Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Debi: City Mouse

Stori's done a great job introducing herself, and so now it's my turn.

My husband and I have two daughters: Ronni is 6 and Sammi is 3. We live in a wonderful midwestern suburb called Evanston, literally four blocks from the northern border of the city of Chicago. We chose Evanston for several reasons that really get to the heart of who we are as a family. Explaining it requires me to backtrack a little into our history.

I never intended to be a stay-at-home mother. My hope, years ago when Ronni was born, was that I would be able to work outside the home a few days a week, and work from my home the rest of the time. That worked beautifully until Sammi was born, and her chronic illness (which was later diagnosed as a congenital heart defect) made it necessary for me to quit working outright.

It was a terrible shock to me, to go from managing a department of web developers to sitting home, all day, with a preschooler and her very sick and very needy baby sister. We lived in a townhouse complex in the city of Chicago, and while I knew a few people with small children, most days were excruciatingly isolating. I felt trapped, terribly lonely, and desperately in need of a community around me. My parents lived far away; my brother was single, young, and working; my in-laws, while only about an hour away, were busy with their own lives on a daily basis. I was parenting in a vacuum most days. It was, in a word, miserable, especially since I hadn't expected ever to do it.

So, when Ronni was nearing kindergarten age, and we knew the city school would not meet our standards, we began looking for a place to move. Our neighborhood in Evanston met the most important standards we'd set, namely:
  • It had a good elementary school.
  • I could walk to coffeeshops, the library, parks, preschool for Sammi ( who, by then, was healthier), and the elementary school.
Evanston also had several other benefits, less crucial but definite advantages over more distant suburbs. One was that it was very diverse; the school Ronni attends is 58% African-American, and perhaps 30% Caucasian, with the rest a jumble of all sorts of other ethnic groups. The income level also varies widely in Evanston, so we knew that moving here would introduce our children to a range of different people of different heritage, means, and cultures. That opens its own share of issues, of course, but these seemed preferable to us.

We love living here. After my husband goes to work, our day starts with a walk, every day: to drop Ronni off at her elementary school, then Sammi at her preschool, all within a four-block radius of our house. I come home and begin working; I've been able to pick up several freelance contracts that keep me busy enough to cover the costs of our "extras." In the afternoon, I head back out to do the walking commute in reverse -- pick up Sammi, then pick up Ronni. When the weather is nice, we all stay at the elementary school for an hour or two for the kids to play outside and for me to visit with the other parents who do the same. In the winter -- which I admit is nothing like Stori's winter, not even close -- we all scurry home. Sammi is in a stroller when the sidewalks are shoveled clean enough, and when they're not, she's on my back in a backpark or pulled behind me in a sled.

We go home. We play. We read. We cook. We eat. We read some more. We put on pajamas, brush teeth, snuggle and love each other, and sleep. The rhythm of life when you have children largely varies in the details, between families. This is our City Mouse rhythm.

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