Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What's Best for the Child

One of the most difficult aspects of parenting, as far as I can figure, is balancing personal ambitions with what's best for your child. And no matter what you do, either you or your family or the rest of the world thinks you've erred too far in one direction.

You work too many hours at your hotshot career at the expense of your family.

You let your children get away with bloody murder because you never tell them "no."

You make your children go to that crumby public school because you like your hipster neighborhood.

You toil at a soulless job so you can give your child a certain quality of life.

Dave and I really want to find that balance, that perfect harmony between doing everything in our power to give Stella the life she deserves while also modeling our own self-respect and personal drive at the same time.

It's not easy. We're not even sure it's possible.

Why? Because my personal ambition directly conflicts with Dave's personal ambition. And, all the while, we can't figure out what would be best for Stella.

I'm nearly certain that my career future lies in Kentucky. Especially after witnessing the angry, misinformed masses on the news amidst health-care reform, I know it is my duty to travel back to the rural South and reform education. I cannot sit idly by and watch America become more and more disjointed, this side against that side, "good" versus "evil," people using "facts" they heard from another person who heard it from another person to back up their thinking. People have to learn to think for themselves, to form their own opinions based on reality, to not hate people just because they disagree with them.

(And before you get angry at me, I know this happens on all sides of all issues. I'm not into making this a partisan thing. I'm just saying if you're going to be against health care reform [or whatever], have a real reason why and don't let your difference of opinion cause you to yell a racial slur or want to murder someone else. There. Let's see how many more Facebook friends I lose this time.)

There are also so many issues in rural areas that go ignored. Parents addicted to crank. Extreme poverty and malnourishment. Kids (really young kids) having to help work to support the family. I would really feel good about my time here on Earth if I could know that I left the state of education in a better place than I found it. I'd love it if every kid from a town of 1,000 people in the South could get the kind of education I received (because my parents were fanatical about it).

But Dave has dreams, too. Dreams of writing for a national publication, the kind that's based out of New York. Dreams of reaching a wide audience and informing them about issues that matter. Dreams of living an exciting and amazing life, changing the world in his own way, being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the most vibrant place on the planet.

And his family is here. As much as I've missed my family the past 12 years, Dave has the same reservations about moving away from his. Not seeing his nieces grow up. Not being around should someone need him. Not being here for his sister with Down's Syndrome, for whom we are legal guardians.

And then there's Stella. What's best for her, and how can we know that it's best for her without a shadow of a doubt?

In terms of education, I lean toward the public schools in Louisville, KY, because the good public schools in New York are in overcrowded, insanely expensive neighborhoods. And should we get her into a good elementary school, she then has to apply (just like a high schooler to college) to a middle school, praying that her standardized test scores are good enough to get her into one of the few decent public middle schools because her parents have jobs that won't pay for private schools. And then we have to do it all over again for high school. And all the while, should we get her into a "good" school, she'll be surrounded by friends who have much more money than her, causing her poor mother to stress out about birthday parties and the bat mitzvah she'll one day have.

I also like the idea of her being able to play in a yard and have my family babysit her on more than a few occasions. And I also like the idea of a less stressful and more carefree life due to things like a parking spot, a washer/dryer in our house, less traffic and more available parking so we can drive to the grocery store and not schlep up and down 75 flights of stairs a day. It may sound selfish, but I do think Stella would benefit from having a less stressed-out mommy.

But Dave has many valid reasons for wanting to raise her here, too. He loves the diversity of New York and the massive Jewish population. He likes the access to museums and other cultural institutions, the prospect of an adolescence not filled with the isolation and loneliness that can come from living in the 'burbs. And he (and I) love our friends, and the community we've managed to become a part of here.

Maybe I shouldn't air our dirty laundry to the world, but I know we can't be the only family on earth dealing with such a conundrum.

And, yes, we've considered compromises, like living in Jersey, but there are a lot of reasons why we don't like them (Jersey's not cheap enough, I would teach in either a really wealthy suburban school or a really desperate urban school, and Dave's commute would be ridiculous.)

So, maybe I'm just trying to gain clarity by posting this entry. I'd appreciate it if people shied away from giving advice or telling us what's best, because this situation is already pretty difficult without us feeling pulled in 1,000 directions. Not to mention the fact that we have to figure this all out by NEXT WEEK because I have to let my school know what my plans are for next year, and I have many job applications for Kentucky that need to be finished ASAP. (No pressure or anything.)

The main thing I want Stella to see is how her parents can work together to figure out what's best for the family -- for the mom, for the dad, for her, for Cromwell and Talisker (the cats). I want her to see a loving couple that doesn't shy away from challenges but faces them head-on as a unified force. I want her to see that nothing in life in insurmountable, that any problem can be dealt with as long as you're surrounded by love and support.

I just hope she gets to learn all this while swinging on our porch swing in Louisville.


Carlos Lopez said...

Good luck. I think your dreams of improving education are admirable.

Beauty Junkie said...

I think I can understand your dilemma a little bit. I know how hard it can be to have two people, from two very different families which are very far apart, try to somehow make their own little family.

I wouldn't even try to advise you, mostly because I wouldn't know how. Just know that whatever you do for Stella's sake is already a lot better than what some parents are doing. You seem like such a loving mother, and I'm sure no matter where you live, Stella will adore you nonetheless.

There is no right answer. No matter where you go or what you do, someone will have to make sacrifices. Whether it be you or Dave. There might not BE a middle ground. But at the end of the day, you both have to do what's right for your family as a whole.

I wish you lots of luck. Please keep writing, I think your stories are fantastic.


BTW It was great meeting you at Jasmina's last week :)

Zannah said...

I grew up in Louisville (and finished high school in Lexington), so I know the area well. I went to the best high school in Louisville, and then moved to the best on in Lexington, I went to good elementary and middle schools, and I enjoyed every bit of it. Louisville has really grown; there's a lot more going on downtown than there used to be. Your husband might be pleasantly surprised. Have you visited?

There's also a sizable (for a city of that size) Jewish population. We belonged to Adath Jeshurun, one of the conservative synagogues in town. My mother likes to call Louisville the biggest small town she's ever lived in.

I completely understand your dilemma, and I wish you luck with your decision. I just wanted to put in a good word for Louisville. :)

Sheri said...

I am also a fellow Louisvillian and teacher with JCPS. I have been all over the world and even though it seems so "exotic" to live elsewhere, you just can't beat the quality of life here.

I also agree with Zannah that Louisville has a large Jewish population, more than one synagogue, and the Jewish Community Center.

There are times that I wish that I could just pack up and move to NYC or overseas, but I know that I would miss the relatively low stress and high quality of life here.