OK, I can admit it: Choosing to live in a mid-sized city often feels like trying to have your cake and eat it, too. Many of us go with this option because we like the conveniences and comforts provided by a big city, mixed with the cozy, casual, low-key vibe that small towns offer. I like the amenities found in my mid-sized town, Spokane, Washington: the emphasis it puts on independently owned businesses, how I can choose between a handful of local coffee shops where I know their selections as well as my own kitchen cupboard, and how it rarely takes more than ten minutes to go anywhere downtown (if you're not familiar with downtown Spokane, here, let me show you).
That's not to say I don't sometimes miss some of the benefits that life in big cities provides. I miss having a wide range of specialty restaurants and countless entertainment options at my fingertips. And to be completely honest, I miss the extra sense of pride I got from living somewhere dynamic, desirable, and considered broadly interesting.
However, now that my toddler's in the picture, I'm seeing my city with fresh eyes. I'm less likely to mind that my favorite singers aren't touring through my city than I am to wish we had a bigger zoo. I don't mind so much that most of my favorite stores and restaurants from my time in Seattle and Orange County don't have locations here, but I do kinda care about the lack of diversity. Granted, not all mid-sized cities are created equal, so the cons to my city may very well be the pros to another, and vice versa. That said, I'm willing to wager that those of us who choose to parent in these wonderlands have more than a few things in common. For example:
The Heart-Pounding Game Of Roulette You Play Every Time You Leave The House Looking Awful
I kid you not, I outlined this piece earlier today, including this bullet point. Then, I went to Target this afternoon with my family, wearing a hoodie, a ponytail, and zero make-up. And of course I ran into someone I knew. It was a welcome encounter since this person is all-around great and happens to be a dear friend, but this isn't always the case; I might've just as easily ran into a frienemy with whom I share a beloved, ongoing, mutual sense of competition, and running into her while I look ~rough~ would've totally been a (pointless, dumb) "win" for her! I can't allow it! (Look, I'm not actually superficial, but we all have people like this in our lives; people for whom we always feel the need to look and be our best selves, probably because we secretly respect them a lot and want their approval.)
The point is, mid-sized cities are dangerous: They offer you the illusion of anonymity since most of the people you see when you're out are strangers, but the truth is, they're small enough that you could definitely run into someone you know at any time.
...Or When You Take Your Kiddo Out Knowing There's A Good Chance Of Meltdown
My normally well-behaved, tiny gentleman likes to wait until I run into someone from my mom's group to start flailing. It's cool, though. My collection of boyband music is vast and deep, and I like playing it loudly out my open car windows. I'm just biding my time until it's my turn.
"Traffic" Is Not Nearly As Big Of A Deal As It Is In Major Cities
It's not that we don't have rush hour here in my mid-sized city. It's that rush hour here is about as bothersome as a random stray thread on a sweater, while elsewhere it's a giant coffee spill on your favorite shirt. Like, I'm talking a minor annoyance that sets you back a couple minutes, compared to catastrophic delays that ruin your entire afternoon. And now that I've got a toddler kicking and jabbering in the backseat, I'll gladly take one over the other.
The Joyful Reactions When News About Incoming Restaurants And Stores Breaks
I'm not proud of it, but I lost my mind a little bit when we got a Panera Bread earlier this year. And many of my friends had similar reactions to our new Anthropologie. Spokane's moving up in the world, you guys, and we're going to get unreasonably psyched every tiny step of the way.
Speaking Of Restaurants, The Peace Of Knowing That You Will Hardly Ever Need Reservations, Nor Will You Find Yourself Waiting For Long (Except On Your Toddler's Hungriest Day, Because Of Course)
When you have a toddler in tow, waiting to be seated just isn't a good option. I don't know how parents ever go out to eat in huge cities where waiting for a table or planning ahead with a reservation (who has their calendars that together?!) are part of the eating-out game. We are spoiled by the relatively wide range of appropriately-sized dining options that our city allows, and the fact that they rarely ever require advance planning.
Everybody Doesn't Know Everybody, But Everybody Does Know Somebody You Know
Speaking of people you know, living in a mid-sized city is not not like living in a small town where everybody knows everybody (or so I've heard). But it is the kind of place where if you meet someone who's roughly in your same age and peer group, you will almost certainly have friends and acquaintances in common. I'm still kinda getting used to this (my husband grew up here so it's even more common for him), but as he gets older, I'm hoping my son appreciates the community aspect of our city.
Having A Car Is Essential
I know just one (that's right, one) family here in town who are car-free by choice. Mid-sized cities aren't exactly public transportation havens, and they are also way too big to walk or bike, so we almost all rely on cars. It all works out though since I'm pretty sure my favorite coffee chain drive-thru won't serve me unless I'm in one anyway.
Speaking Of Cars, Having To Put My Child In His Car Seat Every 3-5 Minutes While Running Errands
Yes, I know I just unstrapped you. Yes, I know you don't want to go back to your car seat. Yes, I know we only traveled 0.75 miles. However, this is what happens when everywhere we need to go for errands is spread out juuuuuuust enough that we can't walk. Sorry, little man.
Our Kids Sometimes Match
I'm not trying to paint a picture of a place with one Target and one rack of toddler pants and shirts. We do have a ~fair~ number of stores in town that sell kids' clothes. However, of the stores that sell kids' clothes, my friends and I often agree on what's cute. So this fact, plus the fact that our selection is, after all, only ~fair~ means that our kids can have very similar wardrobes.
The Cost Of Living Makes All Things Possible
OK, maybe not all things. Last I checked, college tuition, Kate Spade diaper bags, and organic blueberry prices pretty much always stay the same. But still, we've got some time to plan for college, my non-designer diaper bag works just fine, thank you very much, and I don't really have time to think about blueberries in that much detail, so I'm not sweating it. The fact is we can afford more here than we could in the big city we moved here from, and I'm thankful for this every day.
Images: Stuart Seeger/Flickr; Giphy(10)