Blooming where you're planted

City, country or suburbs? Members of Salon's community, Table Talk, say how they wound up where they are.

Published August 3, 2007 10:16AM (EDT)

Family Life

City Mouse, Country Mouse: Urban/Suburban/Rural Life With Children

JC - 06:28 pm Pacific Time - Jul 31, 2007

A thread to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of raising children in different settings, and how we can best take advantage of the good things and perhaps compensate for some of the shortcomings of our particular locales.

So I live with my husband and 2-year-old in New York City, which in many way is a wonderful and exciting place to raise a child. Apart from the obvious things -- the unbelievable range of people and opportunities, the energy -- I also love that we have more playdate friends within 200 yards than can comfortably fit in our apartment, that we're totally unremarkable as an inter-ethnic/racial/religious family, that we rarely have to get in a car, and that my husband's job is a 15-minute walk away. Both sets of grandparents also live within an hour's drive, which has been truly wonderful.

On the other hand, if we stay here we will likely always be renters, the school situation is unbelievably stress-inducing, and some days I would gladly sell my immortal soul for my own washer-dryer. Not to mention that my stomach does a backflip every time a plane roars especially loudly overhead.

It also concerns me that my son spends so much of his life on cement or rubberized playground tiles. Our neighborhood has virtually no green space and in order to run around on grass, we have to take a subway ride. I worry that he will grow up alienated from the natural world, and I wonder what -- if anything -- I can do about it.

reverendmother - 07:24 pm Pacific Time - Jul 31, 2007 - #2 of 15

We have the classic 2.5 kids in the suburbs. We have always lived in urban areas and are now in the burbs because that's where my job currently is.

Pro: Truly top-notch schools, our county is a melting pot -- more than a hundred languages spoken, easy access to public transportation and downtown culture, the ethos in our area is very family friendly and sorta "set up" for kids.

Con: It's the suburbs.

DH and I just spent a week on a remote island in Scotland and the pace of life was so unhurried as to be exhilarating. We found ourselves wondering what it would be like to raise our kids somewhere rural, even as we knew that there was some definite grass-is-greener thinking going on.

I worry about the lack of green space. We have well-manicured lawns here (except ours), not the big open areas to roam and explore. And more often than not we have to get into a car, not even the subway, to access decent green spaces, which just feels wrong to me. You cannot walk anywhere here.

Also the place is a pressure cooker. Remember that quote from Ferris Bueller? "Cameron is so tight if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass in two weeks you'd have a diamond." That sums it up.

I think it's the downside to so much great academic, athletic and cultural opportunity -- everyone wants to take advantage of all of it and the overprogramming gets insane. It seems that a place's greatest strengths are simultaneously its weaknesses. So maybe you pick your poison, eh? Or do you expose your kids to a few different settings as they grow up? Or does that prevent the putting down of roots?

Miriam - 06:47 am Pacific Time - Aug 1, 2007 - #5 of 15

I grew up in Honolulu, had my kids in San Francisco, and now live in ... rural Northern California. And I mean rural. A county of 3,000 square miles with 20,000 people in it. I work remotely for a large multinational, so thankfully I don't have to subsist on what the average job pays here, not that I could find a job if I needed to. And we're in the middle of the Sierra Nevadas and the place is absolutely gorgeous. But can I keep a high-powered career going from such a remote location?

But the school is horrible, horrible, horrible. I'm trying to figure out right now what to do with my youngest this year, whether to turn him back over to the dragon lady teachers or put him into the only alternative, a charter home school where his two sisters are enrolled. And let me tell you, trying to manage three kids' education on my own while working full time is NOT fun. I'm trying to figure out whether I can squeeze an education consultant into my budget.

I'm really an outdoor gal, and I love walking out my door and heading up into the woods for a romp with the dog. I explore all kinds of places. But wouldn't you know it, my kids are not outdoorsy types at all. They love living here, but they are reluctant hikers at best.

Sheera Queen of the Universe - 09:16 am Pacific Time - Aug 1, 2007 - #6 of 15

I'm currently living with my husband, three kids and four cats in a rented house in a small, rural town, population 1,800. 2,500 people in the entire county. We have lots of green (well, brown, given that it's August and we're in a perpetual drought) space, and you can walk almost anywhere in town -- one of the two grocery stores, two of the three schools (we just built a new high school that isn't necessarily walkable for us, but it would be for someone who lived in that neighborhood), the drug store, the florist, the barber shop, the hardware store. Everyone knows everyone else, which has its upsides and its downsides.

