Sociologists tell us that the makeup of the family is changing. My friend Dingwall believes the sociologists are right. He’s seen the changes in his own neighbourhood. There are several different family forms within walking distance of Dingwall’s home.
Down the street is a married couple with three cars, two cats, a dog, and a teenage boy. Neighbourhood gossip has it that the couple is expecting. When the boy turns sixteen, there’ll be another car.
The couple next door, a man and his Ford, had a new car last month. The man was elated. He ran around the neighbourhood shouting, “It’s a Jeep!” and passed out cigars.
Like most neighbourhoods, Dingwall’s has its share of single-car families. It also has families that are quite large. Several have eight or more vehicles, if you count the cars, motorcycles, quads, bicycles, and scooters. Several others have eight or more pets, if you count the dogs, cats, rabbits, fish and the odd child. With large families, the reassuring sounds of domesticity are ever present, especially the pitter-patter of canine paws and the happy squeals of cars at play.
Unfortunately, Dingwall’s neighbourhood has high levels of marriage breakdown. Disputes over who gets sole custody of the SUV or the sedan are common. So are quarrels arising from shared custody of the poodle or the white mice. Although these conflicts are private, the impact is often public, and the entire neighbourhood gets in on them.
The empty nest syndrome is common as well. It’s difficult for the elderly when they can no longer drive and their cars leave home. It’s especially difficult when there’s no forwarding address.
As soon as they’re of age, young people start going out with cars; and when they’re financially able, most commit to a vehicle they’ve fallen in love with. Infidelity, unfortunately, is rampant as nearly all drivers have roving eyes and few stay with their first car till the end.
In some neighbourhoods, the most prominent architectural feature is the multiple car garage. They’re the first thing you see when you approach a house. Garages, where cars rest, can outnumber bedrooms, where people sleep. Pet quarters can outnumber them, too. More importantly, car and pet amenities often outrank human comforts and services. Unlike their owners, who have to wait in line when something is wrong with them, cars and pets receive immediate care.
Some married couples are carless, others petless. Although they bravely strive to be independent, the neighbourhood rallies to their support. Motorists insist on giving the carless rides, even when they try to save face by pretending to walk for exercise. Companion animal owners pressure the petless to pet sit, even when they try to hide their desire for close contact with other species.
At times, Dingwall feels out of place in his neighbourhood. Although his wife and he had a large family, it consisted entirely of children. Except for brief encounters with a budgie and a couple of hamsters, the only animals in his house were the human kind. What’s more, neither his wife nor he drives.
They try to divert attention from being both petless and carless, but with mixed results. Since some pets live indoors, not having them is relatively easy to hide. But how do you hide not having a car? Cars spend a lot of time outdoors. Not having a car is as difficult to hide as having one. If Dingwall built a garage, he might fool strangers, but not neighbours.
He seldom feels lonely in his neighbourhood. The vehicles and dogs see to that. Roaring and howling at any hour, they tirelessly reassure him that there’s plenty of company nearby. When they can get away on their own, neighbourhood dogs and cats patrol his yard, leaving reminders of their vigilance. Thanks to vehicles and pets, he doesn’t need a security system.
Because of a low birth rate, demographers fear that our population could stagnate or decline. Dingwall doesn’t. He’s confident immigration will make up any shortfall. He has seen how eagerly our diverse families assimilate new immigrants: on the one hand, Austins, Fiats, Ladas, Toyotas, Volvos, and Volkswagens, to name a few; on the other hand, iguanas, boa constrictors, cockatoos, bush babies, armadillos, and potbelly pigs, to name a few more.
Why, Dingwall thinks we may even be in for a population explosion.