05 November 2009

City Mouse, Suburban Mouse or Country Mouse?

Let me be clear – I am a city rat. I lived in a suburban area until I was about 16, but I moved out and quickly made my way to the city, where I’ve lived (mostly) since. I suppose I say “mostly” because I have had a few sojourns to other regions and spent enough time to get a driver’s license in some decidedly rural areas in other states – but I want it known that I pined for the ocean and the pavement and made my way back to the city as quickly as possible where I felt I could finally breathe.

Yet, when I was pregnant, I worried (often out loud) about living in the city and the possibility of having to move once or twice depending on what landlords decided to do and whether or not I was going to be bringing a newborn into a potentially unhealthy and unstable place. “Oh please,” my friend KT said to me at one point. “At least she’ll grow up with street sense!” Yes, I conceded, this was true.

But still, we looked at the possibility of moving outside Zone 1 on the T. Newburyport was too expensive, but there was always enough happening there to make it appealing (I spent a lot of time there in my formative years); Salem was considered but didn’t call to us; other seaside communities were either too isolated or too expensive; NH was just too…rural. Finally, a beautiful place came up that was owned by a couple we knew and loved like parents and though it was considerably more than we were currently paying, it felt like it would be worth every extra cent. Last month, we packed our home and moved…around the corner.
It was then that I knew for sure we would never move out of the city. We couldn’t. We only have one car, so the convenience of the T is also a necessity for M during the week. Everything else is in walking distance and, frankly, A has become a fixture in our little slice of the urban landscape. It seems that everyone knows her, even if they don’t know us.

If we move again anytime soon, I hope that it will be because we’ve purchased a condo or perhaps a house somewhere in East Boston, Somerville, Dorchester or maybe as far out as Quincy. Neither of us can see ourselves going any further out than that.

Yet, A has two playmates, neither of whom live in the city. One, a boy two weeks her junior, lives about an hour to an hour and a half away in a quasi-rural area of NH. The other, a girl two years her senior, lives about 30 minutes outside of the city in what most of us call a suburb. The homes are close together, though not as close as they are in our neighborhood. The streets are purely residential, nothing is in walking distance and there is a significant lack of public transportation.

Both parents of these playmates can’t imagine living in the city as much as we can’t imagine living in a suburb or rural area. The suburban mom of the little girl is actually afraid of coming in to the city at all, so I was a more than a little shocked when they did come for A’s first birthday. Needless to say, in both cases, we take A to them – they don’t come to us. I don’t mind this arrangement too much. We drive both ways to the suburban sleep overs and usually, we only drive one way to the quasi-rural slumber parties. They’ll bring A back the next day.

I am just a little saddened by the fact that although we have a lot of kids, even kids A’s age, in our neighborhood, it seems that there isn’t a whole lot of sense of close parenting community in the here. People in our area keep to themselves more, perhaps because we’re so close to each other to begin with that any amount of privacy is coveted. Or maybe it’s because it’s not the safest place to be and people are just naturally mistrusting? I don’t know. I do know that the two kids we see the most who would probably make ideal playmates for A are from families who don’t speak English as a first language (or at all from what I can tell), so maybe that’s part of the reason too.

I also can’t help but wonder whether A’s playmates now aren’t missing out on something. While I’m happy to know that she gets out of the city to a relatively quiet place at least once a month for a two-day playdate/sleepover, I also know that she’s growing to be a city rat like us. So with that in mind, I think it’s good for her to have different experiences, to see that not every place is concrete and loud and smells vaguely of rubbish, urine and exhaust. It’s important to have those quiet nights and truly fresh air and experience the different types of neighborhoods that exist beyond the city boundaries. Similarly though, I think it would be great for her friends to spend time with us and see that not everyone’s home and mom looks the same, to hear 10 different languages spoken and to smell a veritable nasal cacophony of different cuisines cooking, all at once. It would be cool to take her friends around the harbor on a boat, to let them ride the T and see that here, people walk, run, bike and drive a variety of vehicles too.

I am not saying that any one place to live is better than another, don’t think that. But I am saying that I think it’s good for kids to leave those confines once in a while and experience the way that others live, in other areas more than, say, once in their lives.

Next year, both of us would like to resume our old camping habits too. Those were favorite memories from our separate childhoods and an activity that, as adults, we both feel like we’ve missed out on in some way (living in tent cities in the Middle Eastern desert or mountains of Asia doesn’t technically count as camping, though it may put you off of seeing a tent for a few years afterward). I figure that I can use camping as an opportunity to teach A about the beauty of the natural world that she only sees in landscaped microcosms at home – and of course, use the time to educate her on rural and wilderness survival too. No, I’m not being facetious either.

Ultimately, what she’ll want to feel under her feet and the air she’ll want to breathe every day will be up to her. It’s up to us, though, to give her the tools to be able to make that choice wisely – and survive her choice in the end.

What kind of an area do you live in? Do you think your kids should experience more than your city/town/township/village or do you have everything you need where you are and hope your kids grow up to feel the same?


Lylah said...

I live in the boonies. Well, whatever you call that ring of small towns outside of the real suburbs. It's a lot like where I grew up (which, what with strip malls and condos, no longer looks like where I grew up). It's nothing like where my husband grew up (The Bronx). But we're happy here.

As far as my kids go, I don't think our small town provides a better or worse experience than growing up in the city, just a different one. I hope that they'll grow up and fall in love with a place and find their niche and be happy -- I'll visit wherever that may be!

Phe said...

Lylah - I would call that "quasi rural". It's not quite suburban, not quite country.

I don't think that any place provides a better or worse experience either - but I do think that kids should experience a multitude of environments to better help them "see" the world around them.

I'm with you though - wherever she ends up, we'll be there to visit.

And isn't it funny how strip malls and condos have changed the face of so many of our childhood landscapes?

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