COUNTRY VS. CITY: WHERE TO LIVE?

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(We put up a tee pee – that was fun – what now?)

I’ve always said kids should be in the city til they’re about 4, then move to the country where it’s safe, then go back to the city when they’re teens so they don’t die of boredom.

New York exaggerates this need because not only is it way more dangerous than most cities (despite gentrification we’re still at a murder a day) education is near impossible to get right. If you go private, you’re looking at $15,000 a year from the very beginning. Even if you can afford that, do you really want your kids hanging out with kids who’s parents can spare 15k for fucking kindergarten? Manhattan private school kids make British private school kids look like the Cockney Rejects.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have public schools. Today it’s near impossible to get into them but the few “lucky” ones are treated to no education at all. When I asked a teacher from PS 131 if life there was as bad as I think it is, she said, “I didn’t teach anything all year.” After a sympathetic laugh from me she goes, “No, you’re not getting it. I didn’t teach, like, the verb, I didn’t ‘teach’ for one second of one day. 100% of my time was telling people to sit down and stop yelling and please put that down etc.” Great. So it’s either spend 15k a year to surround your kid with assholes or fight like hell to get him into the zoo.

So move the country, right? There is a Montessori school upstate we visited that is so unbelievably perfect, it’s like an SNL parody of a good school. “Oh what’s that strange cubby hole with the ladder leading up to it?” I ask. “That’s a reading nook for when the kids feel overwhelmed and just want to settle down with a book,” the ridiculously dedicated teacher replies. They take classes in the woods. They build ceramic tiles and sell them to raise money for the rain forest. They tend to their own farm animals. They stay with the same class for 6 years. Above and beyond all that hippiness they still teach math and sciences in the most traditional formats. Oy motherfucking Vey. And it costs about $4,000 a year. Done. Argument finished.

Only, we lived upstate all summer and although I enjoy my office there and my little workshop with all my tools in the right place, I couldn’t help but notice the rest of my family was rotting. My wife’s reading material went from “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (pretty good book – well respected) to “The President’s Wife” (Some Oprah’s book club shit) to “Us Weekly” (Oh Jesus) to “People Magazine” (Which I would argue is worse than “Us Weekly” because the latter is kind of just kidding but with “People” you’re actually reading about some fat guy who saved a baby from a burning tree and you’re giving a shit).  The kids were also going stir crazy. They liked going outside but only because inside was getting pretty fucking boring. We felt the same way. Our house was an oasis but as soon as we stepped off the property, we were in fucking idiot central.

Take music class for example. In New York they sit around and sing original songs written just for the kids like, “Beep beep honk honk can you spare a dime? / Have a bagel with a smear and we’ll see the Guggenheim / From the Bronx to the Battery, it’s all mine / I’m a city kid!” The parents are our peers and when Emily makes a “kill me please – I am so bored” face to a mom she doesn’t know the mom rolls her eyes and mocks blowing her head off with a gun made of fingers. Upstate music classes are the opposite. They wear fucking tye dyes (it was Woodstock’s birthday this summer) and prance around listening to boomer music like our kids give two fucks. The parents are so thrilled with themselves for not being hillbillies and actually taking their kids somewhere, they are not bored and instead have smiles that go into each ear hole. They too were wearing tye dyed t-shirts.

Take that fucking Janis Joplin record off you stupid cunt. My daughter does not want a Mercedes Benz. She doesn’t even want a fucking car. She’s 3.

When we first got to the country we did what we do in every new place. We find the 1%ers, the weirdoes who feel just as uncomfortable around normal people. We dug up some punk fags, some misanthropic Europeans, family friends of A-Ron’s, and three comedians. The rest can go fuck themselves. Call me overly ambitious but I want more out of life than hanging out at WalMart and cluttering the aisles in my pajamas on with a Big Mac in my hand (I’m not kidding – people up there do that for fun).

So do we move into Idiotville just so our daughter can have a good school? What about our son? He’ll have to spend two years wandering around the house going stir crazy before he’s ready for the SNL school. Does he have to suffer? I don’t think that’s good for his brain.

When they find feral children they always discover the same thing: You can’t teach a dog new tricks. This is not a metaphor. A kid who was raised by dogs may learn to walk upright but he will never learn to speak. Know why? Because his brain has literally rotted. They’ve done cat scans and the fucking thing looks like a smoker’s lung. When you don’t stimulate a brain it goes bad. Therefore, isn’t it logical to assume the converse would apply? As in, the more stimuli a brain gets, the healthier it becomes?

