How much has America changed in the last 25 years? Being part of a quartet of playground Moms from venice beach, California, we were the vanguard of change, though we did not know this in 1996. The unincorporated patch of the Los Angeles county was always referred to in lower case letters then, a haven for artists, actors, architects, and writers.
But venice beach was a wounded little shore town then, recovering from the LA Riots which many dubbed “The Uprising.” Real estate prices had hit an all-time low from the 1980’s highs. Nancy, Paula, Denise, (not my friends real names), and I were happily married wives with babies and toddlers.
This was years before Silicon Beach, when Google moved in and ushered in the rent jumps that pushed many families out to the periphery of Los Angeles County, even into to The Inland Empire, and San Diego County in our cases.
Nancy, married to a successful computer programmer, had one son, Mickey. Theirs was a happy fortunate family, with Mickey being the best of everything in education, status, and even a purchased house in Santa Monica when those prices were still affordable, meaning almost $300K.
Paula had a complex second marriage with a son from an ex-wife with her older husband. She had a son, Todd, and a premature daughter, Genevieve. Their marriage survived the incubator inside their venice home, and Todd was put in childcare so the focus could be on the premie new baby.
Denise and her husband were both architects, with an amazing daughter, Lilly, and two sons to come. They seemed to be the perfect family, second to ours.
My husband and I had two sons within two-and-a-half years. Our neighbors, who were older but managed to have a daughter, described us as the “perfect family,” from their perch over the back yard fence adjacent to our dreamy beach bungalow. Our sons were very different types of boys, but at the time, they both were tow-headed marvels of energy and intelligence.
All of our kids were Montessori types with playdates, “woke” beliefs before that term was coined, and we as parents were very aware that we would not raise our kids as “boys will be boys,” and my friends with girls made sure that they had access to the whole world of career opportunities.
My marriage was the first to go, including an arrest and shocking disclosures of a double life and issues that are too sensitive to share.
We hit the tsunami of divorce with unimaginably complex issues, that our neighbors who thought we had the perfect life jumped ship on us. More on this dissolution took a decade to unravel. We are friends now, hard won.
But Paula’s life was falling apart too, unbeknownst to anyone then. It would be a divorce with concessions to come later. The family stayed together in separate dwellings. Hers was perhaps the most successful divorce of the Gwyneth Paltrow-style “conscious uncoupling.”
Denise stayed with her husband, but the detente was evident, and he suffered a massive health crisis a year after she filed for divorce decades later, and they still live together in an arrangement for the family’s greater good. She is his carer and his friend of many decades.
Nancy and her husband faced a much more topical situation years later with their son as he continues in his mid-twenties to transition to female.
Paula’s kids became the artistic types, one a rock musician, and the other still deciding. Denise’s children have had their up’s and down’s with the transitions and health crisis that engulfed their family.
My younger son is still estranged somewhat, unaware of the full facts of the past, although he now pursues a PhD at a UC, which says a lot. My older one skipped college for a very successful software programming future.
All in all, we are still in touch, although Nancy is out of the picture mostly. Each of us was hit by a crisis that tested the beliefs and values we all forged with our new pre-woke but woke California parenting. What did not change for any of us is that things turned out much differently than we imagined from the sandbox at the duck park on the venice canals.
None of us can afford to live by the beach anymore, except Nancy.
Denise went down to San Diego County; Paula stayed in the county, but found a house in a distressed neighborhood that rose with the years, and Nancy’s family still has the Santa Monica house that has doubled in value at least a couple times. My path took me to the edge of LA County, actually a border with the Inland Empire for cheaper buys on a house and some land.
We look back on the venice beach days, with the neighborhood coffee shop Abbot’s Habbit, as the halcyon days. Our children were amazing, and the future was amazing. Nothing was going to work out the way we thought it would. And the changes we all endured became the norm in the America we now live in for the 2020’s.
In retrospect, if we’d all had only happy lives, none of us would have been prepared for the lockdown’s, the political upheavals, and Culture War being waged right now.
Change is the only enemy besides Age that has your best interest at heart with the worst results.
venice beach will never be a place for young families like ours, but then again maybe we outgrew it.
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