Not having grown up in the U.S., I had not fully understood what the whole suburban life entailed. I felt the insinuation was generic—everybody seemingly succumbs and flees the city, right? In the beginning, did we want to be part of the predictable fray? What could the suburbs possibly offer?
When our priority became seeking out the right balance for our growing family, exploring life outside of downtown Chicago became inevitable. So we took a deep breath and uprooted our four children (Cormac, then 12; Aoife, who was 10; Ciarán, who was 8; and Niamh, then 5); Keady the dog; and Spots the gecko, and left our oh-so-bohemian Bucktown to see what life in Lake Forest had to offer.
Five years on, I think it very appropriate that this magazine piece happens to coincide with the month in which we celebrate Mother’s Day in America. It is a fitting Mother’s Day tribute to Lake Forest as I reflect on how enriching this move has proven to be—not only for our family but for me, personally.
In fact, I have become what you might call an “ultra fan.” When chatting to my North Shore real estate friends, I cannot fathom why every “For Sale” sign in Lake Forest (or nearby Lake Bluff) doesn’t turn into a “Sold” sign in a matter of weeks.
Every time I travel to the city, I am reminded how spoiled we are here on the North Shore.
The bustling buzz of Chicago also brings with it clogged thoroughfares exacerbated by a steady stream of traffic lights and potholes. I certainly do not miss the stress of inching along, white-knuckled for 30 minutes around a one-way block, looking for parking or the restrictive rules that pertain to city driving. My gas station trips are also halved. The marked reduction in traffic is directly proportional to increased efficiency.
One amazing side effect to suburban living is that suddenly, we found ourselves to be chronically early for meetings and appointments. Turns out that when all needs are within a 10-minute drive, it is possible to complete that “one more thing” on your ever-growing to-do list. (This alone should appeal to everyone’s pragmatic side.)
Another immediate improvement came in eliminating stress in organizing the children’s activities. Back in the city, the high demand for limited resources can have parents queuing-up for hours to secure a coveted spot in, for example, the learn-to-skate class at the public ice rink or golf lessons on public greens. Here in Lake Forest, we are spoiled by choice in outdoor pursuits in the suburbs.
Many budding athletes happily get their start cutting their teeth at the local recreation center where dance, squash, baseball, lacrosse, and football count among the many offerings to keep children engaged (and their parents fit) if so desired. Going one step further, some North Shore families find that combining the quest for activities, social interaction, and food makes it worthwhile in joining a club. For our family, the Winter Club has been a wonderful spot. The children walk there safely after school to skate or sled with their friends ensuring outdoor play every day. (Mum and Dad even get in a little fun—meeting friends and learning from the patient pros while participating in the Paddle and Tennis Leagues.)
Have I mentioned the fresh air yet? Much less traffic lends to cleaner, fresher air for those deep, cleansing, breaths (I learned to do this recently at meditation class at the Gorton Center which converts to an independent movie theater in the evening). We truly enjoy the fresh air and space to throw the ball for the dogs in the yard, set the kids free to explore the ravine, and get into a garden project. And yes, that’s dogs—plural! With all this new space, we got a second dog and a rabbit (that rabbit venture however didn’t go so well … we will say no more).
In retrospect, my anticipation of a quiet life was ironic; I soon discovered, the hamlets on the North Shore were anything but staid. Peaceful? Yes. Yet delve into the layers and you will discover committees, clubs, and a caucus all creating positive impact upon keeping the community harmonious.
One of the local organizations that resonated with me to become more involved is the School District 67 Spirit Board (every family donates whatever amount they can and then feel proud to contribute to a school where the children want to be every day). These monies support teacher and parent driven requests for such needs as an all-weather sport court, mindfulness classes, doubling the size of classroom libraries, and programs such as hands-on visiting scientists or language immersion. These experiences reach all the children and make this school district a special one.
Having worked in the industry for over a decade through my position at Abbott Laboratories, proximity to good health care is crucial. The Northwestern Lake Forest Women’s Board ensures continuing interface and cohesion between the community and the brand new state-of-the-art facility and medical personnel. The beautifully and thoughtfully laid out hospital was recently realized through many hours of volunteer effort and experienced staff input. It is a credit to our area and a community treasure. The board members are all super smart and are as hard working as they are welcoming. The annual events are not to be missed such as the sold-out Derby day on May 4. (Excitement is building as the big reveal for next year’s event is supposed to top all.)
As bulbs begin exploding in resplendent color around us this month, I am reminded of my pals at the Lake Forest Junior Garden Club (which I had assumed was a lot of flower arranging —I am a passionate amateur) but was once again proven wrong. We meet for local beautification projects, attend lectures on the history of landscape architecture, and explore the slow food and grow-your-own movement (essentially an education in getting back to our roots).
Another testament to the local outreach and compassion of the locality is The Allendale Shelter Club. It has been in operation since the early 1900s and comprises strong leadership and innovative men and women who take the time out of their busy lives to help those who might be currently struggling. A hidden secret on the North Shore is the deal on wine at their fall event (sssssh!).
While enjoying fine dining and culture was a favorite pursuit while living in the city, suburban life has introduced us to the art of the dinner party.
Connecting people over good food has become a meaningful pursuit. Recently, we had particular fun in having our friends come over to meet an Irish citizen and member of the British Peerage, the Earl of Iveagh—which sparked great conversations. We recruit Thierry at Froggy’s Catering, pick some flowers from Pasquesi, and seek guidance from Ellen and Daphne at The Lake Forest Shop to make the gathering special. In so far as culture is concerned, we have experienced famous authors and musicians from all over the globe at Lake Forest College, which is a hidden gem.
To culminate my exuding of suburban pleasures, I must say it is every day life that brings most pleasure.
The star characters in this new life we created include the vendors at the Lake Bluff Farmers Market; Mary the children’s librarian (who is ready with a good suggestion and asks about summer plans); Ray at the UPS store (who is ready with any print or postal job I present to him); Mark at CVS who entertains me with his travel stories while helping me find copious amounts of glue for a slime project; Laura at Lake Forest Juice who ensures my six-a-day with cold pressed nutrition in a bottle.
I also enjoy striking up a conversation with any number of our revered older neighbors, many of them mothers and grandmothers themselves. They’ve seen many changes and have much to teach. A joyous part of daily life, woven into the fabric of a wonderful community. I am grateful to them and to this city that has welcomed our family.