In Brooklyn Sophie will go meet Dora at the Brooklyn Museum in the morning, then she’ll go to Bounce U and play in some bouncy castles for an hour, then she’ll fly her kite at the park, then she’ll go to the library where they read her books, then it’s a puppet show, then finger-painting, etc etc. During this entire process she’s being bombarded with sounds and colors and people laughing at jokes. The country is safe and I love going on nature walks with her but it’s also a fucking void. The city provides a wet shit for an education but every member of my family seems happier living here. When we pulled in to our street after 2 months upstate, Sophie started crying tears of joy and said, “I’m laughing because I’m in Brooklyn” about ten times.

Next September she starts school full time. What the fuck do I do?

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27 Responses to “COUNTRY VS. CITY: WHERE TO LIVE?”

  1. Luke S Says:

    Home schooling.

  2. Ty Hardaway Says:

    As an upscale suburbanite I feel torn both ways (ba-da-boom!). I want to live in a for real city for my personal amusement and for the kiddo to get some sort of tough perspective on people; to see blacks, Hispanics, and people from all SES categories. To see poor people.

    And when we’re in small town CT or NY visiting relatives, it’s like, “Awwww, this is so…cute. Simple and sane.” Then we realize that aside from people we know, these small towns are weird, Christian, frightened, narrow bastions of simple and insane. What the fuck happened to my America?

    So we are in an upscale neo-traditional/new urban suburban development. We picked it on purpose. It works. The design was to create a “mixed-income” community but something happened circa 2004. The low end of mixed income here became six figures. There is no diversity. Plenty of Jews like me but no blacks like me. Plenty of college educated people but ambitions tend to be toward making money, living in a big house, having a fancy car, and having home decor that you’d find on a Norman Rockwell Franklin Mint collector’s plate. But I get to be the cool artist guy. Big fish or what have you. We deal.

    I was born in LA, all my friends are in NYC, SF, and Berkeley and I live just outside of DC. ALL THE SCHOOLS SUCK ASS IN THESE CITIES. And you’re right, I know way too many private school assholes to ever let my kid become one of those. And I totally know the fake old hippies too…since I lived in Santa Cruz for years. Urban education failures, fake ass communes, and snotty crested blazers.

    What to do? Our plan is this: Settle into our comfy suburban new urban walking community for the duration. We’ll just be the fruit-at-the-bottom in plain vanilla yogurt. Great schools and we can be the cool-ish people (and I can be their safe diversity). We just have to make certain we keep a toehold in the cities so the kid (us too) has some perspective. Sure she’ll be bored but she can go to fucking NYU or UCLA if she wants. She just needs to learn how to bend these cookie-cutter pod people to her whim and not become one of ’em.

    But the old lady and I have long planned to retire in NYC. And by retire that means upon kiddo’s HS graduation, hit the fucking trail.

    Your situation is much different since Sophie only know Brooklyn as home. She’ll always find everything boring, unfortunately. Paris? Snooze. London? Yawn. Tokyo? zzzzzzzzzzzz. She cries for Brooklyn.

    Dunno but I had five minutes and I liked your post.

  3. dooflop Says:

    I think it all boils down to where the good schools are, starting with Grade 1. JK, SK, stuff before that doesn’t matter, so you’re free to do whatever you want for the next three years. Although it seems like your girls have made up their minds. You’ll be lucky to spend your summers in the country, and you should feel pretty good about being able to give that to your kids. It’s no small feat.

    Your friend’s account of American public schooling is horrible, but it can’t be like that everywhere. I don’t know about the States but here in Canada your public school is as good as the neighbourhood you live in. Our school is really nice, it’s small, about 200 students in total. It’s not a zoo.

  4. Ty Hardaway Says:

    Indeed, dooflop. In MOST places there is a significantly high correlation between HOUSING (the place you grow up/neighborhood), EDUCATION (quality of education), and INCOME (doy!) which loops back into HOUSING. The vicious/anti-vicious cycle.

    Oh, and I found a “neat picture” of prep school kids in my area here.

    El oh el!

  5. sohrob Says:

    stay in the city. see how it works. if it’s shitty, possibly consider upstate.

  6. date Says:

    I was thinking as I read this that Minneapolis is a really nice city, with plenty of immigrants and weird people, with good public schools too. Minneapolis has several public environmental schools even, here is a website http://northrop.mpls.k12.mn.us/ (there is a very cute video). There are also charter schools like a German immersion school, and some Native American schools. I think you probably want to stay in New York and that is why you have this issue though. Maybe there are some nice medium sized cities somewhere around there?

