Sunday, July 20, 2008

How do you know?

How do you know when you're doing the right thing for your children? The big deal, life long impact things, I mean. I think we're pretty good on the day to day. We're strict on manners, tv, being kind and the availability of healthy food for our children. I can tell that our boundaries are appropriate for their age - they seem fairly comfortable and well adjusted. Ruthie is adjusting well to our very slow and very gradual weaning process. I think we've got a handle on those things.

But what about the others? The things that are more difficult to measure on a day to day basis? Like, where should you raise your children?

David and I ask ourselves this question nearly every time we come to visit my parents in Birmingham, Alabama - the girls and I are here now. My parents have a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, garden style home that we love and is the perfect size for us and the simple lifestyle that I try so desperately to embrace. They can walk to a human-made lake and to get to their subdivision you drive up a winding road through the mountains. It's calming here. The people in the stores are SO nice, the teenagers are polite, and I don't get nervous around the large groups of teenagers at the mall. Most of all, life seems, calmer here than in the D.C. area. It would be short-sighted and ignorant to assume that life is easier here - because tragedy, trauma and sickness are everywhere. Still, there is a different, and better, feeling here.

On the other hand, at least where my parents live, EVERYTHING is so spread out. It's a 3 mile drive to get to the nearest stoplight and once you're there, the traffic is just as bad as on Rockville Pike or Route 1 at rush hour. The emphasis on cuteness can be kind of overwhelming - a lot of the little children here wear embroidered or smocked play clothes. While some kids wear Old Navy, smocked jumpers are the norm among the middle and upper class. That's another thing - as I looked around my parent's church, everyone was white and affluent. I don't want that. Oh, but their church is beautiful and everyone is so nice. By contrast, while I love the music and the pastor at our parish, the building itself is old and dingy and many times the clique of the conservative/6 kids per family/homeschoolers will barely say hello before rushing off to talk to their other clique friends.

I'm at a loss when I think of what we will do for middle school and high school for our girls. In principle, I don't believe in private school - whether secular or parochial. But come on - if Esther's personality at 11 is anything like her personality at almost 3, there's no way she'll survive in the middle school we're zoned for. Although she'll likely get into our magnet high school (everyone in our neighborhood does) it's still a big high school. It's too easy for her to get lost there. But that's the same here in Alabama. My parents live close to where this show was filmed and all the high schools around here are big ones. I think the only way you get a small public high school is to live in a small town and that's not necessarily the answer for us.

But perhaps it's easier to think of what we do want for our family rather than what we don't want. So, here's what we do want, at a bare minimum:

  • A mid sized city, where we can find like-minded people as support: semi-natural living, child-centered lives, interested in learning.
  • An airport within 1 hour that has Southwest Airlines.
  • A neighborhood where you can walk to a park, and a grocery store within a couple miles.
  • A neighborhood that promotes community, houses with front porches and sidewalks.
  • Good public education system - and by good, I don't mean test scores. I don't give a crap about test scores. I mean schools: where my children will be safe and unafraid, with teachers who want to be there and are well educated and open-minded, reasonable class sizes and other engaged parents.
  • A Catholic parish with a VIBRANT community, good folk music, and a full calendar of social events to promote community among the Parish. And with no cliques.
  • Oh, and a place where David and I can each get jobs. That's kind of important too.
  • A place that my girls will feel tied to. Alabama has that. Think about the music: Sweet Home Alabama, My Home's In Alabama, Walking in the Alabama Rain. There's a feeling about this place. Have you ever heard a song extolling the rain or the feeling of Hyattsville or Maryland?

When I think about leaving my mother's group, well, I just can't think about it - it's just too awful. I would never again find friends like them. We formed our friendships in a path contrary to how most friendships are formed. We met at our most vulnerable, laying it all out there for others to see and THEN became friends. That made some special bonds. And our neighbors! I love our street and our neighbors. No contest there. And, um, my sister that lives 25 minutes from our house? Yeah.

Given the things that matter to us, where should we raise our children? Or maybe the where doesn't matter; perhaps it's the how. In that case, how do we find the answer?


The Lowe said...

We think about this A LOT too. Maybe we should all move to Alabama.

Elaine said...

Rochester, NY is where you want to be - unless you hate cold as much as me. Then Rochester won't do at all. It also depends how you feel celebrating at a catholic church that has officially been ex-communicated, though the priest there says that the Church can't excommunicate him or others because Jesus would never kick someone out of His life. The reasons for the excommunication? Allowing women on the alter, blessing gay unions, and allowing non-catholics to take communion. Look up Spiritus Christi in Rochester, NY for a more detailed description. I was part of that community and it was as you describe.

Laurie said...

We think about this all the time. We swore we wouldn't stay in this area, and nonetheless can't seem to move. I'm a little embarrassed to say that for me a main reason is the MM. I know that many in the group have other friends from the area that are their main source of support, but while I do have other friends outside of the MM, I am a transplant to this area and the MM are my primary support. I have no idea what we'll end up doing. This seems like a theme that surfaces among many in our circle. Sometimes too many choices makes things harder, eh?

Sandy said...

Gee Ellen, I have to agree with Elaine 100%. Rochester, New York is where you want to be! Perhaps I can begin to persuade you when you visit later this summer. Rochester does have a lot to offer and small communities too. Not sure what Elaine was referencing with the cold and snow though....cough-cough!

Susan said...

It doesn't matter - at some point you have to release your children to be socially intelligent and responsible people on their own. It doesn't matter where you raise them, what matters are the lessons you explicitly and implicitly convey to them and the skill set you give to them to be productive and reflective people. You can grow up in the best utopia ever - but, at some point, don't we all leave that and see what else is out there? Why do we have to go to places that have what we want? Why can't we just create what we want and inspire others in the process? Isn't that kind of what your MM group has done?

Sue @ My Party of 6 said...

We think about this a lot too. Especially when we visit family in the midwest and see their ginormous houses that they buy for a small fraction of what you can buy them for here.

I grew up here and my family is here though, so I definitely have some long-established roots.

And I have to say, I do have a hard time reading the newspaper of even a fairly large midwestern city after being spoiled by the Washington Post all my life. (Yes, I know it's online. It's just not the same!)

And I think I recognize your church by the description of the people!

And @susan. Interesting thought about creating what we want where we are.

Thrift Store Mama said...

Sue - Seriously, I'm not joking. The headline of the Huntsville, Alabama newspaper one day was "I Was Bad Scared" referencing a thunderstorm. I know what you mean.

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