Snoburbia: Living among overachievers in the wealthy suburbs

Nov 03, 2010

Deep in the heart of suburban Maryland, where soccer coaches ban helicopter parents from practice because 'the boys need to learn to self-advocate' and parents fret on neighborhood email bulletin boards that their gifted and talented children might not be quite gifted and talented enough, you will find Lydia Sullivan. >br>
Sullivan launched a blog and clothing line called Snoburbia to comment on the absurdities of the place she calls home, populated by overachievers. She will be online Monday, Oct. 25, at Noon ET to discuss life and living in Snoburbia ( pronounced 'SNOB-urbia').

Hi Post Readers - 

I look forward to hearing your questions or observations about life in the snoburbs. You know you live there. And please read the Post article, if you haven't already. (And of course, tweet and Like on Facebook. Hey, can't a gal do some shameless self-promotion once in a while?) I'm ready - hit me up.

Lydia

I live in one of these suburbs and I feel the pressure to like skiing. I don't like cold, I don't like pain, and I don't like paying lots of money to feel miserable. How do I deal with my snow-loving peers? There doesn't seem to be the same social pressure to "like" swimming (which my skiing friends can't do well) or bowling or biking. Is there a bumper sticker to help me?

If you don't like skiing, you must have a character defect. I do. I tried skiing for the first time last winter, as I was introducing my child to it. After torquing my body into ridiculous positions involving ski poles, I decided to stop. "What? Are you sure?" my friends asked, incredulous that anyone around here 1.) does not already know how to ski, and 2.) does not make it a life priority. I also do not like red wine or lobster.

Why couldn't you have put another B in there? After last winter, a lot of us are really sensitive about anything that could possibly sound like "snow."

Yes, I feel you. But my husband seems to think there is a "U"in there, as he continually pronounces it, "Snub-burbia."

I cringed when I was looking at your blog this morning. I recognized a little of myself, although not literally. Since what you do is based on observations, have you written specifically about any of your own friends and neighbors on the blog? Have they realized it? How have they reacted?

I refuse to answer this question on the grounds that it might... Okay, I confess. As I live in snoburbia, I am surrounded by friends and neighbors who say/do funny things. I'm not there with my notebook. But usually, around 1 a.m. something funny from earlier in the day pops into my head and I add it to my blog idea queue. I did have to call one of my friends (one of the effusive "thankers" and tell her I was making fun of her). She was okay with it!

.I'm a transplant from the D.C. area, and I can vouch that Snoburbia is alive and well in the heartland. I love the blog, thought your post about race was spot on. Here's hoping there's a book deal around the corner (like there was for that dude with the other blog which shall not be named.)

Ooh, dish. I want to hear about Omaha snoburbia!

Hey "Bethesda" - I made a typo and put the parenthesis in the wrong spot. This deeply upsets me. People in snoburbia care about punctuation. Mea culpa.

I grew up in Holmes Run Acres (Falls Church) and attended Woodburn Elementary School. The school is still there, but is now called "The Woodburn Academy for the Fine and Communicative Arts," if you please. I think this is a great example of how a good suburb turned into a snoburb.

And the library is now called the Media Center for the Arts, right? Education jargon is often a source of humor for me. 

Funny stuff. I live in Loudoun County. My kids eat nutella and play soccer (fortunately still too young for travel/challenge teams, but it won't be long...). I like your t-shirts but I'd rather the "My public school is better than your catholic school" said "My public school is better than your private school." I'd buy a couple of those.

Around here, the Catholic schools walk in packs. They even dress in packs - even when they are not in uniform. Maryland is more Catholic, I think (don't quote me) than Virginia. But so noted!

Have you seen the online comments under the Post story? It appears that you have struck a nerve. You must be onto something!

I think I love you.

We recently moved to Plano which has to be the capital of Snoburbia. We're a super-snobby suburb of a city (Dallas) that some people think resembles a suburb itself. I would love to read a travel diary from you with entries on different American snoburbs that you visit. There have to be regional differences!

There are definitely regional differences. But people who live in the Northeast don't care about those other places. (It's a joke, people! Don't flame me!)

