Socially Conscious Apartment Living Through the Eyes of a Toddler

Our family is soon to embark on a new adventure: moving into a new home. While reflecting on our apartment life, I realized there were some meaningful lessons of social and environmental consciousness that arose from raising our daughter in this space. I will always be grateful for this experience with her. We hear about “The American Dream” partly being the ability to own a home with a yard, but when this is not possible it is important to remember that valuable life lessons come from a wide variety of different environments our children are exposed to- the grocery store, park, library, classroom, and ANY kind of living space that you call home. There are a few ways I think life in an apartment has influenced my daughter’s foundation of social awareness, and while I am not a social scientist researching the differences between a home and apartment upbringing, I do often wonder how our approach to some things as a family might have differed had we not shared this time here together. These are the stories I want to pass on to my daughter about her early years in our apartment. IMG_1690 - Version 2

“Hello!” We’re lucky to live in a friendly complex where people are willing to engage with my daughter. Frequent interactions with other residents have offered her extra opportunities to see the value and joy of eye contact, friendly greetings and simple conversations. Every time we talk with the staff at our apartment complex, someone joins us on the elevator, or we pass by another resident in the courtyard, Simone has learned to greet them with a friendly hello and goodbye. And it seems like these face-to-face interactions have helped lay the groundwork for her approach to people when we’re out on the town, too. It’s as if every day she celebrates World Hello Day.

“Big trash truck!” From our bedroom windows, we see a multitude of trash trucks make their weekly rounds to our complex and neighboring buildings. We walk past the (sometimes overflowing) trash bin as we go to and from our car in the parking garage each day. This gives us much more frequent exposure to the waste we’re collectively producing. I count our daughter’s first self-discovered societal issue as her acknowledgement of “too much trash” one afternoon when we walked past the teeming dumpster in the garage.  The messages to become more aware of our household waste are all around us, like in the provocative video, The Story of Stuff, but it is powerful to hear it from the voices of our children. Her early recognition of this issue was what solidified my commitment to try composting at our new home.

“Let’s go outside!” Like many toddlers, our daughter needs an opportunity to wander, push physical boundaries and release seemingly endless energy. We need to go beyond the walls of our apartment on a regular basis, and since our doors open to a small patio instead of a yard, we often rely on public spaces to get our fix of adventure and exploration. We visit parks, trails, community gardens, farmer’s markets, college campuses and art installations (to name some favorites). After recently discovering the term placemaking, I’m even more committed to enjoying public spaces with my family, acknowledging their shared value and importance in defining our community.

“More shoes?” Could the term “paring down” have something to do with the amount of shoes some people own these days? A moment of reflection came when I was cleaning out my daughter’s closet following a growth spurt. As she looked on and I took out another pair of her now too-small shoes, she voiced one of her first questions: “More shoes?” Admittedly, this is one area where I had not done my due diligence in using our limited square footage appropriately. Living with little storage space is a healthy check on my consumerism, especially surrounding my child’s belongings. How many more times would I be fooled by the old childhood trick of playing with a new toy for one week, then quickly replacing it with an invented toy from kitchen cookware or a fort from old sheets and pillows. I’ve begun discussions amongst friends about doing monthly toy swaps in place of a constantly cramped toy closet at our new home. I’m also thinking of setting a quarterly reminder to re-read this article from Apartment Therapy to make sure that my paring down promises have stuck.

Toddlers are curious about people, think trash trucks are pretty cool, like playing outside and can make a toy out of just about anything. Can the societal issues described here be explored from a house? Yes. This account does not suggest that my daughter is any more exceptional than any other two-year-old. I’m just thankful that our apartment offered our family so many rich opportunities to explore these areas and think critically about how they play out in our lives. As we bid farewell next week, I offer this ode to our apartment for influencing our family practices and values. Thank you for these gifts of social consciousness.

As it is in the art of teaching, so it often is in the art of parenting. Take this quote from Leo Buscaglia in Living, Loving, Learning. So much inspiration can be shared between these two professions.

“Maybe the essence of education is not to stuff you with facts, but to help you to discover your uniqueness, to teach you how to develop it and then to teach you how to give it away.”