The downside to living here is what you would imagine. Things are really expensive here, because the grocery stores can't really buy in large volumes and there's no real competition among stores. The schools are good -- we probably have some of the best teachers I've ever seen, but they only stick to the basics. There really isn't any foreign language instruction until high school, there is no gifted program. Access to music lessons outside of the school is really limited. Diversity is almost nil. If you wanted your kids to go to private school or to go to schools with more opportunities and enrichment activities, it's a good hour drive away, on roads that can be treacherous during the winter.

It's a good little community, and there are a lot of fun things to do if you're an outdoorsy type person. If you're not, though, it can be boring here.

Tessie - 12:27 pm Pacific Time - Aug 1, 2007 - #8 of 15

Small city in the northeast, and I can't think of a single drawback. The public school system is generally pretty bad, but my son goes to a miraculous magnet (competitive public) school, for which he would not be eligible if we lived anywhere else. I can go two weeks without ever getting in my car, my son takes the city buses (his enrollment entitles him to a free bus pass), there is a small grocery and a farmer's market (unfortunately open only three days a week), each only a block from my house. We have museums, a symphony, several small theaters, a minor-league baseball team, great restaurants and bars. We're a 90-minute train ride from Philadelphia, a 3-hour train ride from NYC, an hour's drive to Baltimore and a 90-minute drive to D.C. I don't have a yard (don't want one) but live two blocks from a public park.

I send my son to summer camp for a month every summer so he can commune with nature all he wants.

comixchik - 02:38 pm Pacific Time - Aug 1, 2007 - #12 of 15

I've no kids, but I was raised in the wilderness of Kentucky. And I do mean wilderness. My parents became convinced in the '60s that society was going to collapse, and the best situation was having land to live off of. We heated with wood mostly, had a well, garden, fruit trees, chickens, rabbits, berry patches, and bought our eggs and beef from the farmers. We cleared land and built a house.

Because the area lacked any jobs, and my stepdad didn't trust the system, we were also poor. My family did a lot of "catch work," multiple jobs, supposed to add up to full time income that one "caught" as one can. A bit of this and a bit of that. But we got by better than so many people seem to with a lot more cash. we learned how to "make do," that wonderful skill old country folk seem to have.

There were advantages and disadvantages.

The bad: Anything beyond the general store was 30 miles away. If you needed an ambulance and serious hospital, plan on dying because it took over an hour to get you to a hospital IF the road, which was wound along a hillside above a river, wasn't flooded. There was some isolation, especially for younger kids, since the nearest playmates would be miles away. The schools were bad. You had to watch out for snakes and critters.

The good: It was a Tom Sawyer type childhood, we had a big river in walking distance, caves, cliffs, fields, woods, anything a kid could want to roam around. There was little crime. There were chores to do. One became independent, and knew how to make one's own fun.

My upbringing didn't suit me well for corporate life, or the country club set, but it did make me confident. I know how to do the basic tasks of life quite well, I've grown food, fixed cars, built things, chopped wood and carried water. I've a different, more independent attitude towards work than most people. I'm more of a self starter, but less of a team player. All in all I don't regret growing up where I did. I miss it sometimes.

Jen - 10:18 am Pacific Time - Aug 2, 2007 - #15 of 15

Until I was a teen, we lived in a semi-rural turning-suburban area with lots of undeveloped land still around. I spent my summers on the family farm. So my childhood memories are of fields and woods and streams. It freaks me out a little to see my own kids growing up in such an urban area (we live in a very urban suburb - small city lots, etc. - with a downtown and shopping within walking distance, and busses and El and Metra trains nearby.)

But then I remember what it was like to be a teenager in an exurban area -- nothing within walking distance, no public transit, needing to have a car to do anything, nothing much to do for entertainment except get drunk (well, there was some nighttime skinnydipping -- that was fun), and I feel like my kids will be happier in the long run.

We do try to make sure they have at least a week away from the city every summer, and as they get older I'd like them to go to an overnight camp. But some days I look at the smog- and light-polluted night sky and really think that as much as I love living here (and I really, really love this neighborhood), part of me will always long for the open spaces of my childhood.

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