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Spring Tidings: Where Will We Land?

I keep trying to write to you.  I do.  I’ve started and discarded no fewer than four posts, on various topics that are filling my mind these days.  But now it is spring — and allergy season — and Facebook has just reminded me that I haven’t posted anything in twenty days.  Twenty days!

That is a lifetime in the Internet world, is it not?

We are so busy here at the moment.  We are very close to putting our house on the market, so every spare second over the last few weeks has been spent in a wild effort to paint all of the things and finish all of the projects.  Last week, I came home every night to work on our entry way, which is now much prettier than it ever was.  We hired cleaners to come in and give the house a scrubbing of its lifetime.  My Beloved installed new stone steps and finished a million other little projects around the house.  Our back yard has become a summer oasis, blooming with begonias and fresh paint and tidy trimmings.  Everything is now so spot on that the thought of selling the house and starting it all over somewhere else rather makes me want to cry.

I have problems with change.  It’s true.  I am trying to see past it, although the thought of moving has opened up all kinds of possibilities that have made me feel rather lost.  When I moved here, my only thought was having a back yard near the beach with a mortgage that I could afford.  Having a child has complicated things.  Now I worry about things like local schools, population diversity, the political environment.   I grew up outside of Washington D.C., in one of the two most diverse counties in America.  I had friends from all over the world.  Through friendships and school projects, I visited the homes of Muslims, Protestants, Catholics and Buddhists as a matter of course.  I knew that when  you went to Korean or Russian homes, you had to take off your shoes at the door.  I learned soccer basics from a woman who had played on the national team in Honduras.  I recently found a mix tape that friend made me in middle school, with tracks on it that her Vietnamese parents grew up on. I learned to jump double dutch and braid hair from all the Black children at the summer day camps I went to while my mom was at work.  When I think about the kind of education that I want Baba to have, growing up in a culturally diverse school district is a big part of it.

Here in Long Island, things are more segregated.  I imagine it is much that way across most of the country, but it seems an odd way to grow up.  The town that we live in is particularly severe this way — the local elementary school is 95% White, even though the surrounding neighborhoods are more integrated.  That concerns me, even more so because of the racist sentiments I see openly expressed on the town’s Facebook parenting group, which I like to tell myself are only possible because these people choose to be socially isolated.  How can you believe in stereotypes once you’ve made friends with people from that group?  And yet, while I try not to condemn them, the thought of Baba going into their homes, as she makes friends with other children, gives me the willies.  These are not the adults that I want in her community.  I certainly don’t want her to grow up seeing children of other ethnicities as foreign or different or wrong.

I’ve found myself researching nearby neighborhoods strictly on their demographics and trying to find an acceptable intersection of diversity, similar incomes and safety.  Long Island, like much of the country, is seeing a huge surge in the heroin trade.  As the dealers have moved in, they’ve brought their guns and their gangs.  Our new District Attorney is doing a great job of cracking down on them and so we see arrests in the local papers of all of the towns around us…but never in our town.  In our town, the biggest crimes being reported are all the forty-something women stealing from Kohl’s.

This makes the decision of whether to stay or whether to go so much harder.  I grew up in a poor section of town, in clustered apartment complexes where the kids were often unsupervised while their parents worked multiple jobs.  There were pot dealers in my middle school and more than one student was expelled for bringing in a gun.  I learned, by the age of twelve or so, that walking down the street without a male friend would inevitably mean harassment from men much older than myself.  By the time I was fourteen, I carried mace, just in case the creep that hung outside of the high school where I was taking a summer class decided to try anything worse than just following me and talking to me.

To this day, I am still wary of men, though I have long passed the age where I draw the kind of attention that I did as a teenager.  That’s precisely the kind of world that I want to protect Baba from.  I know well how blessed we are, because we’re in a position to be able to do so.  And yet, I feel guilty at the thought.  To be able to buy safety for her with such relative ease, to get her into a well-reputed school district with ample financial resources, feels like such a betrayal of where I come from.  And selfishly, I worry that I will have a hard time making friends with people who look on childhoods like mine with pity.  When I walk among such people, as I did in high school when my high level of academics put me among the privileged, I feel like an imposter.