Growing up in a Midwest Snoburb, I ran as far away as I could when it came time for college. I've now landed in MoCo - a less snoburban location, but one on the edge, I believe. My husband and I are expecting a baby soon and have already decided that if we stay in the area, we'll have to relocate to the BCC cluster by the time our kids are in middle school. Private school is not in the budget. Do you recommend that we re-locate or is it not worth the pressure on the kids/parents to compete? I've been through it and question whether I want to put my children through it too, but I want them to have a good education...Do the pros outweigh the cons?

What? You have not chosen a preschool yet? Tsk, tsk. (Yes, the pros are an excellent education and dominion over mankind.)

Go along, get along and tend bar and keep kids warm and in hot cocoa! You can be a bench warmer. Spike me some punch.

How in the name of John Marshall could your family not have known about the PSAT if your father was a professor of English?

I know, right? But I'm not bitter. No, really, I'm not. Even though ALL my friends were in the TAG (talented and gifted) club because of their PSAT scores. What's the PSAT, I asked? (Because it was not in one of his 3,000 books, that's why he didn't know. He was a poet and a scholar.)

"So 1990's. Nobody who can help it wants to live in the suburbs anymore, let alone brag about it." A reader posted that in the comments. Do you think that is true? You say you love where you live but all things being equal would you rather live in Kensington or Kalorama?

Kensington, in a heartbeat. I have a big yard with large trees, access to amazing public schools (um, D.C.?) and a huge park next door. I feel at home here, more than anywhere else I've ever lived. People are smart, political and cosmopolitan. I would love to have a house in Kalorama - to sell, so I can buy a house in Maine or New Hampshire on a lake.

How comparable are the two? I consider myself the latter and I see a lot of similarities, minus the child related points of course. If you'll forgive the crude metaphor, are Yuppie "caterpillars" eventually forced to hatch into Snoburb "butterflies" when they have kids?

Yuppies - does anyone say that anymore? Don't know. But yeah, they eventually realize they want a Chevy Suburban and a large house with a large yard and access to the best soccer teams, so they migrate. Funny, though, one of my neighbors just moved back into D.C. after raising their children here - moved to Georgetown. I think that's cool.

What is funny about wanting the best for your children so that they can achieve things beyond your own wildest imagination? That's just good parenting.

There is nothing funny about that at all. I totally agree [snicker, snicker].

Is running a marathon a ticket into Snoburbia? It seems so painful, joyless, brag-worthy, and . . . snoburban!

Yes, because who has time to do all that running, except for people in snoburbia?

Okay, this is totally fun. Keep 'em comin'.

Aren't you throwing stones in a glass house?

Yes. But I grew up in a sod house, so it's fun to see what happens to the glass.

I spent about 10 months in North Springfield in the early 1970s and cut the grass with a "Silent Scott" - a non-power lawn mower. I heard later, from the kids, that folks complained that I was degrading the neighborhood. Several years later, a friend moved to a nearby house (I had since evacuated) and asked to borrow a lawn mower. The "Silent Scott" returned to VA. He had better neighbors, however. The guy across the GAVE HIM AN OLD POWER MOWER.

 

You mean he mows his own lawn? What?? And with a power mower? Not snoburbia. If you own a mower at all, you must be seen conspicuously using a hand mower - especially if you live in Takoma Park.

 

So you say. But I, too, am from West Virginia, from West Liberty to be precise. And I can tell you with stone certainty that there is no snoburbia around Wheeling, the big city nearby.

There is a kind of mini-snoburbia in my hometown. People send their kids off to prep school and vacation in North Carolina (OBX). But you can't help but mix with everyone when you're from W.Va. One of the things I love about where I grew up. My kids are isolated from people who are different from them - except when I force it upon them.

Im not from exceptional means, but I can live in the burbs, enjoy nice things and try to provide my kids with a great standard of living. Yes, I do not care to befriend those who do not share my goals. Compartmentalize us all you want, but there are some exceptional people trying to make a good life with not a lot to start with.

My technorati tags say: "satire" and "pop culture."

