Suddenly, suburbia

(Donna is a former magazine editor and fashion stylist. Currently she’s a freelance writer, stylist, and speaker on fashion, interiors, DIY projects and slow living.)

On our first night staying in our new house and neighborhood, before going to bed, all I could hear outside were the rhythmic conversation of crickets and the amusing vocalizations of a lone gecko beside our house.

“I can’t sleep. It’s too quiet,” my husband told me.

There were no videoke showdowns from neighboring barangays, no passing cars, no bright lights. It was only 8 p.m. and we were already getting ready for bed.

Hello, suburbia!

Author Donna Cuna-Pita and husband Patrick Pita with their kids Mateo and Amara at home in Ayala Westgrove Heights: The kids no longer have to wake up at an ungodly hour to make it to school, and my husband and I get to go on more date nights.

THE CITY TRANSPLANTS

I was born in the city and save for about two years living in Calamba, Laguna before I turned five, I stayed in the city until I was 41, married, and with two young teenagers.

The rhythm of city life was really all my family and I had ever known. All of a sudden here we were, less than two hours away from Manila, but disoriented like we were living in another time zone. My nerves were still on city-mode the first few months our family moved from the city to the suburbs.

From skyscrapers to nature: Our home is surrounded by plants and trees, and views of the mountains and valley below.

My kids initially still left for school 75 minutes before their classes started and I planned my trips out of the house to do errands with at least an hour’s worth of allowance for traffic each way. I eventually realized, upon getting to the mall well before opening time and my kids getting to school even before the school staff, that I was stressed and worried about things I shouldn’t have been worried about anymore.

Small everyday things that we couldn’t do before, we suddenly had so much time to do now. We now leisurely have breakfast together as a family every single day. There’s so much time in the morning that I can fix my daughter’s hair so she has a different hair style every day of the week! The kids no longer have to wake up at an ungodly hour to make it to school. They no longer look like sleep-deprived zombies in the morning.

Their school, the malls, the grocery, are all just 10 to 15 minutes away. On a regular day, traffic is having six — or God forbid, eight — cars in front of you. No car coding! Just let me say that again — no car coding! And free parking everywhere.

Amara doing her homework in the dining room: “Everyone here is so nice,” she says of our neighborhood.

It’s all so liberating, but also disorienting.

When I first joined a carpool with neighbors to bring our kids to school, I pushed for them to leave an hour before class started (I thought I was being relaxed, giving just an hour’s allowance for traffic) but my neighbors patiently showed me that all they needed were really just 15 minutes to get to school. I couldn’t believe it! Even on days when I have a long list of errands (bring kids to school, go to the bank, do groceries, go to the mall to buy school supplies, go to the hardware to buy home items), I find that I’m done by lunchtime and I still have the rest of the afternoon and evening to do so many other things.

MINDFUL LIVING

Suddenly having so much time on our hands, it now became possible to do all the other things we’ve always wanted to do. My husband and I started our edible garden. We now have talbos ng kamote, papaya, dragon fruit, guava, langka, mulberries, sili, calamansi, atis, coconut, cassava, pineapples, and a host of herbs and fragrant flowering plants. We go to nearby Tagaytay on weekends to buy plants and restock on supplies from Ilog Maria Bee Farm on random days of the week.

I rediscovered my passion for cooking and baking, along with interior design and DIY projects.  My husband rides his Vespa to the gym on weekends. The kids get to hang out with their friends at the mall, yet still have time to pursue other individual interests.

My husband and I also get to go on more date nights here. One particular night, we left our house at 8 p.m. for a coffee date, and quickly found ourselves back home by 9 p.m. “Did you even leave?”  asked my daughter.

It’s true what they say about time moving slower outside the city, and having more time forces you to think about what you really want to do with yourself and with your life. The old, reliable excuse that you don’t have time won’t work anymore. Suddenly, we were not living on auto-survival mode.

“I’m bored,” my kids used to say, not knowing what to do with all the time they had on their hands. I saw this as a chance for them to daydream, to think about everything and nothing, to walk around and poke at the plants, watch the clouds, even just to roll around in their beds. Letting their minds go blank for a bit and letting their body relax helped them wake up from the haze of the frenzied life that we used to live.

Our home now is surrounded by plants and trees, and views of the mountains and the valley below. Every day I still pinch myself. Being around nature has done so much for our children in particular. Their school, Acacia Waldorf, is right beside Holy Carabao Farm, an organic and wholesome farm that grows fresh produce with chickens freely roaming about, and also rabbits, pot-bellied pigs, and horses that they can pet and visit throughout the day.

Our garden includes talbos ng kamote, papaya, dragon fruit, guava, langka, mulberries, sili, calamansi, atis, coconut, cassava, pineapples, herbs and flowering plants.

During school fairs, instead of ferris wheels and roller coaster rides, they have carabao rides and a zip line anchored on two beautiful trees. They’re taught farming and woodwork, activities that teach them patience and perseverance. At a time when everything can be had in an instant, there is real value in still knowing how to work the ground with your hands and how to slowly make something out of a hard block of wood. You can’t rush it and there are no shortcuts. You can’t swipe left or right. Slow living has taught us to be mindful and also to respect the process.