  7. Loisaida Says:

    This is sometimes my wife and I have been trying to figure out as well although I think we are about a year behind you, with a 3 year old daughter. Living in a tiny LES apartment, the idea of being upstate is certainly attractive as most of our friends have found houses out there, and the schooling, space, etc, would be great. But I would have to keep a studio or something in the city, for us to visit frequently and keep our sanity, although that is a pretty expensive indulgence. Being outside of the city, at least for my psychology, as well as my work, is pretty much like going without water, you can do it for a little, but you will eventually die!

    We have been toying with the idea of homeschooling, and connecting our daughter with the network of homeschooled parents and children, in NY, it is quite large since every responsible person in the city is trying to figure this shit out. But within that network she can still have friends her age etc. and have an opportunity to properly socially integrate. There are a number of options with that, it doesn’t have to just be some insane religious seclusion thing. They can take certain courses with groups of kids etc. and work on other subjects at home.

    But rather than make it some crazy homeschooling forever we are thinking of just taking it as a chunk of time and seeing how it goes with everyone. We have close friends that are Waldorf and Montessori teachers that we do check in with but of course we don’t agree with everything from those systems either, but we do integrate actual lessons into her play time. It may also help that I am a College Prof. and my wife is a social worker, who works with children, so we have a sort of natural proclivity towards teaching.

  8. Gavin McInnes Says:

    Er, the “What the fuck should I do?” is somewhat rhetorical. You’re talking to a fucking genius over here.

    1- The “try both” solution has been tried. I thought I made that clear. It’s been 10 years in NYC and 3 years with kids. They love it and they hate the country. BUT the schools are way better.

    2- Home schooling? Are you on earth? Who the fuck has the extra time or the energy to home school? I would need to take up meth and even then I’m not sure what the kids are going to do when I crash after the first week.

    3- Not sure why Ty needs to be around minorities. I don’t give a shit if my daughter has one Turkish friend and one burn victim friend. I’ve lived in about 7 different cultures and as I said, all I do each time is find the freaks. I don’t love NY because of multiculturalism. I love it for multiweirdialism.

  9. Ty Hardaway Says:

    I don’t need to be around minorities. I don’t really like ’em, actually. But for some reason my wife and I believe that it would be good for the kid. Maybe so she’s less of a hater than I (or more, don’t know).

    Freaks are good.

  10. dooflop Says:

    re: 1. Why not move to a nicer part of town that has a nicer public school? Kids don’t need the Montessori utopia from Upstate.

    Besides cheap Montessori, what’s so special about the country anyways, that you’d have to spend more than 2 months there?

  11. Gavin McInnes Says:

    I’ve lived in GreenPoint in 1999 when it was all Polacks and I just thought, “Why am I paying NY rent and not getting the NY experience?” I feel the same way about Cobble Hill or Park Slope or even Murray Hill. If it doesn’t have weirdoes you might as well go to DC or some shit. If I was going to move all the way to Bronx Science, I might as well go back to Montreal or even England.

  12. Graas Says:

    I only have a six month old and live in Sunset Park. We’re planning on another kid, and are already at the breaking point in a 2 br apt. Now wtf? My wife calms me down by finding affordable, bigger places out in Midwood and Bay Ridge. As Gavin suggests, “…“Why am I paying NY rent and not getting the NY experience?” I might as well just dress my kid head-to-toe in sports logos and work with him on the worst fucking accent in the universe.

    If we move away from anything that’s fun and see our manhattan friends only once every 6 months or so, what’s the point? So, unless we get amazing jobs in the next year, our options are stay in the area (broke all the time), move to the boondocks of the borough (oof), or go back to the Midwest and find the multiweirdalism there. Hey, it’ll only be a 12 hour drive back to NYC when I get bored….

  13. lazlo Says:

    What’s with all this anal parental-perfect stuff? Do they have to be gods by the time they are ten? They might be wrong, but they’re going to think your parenting tactics are a pile of shit in a few years anyway. You will look back on this as the age of the hyper-parent. Your kids need less attention.

  14. DC Loocha Says:

    We moved from Park Slope to Maplewood a year ago (classic move), and after 2-3 months the novelty wore off, and we’re planning on moving back. Public School issue in NYC is real, but turns out middle and high school in Maplewood is as bad as Park Slope, so fuck it.

    Suburbs/Upstate is nice, but there is no energy. Also when people ask where you are from you can’t tell people “I live in NYC”, you have to say “well, i lived in NYC for last 9 years, but we had the second kid and our sweet rental situation was too small and blah blah blah anywhosers, now i live in New Jersey (shudder).”