Ah yes, I remember well the lineups to fetch kids from Hebrew school -- I used to play "count the Mercedes." I was always the odd kid out because although my parents each had a Mercedes, they wouldn't buy me Guess jeans or a rabbit-fur coat. SOBSOBSOB. Recently relocated from the snoburbs of MoCo (where I graduated from the Blair magnet!!!) to the snoburbs of Silicon Valley. Cannot wait to wear these tshirts to display my hometown pride and confuse the local snoburbians.

Wow - you really are brilliant. And I was not allowed to buy gauchos in 1977. I am still recovering.

You strike me as being a smart, well-educated person who has had a fair amount of professional success. (I am a longtime fan of Washington Monthly, one of the smartest publications around.) Why, then, are you spending your time on a blog about this particular subject? I liked what I saw on your blog, but it seems like you could be doing a lot more with yourself.

Two words: Four. Children.

I am older new homeowner, recently moved to snoburbia for a smaller lot and energy efficient house. The younger people here want to evaluate every flower and tomato I plant in my back yard! I feel like I live in a prison. How does a normal person survive the constant invasion of privacy? Flowers are not unattractive!

People in snoburbia feel that it is their right, even their duty, to correct your a.) children's safety level (ahem, bike helmets) and b.) your yard. If your flowers do not meet with the current standard, you must be shunned. Shunned, I  tell you!

We are in the feeder area of another high-perfoming MontCo high chool, and it has been tough on my sons. Bright kids but not driven, and without any particular talent that makes them stand out from the crowd. I would pick a lower pressure environment if I had to do it again. And I've had this conversation with other parents too.

My daughter feels dumb for being in Algebra 1 in 9th grade. I took Algebra 1 in 9th grade - and so does 75% of the country. But here in MoCo, if you are not taking 5 AP classes by junior year, you are bound to work at Staples after a stint at community college. 

You must be crazy if you think the Outer Banks are elite and snobby. Either that or snoburbia is more welcoming of rednecks than I realized.

Oh no - we don't welcome them here. We just go there and drive up their local real estate with our beach houses.

Snoburbia.com. I read your post on race, but I still maintain that DC's snoburbia is a pretty white place. And I have to think that most of your readers are white.

Don't know. My kids mix with everyone. I find it really interesting how they don't talk of race. My daughter was talking to me last night about some kids they were hanging out with, and they were like a world cross-section. It's stratified more by cultural differences related to class than by race. If you can afford the $2,500 travel soccer team, you're in.

To rural America with John Deere's, 80 acres, livestock, and sheep poop on out boots. Would never live in condo in yuppiedom ie Arlington or Bethesda with the overeducated living on all sides and whining about my frozen concoction maker making too much noise out on the deck.

Condo? Not snoburbia.

My older son is actually going to community college this year. And yet the sun still shines...

I came home from work to find our neighbor had let herself into our fenced backyard and was hedge clippings off of our walkway. Apparently we didn't get to them fast enough.

Guy up road has 4X4 Hummer. All I have a 2X4 and a hammer and everything starts looking like a nail. Work with what or who you got. if you got more protect it. If you got less protect it and have a sandwich. Keep your business real. Hummer got hammered and hammer still works.

Let  me guess: Potomac.

When I pick up my child after school, there are more blonde mothers than at the PGA wives' annual Christmas luncheon. Is this natural selection or are these women funding some Georgetown hair colorist's new boat?

My local elementary has gone from frizzy haired, broom         skirted moms to yoga pants and blonde in 15 years. I am certain they are all natural blondes.

The person who wondered why you are doing this blog doesn't get it. One of the great things about snoburbia is that you can CHOOSE to be a stay-at-home mother (or father, in the case of one MoCo family I know). Because if you're here, you've probably arrived at a fairly comfortable station in life, one at which you don't need to worry so much about how you're going to cover the mortgage or buy that fancy sink. I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all. I mean, isn't that the American dream? Doesn't EVERYBODY eventually want to be able to move to Snoburbia, where you don't need both parents working?

There's a time for gathering stone and a time for throwing it. What's that in your green house dear? I won't tell the kids if you won't. What they don't know won't hurt them. Never hurt them in Soburbia. So fun will be fun and the sun shines the same for all flowers.

Um?