My fingers almost never have nail polish anymore because I dig my hands into the ground every weekend. I used to work in the fashion industry and I had a gazillion clothes, accessories and shoes. Here, there’s no need for them. However, I have kept a few sparkly pieces on stand-by for when I feel the itch to get all glammed-up again.

LESS STRESS = NICER PEOPLE

My frazzled nerves and constantly on-the-rush mindset slowly faded away. I was starting to get the hang of slow living. One of my earlier surprises while driving around our area was how people here give way at intersections and crossings. Drivers are so much more chill, not as angry and harassed as the ones in the city (understandably so with city traffic so bad 99 percent of the time). My neighbors are the same way.

“Everyone here is so nice,” my daughter said to me when we first moved here. And she’s right. My neighbors regularly give away, or sell at ridiculously low prices, produce from their yards or farms.

We have village Viber groups where anyone in the neighborhood can ask for advice, sell goods, share announcements, and everybody there is so helpful. “Does anybody have extra dill? I just need a little for a pasta dish I’m making,” asks a neighbor. More than three reply and tell her to freely get from their gardens or kitchens as much as she needs.

We’re all a lot more relaxed. My husband says this is the happiest he has ever been and coming home is always the highlight of his day.

In my kids’ school, my kids were awed by how everyone was so happy and free. Kids run around the school grounds barefoot. They climb trees, play in the mud and dance in the rain. Much like how my childhood was in the ‘80s.

Even the kids here who sell turon, kitchen towels, and lumpiang toge outside establishments are meek and courteous. “Bili na po, ate,” they say as they approach you.

One day I was giving away packs of food and old clothes to the children outside the grocery and I had to repeatedly call on them to come to me as they were too shy to come over and get a bag for themselves. When I did this in the city, the kids were grabbing the bags from each other. I have to admit that I was the same way in the city. I was always looking out for myself, always a bit suspicious of those around me, keeping an eye out for someone who might take advantage of me.

Life really is harder in the city and it inadvertently toughens you up. I like that my children now realize that they don’t have to be so scared all the time and not everyone is out to get them. “But that’s not real life,” some would say, “real life is tough.” I have to disagree. Kind and gentle people are just as real as mean and hurtful ones.

And as I recently discovered, every day, we have a choice on what kind of person we want to be and how we want to treat other people. Whether you went through horrible traffic or not, the choice to be kind and good is always an option.

BUT SOMETIMES, I MISS POKE BOWLS AND ZARA

Moving out of the city also meant moving further away from the conveniences of city living. My favorite restaurants and clothing brands are all over an hour away from me. Meeting up with friends need to be planned ahead of time and are not always possible. My parents and siblings are all over 40 kilometers away. 

I go to the city for meetings and meet-ups once a week at most. When I do this, I make sure to visit my favorite stores and bring back food from our old favorite restaurants. I live near the malls in our area but they don’t carry as many stores and restaurants as the bigger malls back in the city. Food delivery is also not very reliable, with some restaurants not having a devoted phone line for deliveries. Shipping costs are also higher outside of Metro Manila. There’s no Grab service here and taxis are almost non-existent.

We do, however, have reliable P2P buses that bring us from Nuvali to Makati and an airport shuttle that caters to all the terminals. There are convenience trade-offs with moving outside of the central hub. I especially get annoyed at  how slow drive-thru service is here. Time moves slower here, but I find that here in our neighborhood, it’s ironically most evident at the fast food drive-thru line.

PROVINCE NEWBIES

It’s only been two years since we moved out of our first family home in Pasig to our suburban home that sits at the border of Sta. Rosa, Laguna and Silang, Cavite. Our move wasn’t born out of a major catastrophe or an urgent need. It was a bold move on my husband’s part to just finally go ahead with a plan that we’ve had in our heads since 2010. I wasn’t unhappy living in the city. The daily traffic, the noise, and the pollution, I just saw all of them as natural parts of the landscape of city living and normal parts of our everyday lives. It was okay for me to stay where I was.

During school fairs, instead of ferris wheels and roller coaster rides, the kids have carabao rides and a zip line anchored on two beautiful trees. They’re also taught farming and woodwork.

However, my daughter’s allergies were getting worse and my kids were getting sick several times a year. My husband and I would sometimes find ourselves stuck in city traffic for up to three hours on regular work days. Most of the time, we were all exhausted. We started building our house in 2016 and moved in 2017. My kids are rarely sick now and my daughter’s allergy attacks are at least 75 percent less severe. We’re all a lot more relaxed. My husband says this is the happiest he has ever been and coming home is always the highlight of his day.

I don’t think everyone has to move out of the city, though. Slow living is not for everyone. My sister, for one, says the stillness and quiet would drive her mad. However, I do recommend that all of us find a way to get in touch with ourselves again and our community. We all need to relax and be less defensive.

Everyone can benefit from little pockets of slow living once in a while, to remind us that we’re on this planet, whether in the city or not, to ultimately live good lives and to be good people.

* * *

Follow Donna on Instagram @donnacunapita.

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