Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Small town versus city living

I moved to the Des Moines area right about a year ago, and it's still amazing to me how different it is from the town I grew up in just 75 miles away. I lived in Tama-Toledo (two separate towns but, for all intents and purposes, the same) for 18 years. For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to move to a bigger city. I had my sights set on New York (much to my family's horror), because I wanted to go somewhere completely different from home (plus, all the magazines, celebrities and fabulous things are in New York). What I didn't expect, though, was to find a city so different so close to home.

Living in a small town truly is like living under a microscope. I come from a big family, so whenever someone learned my last name they asked if I was so-and-so's kid — and usually they got it right. In school, I had many of the same teachers my three older siblings had, which generally reflected well on me because they were all valedictorians. But it also added a lot of pressure and expectations. When people know the patterns of your family, you are expected to fall into that pattern.

Small town living is nice in that your neighbors have known you for years and, without fail, they will bring you the same treat for Christmas year after year. But it's also overwhelming. Do you remember that episode of Gilmore Girls when Rory and Dean break up and everyone knows by the time she gets to the diner the next morning? That kind of stuff actually happens. It can be so hard to deal with your "personal" problems when half your friends know before you've even told them.

When I went to college at Iowa State, I was overwhelmed with the amount of people there. I went from graduating high school in a class of 115 to taking classes with 300+ students. But I loved the anonymity. I could walk down the sidewalk and not see a single person I knew. No one knew who I was; they didn't know my family or what kind of student I was — they didn't know anything about my past. There were no expectations of me to be anything other than who I wanted to be. And that was the best feeling in the world.

Now, I still live in a smaller suburb, but the Des Moines area as a whole is home to more than 600,000 people. When I tell people my name here they say, "That's different, what country is that from?" Instead of driving 5 minutes across town to a friend's house, I drive 15 and take the interstate. In Tama-Toledo, the only places open past 10 p.m. were the 24-hour gas station and the two or three bars in the we had. It was a big deal when they moved Highway 30, because it doubled our stoplight count from two to four.

I love Des Moines so much because it's almost like someone has taken all the best elements out of small towns and big cities and combined them into one place. The nightlife and entertainment scene is surprisingly cool here, but when my car battery died at the mall, several people still stopped to ask if they could help. Maybe someday I'll move somewhere bigger, but for now I can't imagine being anywhere but here.

Now I'd love to hear some of your experiences. Have you lived in both a small town and a bigger city? What kinds of differences and similarities did you find? 

P.S. Small towns, bigger city and family pumpkin patch

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