  15. Ty Hardaway Says:

    Oh yeah, home-schooling. How could we forget (non-evangelical) home-schooling. Almost as bad as Montessori but without the cursive requirement or the pink towers.

    http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2009/09/28/confessions_homeschooler/print.html

  16. Luke S Says:

    Speaking as someone who went to a Waldorf school, was then subject to my parents’ commitment to public school, and later managed to finagle admission to a prep school for a bit while being raised on self-produced organic macrobiotic food in an energy-efficient passive solar home my step-dad designed and built, don’t punish your kids with your experiments. Slow and steady wins the race. Sorry, I forgot this is the blog without sarcasm. Or at least less.

  17. Luke S Says:

    Also, please pardon my failure to get my verb tenses to agree.

  18. Graas Says:

    Hey Luke, why don’t you take a couple of plays off. Settle the nerves. Schooling is a legitimate concern, so is affordable good housing.
    Healthy clean food and green space is available everywhere. Being not-rich and trying to raise kids here is frustrating, chief.

  19. Gavin Says:

    My father-in-law is a genetic scientist who doesn’t totally agree with my “nature over nurture – you are who you are from day one – just look at identical twins separated at birth: Same dog, same job, same car, same income” philosophy and once said, “If they’re going to be who they’re going to be, why bother sending them to a good school?”

    My answer to this is simple: Yes – if she’s smart, she’s going to be successful no matter what shitty school she goes to. I do not think schools make you smart… However, if you are born smart, you’re going to have a much shittier time at a bad school than you are at a good school. I want her academic life to be as fulfilling as possible because it’s fucking 14,000 hours long! Wasting a good brain on one of these unfireable public school teachers that puts on movies all day is bordering on child abuse.

  20. Timmm Says:

    We live in Tokyo. People here give a shit about their community so much they will fucking riot if the water isn’t hot at the preschool. Where are the riots in Park Slope? Where are the people who care?

    I’ll tell you where they are: they’re gone. They’ve moved out, up, sideways or down. They leave. Because once they have kids, they realize their time in NYC is now expired because suddenly the giant problem of having children is now their problem. It wasn’t their problem before they had a kid. And chances are they won’t consider it their problem once their kid is grown. No wonder nobody thinks they can change or do anything. Nobody cares unless they have to care, and, when they do care, they leave.

    I”m not calling Gavin and the rest of you urban coolster’s jerks… because it’s not like this revelation hit me any earlier. I’m just realizing how incredibly screwed this society is, and how I’ve been a part of it. And if you think NYC is bad, just visit San Francisco, the worst city in America due to the giant biomass of pure hypocritical douchebags that inhabit (and have ruined) that city. Except they preach non stop PC bullshit while giving up not just on schools but roads, public safety, transportation or any kind of local accountability. You can take a dump in public in SF but they don’t teach mandatory history there past 8th grade (no lie). Fuck.

    So… why not start trying to change the system in NYC public schools now, even if you have a few years left before Sophie starts getting her prison tats while teacher takes a nap? Why not humiliate and retaliate if these motherfucking leeches continue to destroy New York’s ability to replicate generations? I’m talking about the teacher’s unions and any ethic-less borough hack who defends them. I hate Republicans with all my heart and brain but when the Democratic party starts eating its own young to stay in power enough is fucking enough. These people should literally be put in prison for creating public schools that systematically dismantle urban communities every ten years. They’ve been getting away with it for about 20 years now, and look at the change that has gone on in the places we all love: no parents can stay, no community can grow past 35, everybody’s either a newbie or a burnout oldie and life in general just sucks more because of it.

    Sorry for the rant, but me and the missus are considering moving back and the thought that we’ll be facing this situation just burns. All so some lazy horrible teacher can’t be fired. So for god’s sake, for your sake and all the partying 20 year olds moving into their first loft spaces who will eventually be right where you are now…. do something! Gavin? Don’t you know about the internet… and…. uh….stuff?