I have had to face the fact that we are in a position to give my daughter a whole lot more, in a material sense, than I grew up with.   Money absolutely buys access to a better education and a safer neighborhood.  I hear my own privilege in this post.  I do.  It bothers me deeply.  Americans aren’t supposed to be class or race conscious, but of course we all are.  I remind myself that this is the world that I want for everyone — a world of prosperity and safety, where we can have authentic and honest relationships with people very different from ourselves.  I remember well how old I was when my school divided into cliques that were formed on the lines of skin color.  In the 90s, we all became color aware when we were twelve.  I remember it as a time of deep hurt for me, when many of my friends drifted away to new friendships, formed with people that looked more like they did.  Could it be different for my daughter’s generation?  Every time someone takes my pale skin as an invitation to air their prejudices, I have to wonder.

The political primaries this year have made it very apparent that these race and class issues are boiling across my country.  Today, Donald Trump — an actual contender for the Presidency! — denounced the decision to put Harriet Tubman on the twenty dollar bill.  Who could argue with Harriet Tubman?  Every time I pass a Trump banner in someone’s yard, I want to run as far from here as we can, even as I know that there are plenty more people that think like we do.  I hope.

In any case, we’ve pinpointed a few areas that I hope can give Baba the sort of childhood that I want her to have.  I have no doubt that our research will keep on for the next few months, as neither of us know the area well.  This will be our forever home, as hard as it is for me to admit to committing to New York, and we want to do a good job of picking it. We will land somewhere or other, at the end of this temporary and uncomfortable time of uncertainty.

Baba and I have the next week off, as her day care is closed for the week of Passover, and the weather is finally shifting into a gentle and warm spring.  The house is finished and photographed for sale, so  — at last — all we need to do is entertain ourselves and relax, as best we can.

 

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  1. I live in the Midwest, where ‘white flight’ is common and growing. There are still cities and towns not 30 minutes from Indy, where maybe one black kid and no Asians graduate and people can’t pronounce the name Torres. They have great schools — academically. In contrast, in the inner city, it might be less than 20% white enrollment but academic achievement is varied. My older kids have lived both places.
    I’ve lived in a lot of different neighborhoods, and came to realize I enjoy diversity. Living in a 95% white neighborhood with a 95% white school doesn’t much teach children how colorful the world really is. Your environment in your upbringing is so much a part of who you are, you’re right to question this for Baba.
    I truly never recovered from the move I made at 12. I went (mostly) from a small city living into an affluent suburban area and I’ve decided salary is irrelevant. I prefer to live in working class neighborhood with an assortment of people who are not necessarily like me. We ended up in my (our) old school district, but not on the whiter side. It reflects my values and my interests. Our younger kids are happy here, and it reflects more of what they had when they were Army Brats. I hope you find your spot.
    Pity about leaving the fixed-up house. I know that feeling.

    • Thanks, Joey – it’s reassuring to hear that other people think about these things like I do. I am a military brat — kind of — my mom ended up where she did because of the Army, but her tenure was short, so I only lived in Japan and Maryland. I think that international perspective is so important, though!

      (And really? There are really people who don’t know how to pronounce Torres? Bless my East Coast heart!)

  2. “I remind myself that this is the world that I want for everyone — a world of prosperity and safety, where we can have authentic and honest relationships with people very different from ourselves.” Too true. I live in Minnesota, and the demographics have changed dramatically here in the last 30 years. It amazes me that I now see neighborhoods with Spanish signs or Somali signs or Hmong signs. It can be difficult to navigate through our society where racism is so alive and well just under the surface, especially if your formative years were in a non-racist environment. You were fortunate in that regard. I hope you find a place that’s not only safe, secure and prosperous, but also culturally diverse.

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