and you'll see. HA! Great post, L!

By: sidneyames on 9/4/09 at 7:28

"Clarasax" you said "Terrific column. Very true. Each day I struggle to put down the housework for a few moments and do something fun for me as a person, not me as a mom or a wife." Well my life is just the opposite. Each day I struggle to let myself do a few moments of housework. I try hard to avoid laundry, doing dishes, buy groceries, walking and feeding the dogs and cats, rubbing my husband's headache away or cleaning a toilet. BUT then reality hits and I realize that I have a life that includes those mundane tasks. So I drag myself off the massage table and send my manicurist home so I can get back to work as a wife. After all, being a WIFE is a choice. It is not mandatory. And Marywritersblock, don't be so hard on your parents and their "sins". They did the best they could. My mom is deceased. BUT on MY birthday, I used to call her and say "thanks for carrying me 9 months mom and then thanks for not killing me in the ensuing 18 years" because I was a hand full. I think my parents did a great job. Daddy was a drunk who left when I was 11. That taught me not to drink. Mother was a hard worker who later (when I was 21) married her prince charming. That taught me that hard work and perserverence pays off. So praise your parents. After all, you seem to be alright. AND great article. Funny and entertaining.

By: mmmyatt on 9/4/09 at 1:59

i just got back from a meeting at my daughter's school, and i had to fight the temptation to dress my kids in their sunday best to show what a "good" mom i am. i let them dress themselves (even do their own hair), and i'm wondering how i was judged as a result!

however, for one thing i am thankful. the parents in my daughter's class are so hyper about volunteering, there are never any jobs left. i am free to pursue my own thoughts and agenda while they do the hard their own choice.

By: aileen on 9/9/09 at 1:24

I LOVE this article! I've always wished I could have been a 50's housewife with the pearls and the dresses and the memorized recipes, but I know I wouldn't be able to curb my sarcasm. Maybe what I have right now really is the best of both worlds- I get to stay home, hover over my kid, and I still get to speak my mind.

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