It is such a joy when you discover those close to you are about to have a child. Because some people are offended by the straightforward “congratulations on having productive intercourse!” many of us resort to a standard set of questions. Standard, but informative:
1. When are you due? (I am counting backwards to suss if you had your productive intercourse on my hide-a-bed when your furnace broke a while back)
2. What are you going to name it? (I will mock you for the rest of time if you’ve named your child after a food. )
3. Is it a boy or girl? (Be a boy, please – I need to unload all this crap out of my basement. Also, I’m not changing girl diapers. All that surface area is like trying to dust an accordion)
4. When are you moving to the suburbs?
Because I live in Chicago, and the chances are good that the expecting couple has their eye on greener pastures. Or at least greener cul-de-sacs. Filled with larger houses reached by larger cars. Green!
It’s depressing when your friends and family move to the suburbs. Because we’re never going to see them again. Virtual death is so hard to explain to children. No sooner does the person name the suburb they’re moving to than they feel compelled to mention that it’s “so close to the city.” This is like saying “but we’ll live on in your memories”. Traffic, sports practice, and the perils of parallel-parking a minivan wreak havoc on the best of intentions – to say nothing of the siren call of unlimited breadsticks at the Olive Garden luring one back to the shopping center. And no, we’re not driving out to see you. It’s dark away from the city, and there’s never anyone on the streets. It’s creepy as hell – like everyone’s hiding out from zombies. Or watching Dancing with the Stars.
The suburbs have all of the drawbacks of the city and the country. No open space, no slower pace of life, and generally lousy cultural options. Were you about to make a claim for the cultural life of the ‘burbs? Permit me to preemptively rebut your statement with a brief example. It’s called Ravinia, everyone’s favorite outdoor “music” venue in the burbs. Do you know who played there this summer? Jewel, Hootie (sans Blowfish), The B-52s, and goddamned STING. Sting! Where is thy death? Clearly not in Highland Park, Illinois, where it’s always 1993 and the BMG Music Club remains a major tastemaker. Not that it matters, because Ravinia is largely about showing off carefully matched sets of Crate & Barrel picnic ware and gossiping about how fat your recently divorced cousin looked at the Futterman Bar Mitzvah. I mean, seriously fat. She’s really letting herself go. What? What? I can’t hear you over all of this music. What? Oh, right! This is a concert. ANYWAY, SHE WAS CIRCUS FAT.
For every carefully made and rational point like the one above, the suburban and suburban-bound can counter with numerous gripes about the city. Traffic, crime, gangs, dicey schools, graffiti, lack of large family casual restaurants chains, etc. And I’m not going to argue. All of those things are most definitely drawbacks to living in the city.
That’s the point.
You can move to the suburbs because it makes for an easier life for you and your kids. Or you can stay in the city and teach them (and remind yourself) that life isn’t always supposed to be easy. Parents with school aged kids are always talking about how they want their (genius) children to be challenged. Yes, a parent must remain ever vigilant, lest their kids have to deal with the same stupid crap as everyone else. But what’s more challenging: more difficult math problems or dealing with some drunk lunatic on a CTA bus? Put another way, which is your child more likely to have to deal with as an adult? I can’t remember the last time I had to do long division in my head, but remembering not to make eye contact, breathe through my mouth, and never wear open toed shoes on a bus are skills that have served me well around the world. I didn’t sign my kids up for Mandarin when they turned four – if they’re going to compete in a globalized and urbanizing world, I figure the most useful lessons they can learn are how to compete and cope in an actual urban atmosphere.
Living in a city with crippling traffic means you can’t always do what you want when you want, but you can read a subway map. Ever-present gangs mean that you have to remain aware of your surroundings, get to know your neighbors, and learn how to talk to the police. Small backyards mean we have to share and make the most of parks, streets, and sidewalks. Spending time in Chicago Public Schools teaches kids how to make friends with kids who have backgrounds and challenges absolutely nothing like their own. Chicago schools also teach parents about the complete and total failure of our state and city government, which is a civics lesson I will hold from my kids for a few years.
Of course, I do all of this in my pinko-liberal belief that I will not raise entitled assholes. I feel I am doing my bit to prevent a nation of Paul Ryans. But as importantly, I hope that spending some time in the city will teach them very important lessons about how to deal with assholes. And my lovely city is full of assholes – the petty bureaucrats in government offices, the Cubs fans who treat the streets like their toilet, the violent stupid thugs, and of course, our belligerent and abysmal mayor.
My wife and I are native English speaking, well-educated, well-employed white people with relatively symmetrical faces. The whole American system is set-up for people like us – and if the Tea Party stays at it, only like us. My English-speaking symmetrically-faced white kids will likely never know all that much hardship. My options for teaching them about the world are limited. So we’re keeping them in the city, with the expectation that it will make them tough, confident, and ready for tomorrow’s assholes.
Call Mayor Emmanuel. I think I’ve got a campaign slogan.
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