Hi Lydia, I love this. We lived in St. Louis county, MO for awhile..the west part to be exact. It was the creme de la creme of snuburbia. We even had a neighbor tell us if we had to drive the car we had (a Chevy Impala wagon) could we at least keep it in the garage! The term "West County" was so thrown around that at one point my son who was filling out an application for something said as he got to the space for "County" We live in West County right? I said...put down St. Louis County!

I love St. Louis! My son was given a generous scholarship to science school in Missouri, so we flew in and drove, and drove, and drove to rural Mizzou. He liked the school, but it wasn't in a familiar environment. Are you from Ladue? I've never been, but I've hear that is snoburbia.

Take heart: Montgomery Community College is the most expensive in the state (Howard Community College is a bit jealous).

Montgomery College's star is rising.

Time running out. [Weep!] Please email me at lydia@snoburbia.com to ask me anything. And please comment on the blog. There are a lot of blog lurkers, and not that many commenters. You know who you are! Thanx, y'all. It was fun!  Lydia

Lydia - Do you think the OBX will retain its status much longer? What will be the next big destination? what about spring break --- where do the sonburbanites go? (Asking so I can avoid these places...)

Telluride

I've been given a reprieve to answer some mo' questions. Keep 'em flying. Too many to answer, but I'm trying.

Al Debra did great at math and flunked mortgage class. Try new geography and build a beach hut and one for the kids too. Pizza Hut is snobby. Order from plaza in Soburbia or make your own. I hate toll plazas on turnpikes.

I repeat: Um?

In your studied opinion, what is the connection/difference between residents of snoburbia and Hipsters With Money?

Hipsters would not be caught dead in the suburbs, even the snoburbs.

Try living in Upperville and actually being a farmer. No not wine or but humanely raised sheep with herding dogs. PETA/HSUS supporters out here freak out. I why can they bring their foo foo dogs into the shops in Middleburg and I can't bring my four livestock guardian dogs. Big fluffy Polish tatras. 27in+ at the shoulders and 175lbs. Heck they killed a mountain lion on my farm last fall. Saved countless livestock in the Valley. Also prevented these foo foo dogs from being Scooby snacks for the coyotes and moutain lions. They wont allow my herding collies in. Both breeds are friendlier with kids then pugapoo or other teacup designer miscrreant. Even more fun is the summer Wed night polo matches. God forbid there is a thunderstorm then snobs can't get out of the parking lots in the BMW SUVs. We winch out with Land Rover Defender 110.

We love farmers! In theory and on Horizon milk boxes.

You realize that a $675,000 house makes you lower-middle class in snoburban MoCo, right? How absurd is that? I am glad that you are doing this. There is much to be mocked.

I am an observer of snoburbia. I observe the large houses on the next street.

Hipsters With Money are usually DINKs, too: Dual Income No Kids. You don't go to Snoburbia unless you have children. They're required, really.

They are a necessary accoutrement, fer sher. And they can absorb all of the accomplishments you didn't meet in your own lifetime! Bonus!

You all can steal my skiing story if it helps! I did it twice in my life. The second time I was pushed by an employer (I was their nanny) and said I didn't really want to as I was afraid I'd break my leg. Well, of course I broke my leg, in multiple places. I had no insurance so was stuck with a toe to thigh cast for 3 months, a walking boot a month after that and using crutches on and off for six months. It took a long time to finally heal and the pain was tremendous. I'll never ski again and anyone being a snob about it will get an earful for me. And I guess I'll just smile at the karma when they break their leg!

The attitudes are disgusting. I live in the Town of Chevy Chase and will be moving somewhere sane as soon as my youngest is out of school. It's a transactional thing: They'll get my tax money and we'll get the education. And then we'll get the hell out of here and move to Garrett County -- which I only know about because my neighbor has a second house at Deep Creek Lake.

Sorry. But I did notice you said, "As soon as my youngest is out of school."

Okay - the questions in the queue are getting odd now, so, um, buh bye! Please email me (as you're buying a shirt, perhaps??? sorry) or comment on the blog. Thanx, everyone. You're peachy.

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Lydia Sullivan
Lydia Sullivan is an amateur social anthropologist.
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