Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Yeah, yeah, I suck

Totally blew off NaBLaabahMo. I am dry of ideas, people, DRY. And did not want to stoop to telling you what I had for lunch (A spring mix salad with homemade dijon vinagrette and leftover spaghetti carbonara, also homemade, if you're interested).

, though, was cool enough to get me off my fat duff and writing again. Model D media is very cool, and I love that they addressed this issue of families living in Detroit. I know two of the panelists--Dutch from Sweet Juniper, who I walked over to after the Dan Zanes show at the DIA and introduced myself to like a BIG GIANT DORK, and Jackie Victor from Avalon Bakery, who I used to do some work for.

I was fascinated with the article, not least of which because the panelists touched on every single pro and con I'e struggled with in choosing to live in Detroit. Much is made of the young, hip singles, empty nesters and childfree couples who are deciding to make their home in the city, mostly downtown or in Corktown. And that's wonderful, we're glad to have you. Growing up here, I used to get asked, sneeringly, why I lived in the city as if anything south of Eight Mile is crap. As the city began to revive some in the 1990s and even more now, people are more likely to say "Wow, you live in the city? Cool!"

And it is, but not for the reasons my enthusiastic friends might think. We're as far as many suburbanites from all the downtown and cultural center attractions, and the burgeoning bar and club scene affects us not at all, except maybe on one of our precious nights out. Our house values have actually declined over the four years we've lived here--we've reaped no benefit from the increasing "cool factor" of a 313 address.

As the article's panelists mentioned, for many people it's a values-based decision to live here. One parent mentioned the consumer culture that seems so rampant in the suburbs. I mean, I love Target as much as the next person, maybe even a little more, but life in the burbs seems to revolve around consumption and conformity. Nurseries are decorated from Pottery Barn, cars are SUVs, clothes come from Baby Gap and Gymboree, strollers are status symbols (okay, all right, I crave a Maclaren Triumph, so sue me) and pricey "activities" are started as soon as possible. If you don't want to spend that kind of money, you're poor or a hippie freak for sure.

I just want a different kind of life, and I think living in the city, where one neighbor might be a judge pulling down $100,000 per year and another might be a retired teacher who lives on a fifth of that, helps shield me from it. And most importantly, it shields Maggie from it.

I knew we'd found the right neighborhood when, as I got to know people, I realized the vast majoirty of our neighors were people like us, in professions that require a decent education but don't pay especially well. There are two other freelance writers within two blocks of me, a firefighter, many many teachers and several nurses. We're not the only white family on the block, as a matter of fact our neighborhood is surprisingly pale, but this is also a place where mixed-race families of all kinds fit right in. I want that for Maggie, for her to know people of all races so she knows bad doesn't come in one color and neither does good.

I want her to know that beauty amidst ugliness is the most striking, in this city where you frequently come upon pockets of wonderful surrounded by dismal. I want her to know that it really does take all of us, that we all have a role to play and a place at the table. That every human being has value. Sure you can teach that in the suburbs, and I know plenty of parents who are doing that very well. But it's an easier lesson to teach when she walks around her block and sees all kinds of people, sees us treat the neighbors who look like us and the ones that don't with equal respect. When everybody in your usual orbit looks like you, it takes a lot more effort to hammer that home to your kids. I want her to know that being different is simply part of the collage of humanity, that normal isn't white and rich and English-speaking.

Yeah, I could still do that if we lived in McWhitesyville. But what message does that send on a daily basis, to live somewhere homogenous while preaching diversity and acceptance? Maybe I am shortchanging her by living here in some ways--she'll likely never go to a neighborhood school, for one -- but I have to think that I am helping make the world better by raising my child with these values instead of solely looking at our own family's best interests. And yes, talk to me in 15 years when she's some semiliterate hip hop chick if this all turns out to be a spectacular miscalculation. But I was raised here, with similar valus, and I absorbed them and passed them on. I hope I can be the parent I need to be and inspire Maggie to do the same.


Melissa said...

You weren't a dork. I wish you'd had time to hang out. We should get a 'bloggers' meet up going soon.

I wonder where you'll send Maggie to school? Have you thought about that yet? We often roll the idea of living in Detroit around in our minds and that's where we get stuck.

The question of how much it will cost and how much privilege (at a school like Roeper) they'll be faced with. For the price of our dream house, we could get a 'decent' house in Birmingham for Bloomfield Hills. But I refuse to do it.

It's like what you said about it being easier to teach kids the values you want when those values are demonstrated everywhere. I don't want to live in Birmingham because I can teach my kid about privilege and wealth and how money isn't everything. But if we live in a place where wealth and privilege and money is everything (I'm generalizing) it's harder to teach that lesson.

The neighborhood we want to live in is more 'whitey' and less 'beauty among pockets of drab'...it's just a place where we'd feel comfortable.

Do I have suburbia guilt? Yes. But when you lay out the things you want for Maggie and acknowledge the things you're giving up (a neighborhood school as you said)....how badly I wish I could have all of them at once.

Wood said...

I have no idea where we're going to send our daughter to school. People ask me that all the time, and the best I can do is say that we'll have to figure it out when the time comes. We live here because we love it and it makes sense.

Glad to have you as a neighbor.

Em said...

Great post, Amy. My mother's family is from Detroit and are largely burb dwellers--Bloomfield Hills, Gross Pointe and Ann Arbor. When I visited growing up, I was always struck by sanitized it felt compared to the southern town where I grew up.

When I lived in DC, I lived in a neighborhood that was economically, racially and ethnically diverse. I was a great experience for me; I would very much like my daughters to grow up like that.

Cat, Galloping said...

Now I'm coming to you via your post at Caro's place! I think this is nicely put.

Here's one thing I struggle with: The small city/suburb that I live in (and grew up in) is very diverse. But by the time junior high rolls around, you basically have two schools and the academic classes are almost completely segregated (and I am rabidly pro-tracking). So what lesson does that teach, exactly? (And where will your kids go to school if not the neighborhood school? Will that school be as mixed as your neighborhood?) Sometimes I think it would be easier to teach the "we are all the same" message if we really did live in a lily white town.