    – Tim

  21. tiltherewasyou Says:

    I feel you, Gavin. Virginia is not even 4 months old and I’m already wondering what the helllll we are going to do when she is school-age. There’s a Waldorf school in Brooklyn? I’m sure there’s also a way to look poor enough on paper to get financial aid for a place like St. Luke’s in the West Village. But if you’re worried about her being surrounded by Kate Winslet’s kids then…
    (I mean, I went there from 1983-1994 – but, to be fair, that was a far less douchey time in the village’s history. However, I also went to an uptown all-girls private school for highschool and it was about the furthest thing from a Gossip Girls scenario I have ever experienced as we were all DORKS who’s extracurricular activities included lacrosse and ‘Philanthropy Club’)

  22. Gavin McInnes Says:

    Here’s the thing. If I was a single dad and Sophie was my only kid, it would be a no brainer. Go upstate where she goes to Heaven School from 9 to 3 every day. She’s fulfilled and educated and has an amazing childhood in the trees.
    However, my wife would go nuts surrounded by these hillbillies and nerdy yuppies. My son will still be 2 years away from full time school. That means, while she’s fulfilled he’s stuck in the boonies wandering around the house and NOT going to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum with the giant snake and the water table machine and the Bus you get to drive etc.
    Maybe the solution is I let her go to shitty schools for two years and then when HE’S ready for full time, we move upstate so they’re both happy. The wife will still be bummed but she just got her life back so stop complaining. Wait, what does she do all day now? Fashion PR in Sullivan County. SHIT! This is a motherfucking Rubik’s Cube of a conundrum.
    http://www.joe-ks.com/archives_mar2007/NewRubiksCube.htm

  23. David Says:

    As a teacher at one of the non- G and T schools in the city, with my own little one on the way, let me just say that there is no way in hell that that I would let my child set foot in my building. We’re overcrowded, security is overtaxed, and today my AP specifically told me to leave the lights on in my room because “bad things” (no, he wouldn’t elaborate) can happen” if the room is dark.

    We have 15 year old 7th graders with untreated mental illnesses and histories of violence towards other students and teachers sharing the building with kindergartners. Today one student tried to hit other students with her belt. And my school, by the “report cards” and the test scores is doing well.

    Ultimately, if you’re going to send your child to a public school that isn’t of the “Bronx Science” or “Stuyvesant” ilk, you better be ready for SERIOUS diligence. There are a handful of schools that are legitimate, especially if you’re thinking for a year or two. But boy-howdy, when they’re bad, they’re bad.

  24. Alex Says:

    I’m not a Dad so write me off if you want. But I’m in my second year of University in Ontario and the private school kids are pretty unintelligent and lifeless. They compose probably 30% of the student population.

    Turns out there isn’t much regulation on grades here in Ontario, so when parents pay 15000 dollars for a guarantee that their child will get a 85% average the kids wise up and realize they don’t have to do any work because there is no way in hell that private school is giving that 15 grand back. As a result these kids usually bomb out of school or spend their university days in the library trying to catch up on the last 15 years of education they didn’t pay attention to.

    I mean, if you want your daughter to be a pompous, uneducated, disillusioned young woman, with a twisted world perspective from being surrounded by rich oppressed jews in a private school. Then fuck it — send her to private school. Otherwise, go public and do some research on the school like you have been.

  25. AnotherSarah Says:

    I’m new here, so sorry to be remedial, but where in Brooklyn do you live? I’ve got three kids in public school and we’re all basically happy. I’m guessing Park Slope-ish by the comments you’re getting. There are a bunch of good elementary schools in and around there. We are, admittedly, one of the lucky lottery school families, but there are two neighborhood schools that I would happily send my kids to. You can find the good schools, but it does take work and research. Good luck. It’s totally worth it to us. We were thisclose to buying into the Maplewood hype before being jolted back to our senses in the nick of time.

  26. Fritz Says:

    Kids will be fine anywhere if they have good parents – there’s great things about either the city or the country. I grew up in the middle of nowhere with a hippy mom and spent summers in the city with an alcoholic dad. Both had their ups and downs – but the world of kids was kind of the same in both places. You go hang out in the woods or you go hang out in the park, ya know? You’re still just a little kid cruising around with your buddies looking for rocks to throw and trees to climb. It’s really not as bad being a kid in the country as it seems to you right now. It’s worse for teenagers.
    What’s probably most important to your kids is that you and your wife are feeling happy and doing stuff you like to do. If the country’s going to drive you mental, don’t take your kid there. Didn’t you see The Shining?
    Good luck – it is a tough call.

  27. Keri Says:

    I live in San Francisco and its just as bad here. I love living in the city because I would be so bored if we didn’t have so much entertainment at our disposal. I think having options for entertainment is HUGE especially because I stay home with my daughter, no daycare no baby$itters. Its expensive here but not as expensive NYC! We pay $3500 for a 3 bedroom house near the ocean and close to Golden Gate Park. We wanna puke when we start with the preschool interview bullshit so I just toured 2 coops and I just hope we get into one of those. We have a few GREAT public schools but its a lottery system here too and private schools are a huge rip. I love all of you cussing parents, makes me feel right at home. Lets fucking gang up on all the lames. City trumps suburban life is my vote.

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