Friday, March 28, 2008

Little House in the Big City

I can't sleep this evening. Tonight is my last night in our Little House in the Big City. The last few weeks have been a mad dash of preparation and packing and planning for our big move.

Tomorrow, Peanut and I will spend our first night in our very own McMansion
in the 'burbs, followed by Mr Babbler on Saturday.

Four years ago we would never have imagined that we would be making this move. Like any fiercely guarded moral high ground, we were proud and confident in our status as urbanites. We vowed that any child of ours would be raised in the city, this city, with its intellectual offerings of museums and galleries, with ts cultural diversity, with Its dirt and grunge co-existing with its glamour, with its public transportation. To that end, we bought a small, semi-detached house in what is euphemistically called an "up-and-coming" neighbourhood. We had high hopes for this neighbourhood of ours. There was a school nearby, a large park, and we were close to a main road with local shops. We knew that the neighbourhood was in transition, but that was okay. We would grow with the neighbourhood.

We spent a great deal of time, renovating our Little House in the City, bringing it back from the brink of despair. It had previously been a three-storey rooming house, that we soon discovered was in poor repair. We replaced the entire electrical system. We tore down walls, installed bathrooms, fixed plaster, rebuilt handrails. The work only ended the day we put the house on the market. And the previous tenants? At one point we counted the names of the mail that was coming in (and still comes in four years later) for the former tenants and gave up when we surpassed twenty-five different names. The tenant that lived in the basement just prior to our purchase used to deal drugs out the basement window.

But then the cracks started to show. Our neighbourhood is always featured in the news every summer long weekend, famous for its firecracker wars that have commentators likening our streets to the streets of Baghdad. On the corner of our street, one house over from ours, is a strip of storefronts with cheap apartments above them. Only last summer were the drug dealers, which saw a healthy drive-up trade on our street, finally evicted. There is change, but it is very slow in coming to these parts. This is a neighbourhood that is left to fend for itself by its city councillor and by the city - an unsexy, uncool part of Toronto that isn't on anyone's list of priorities. Not part of desirable High Park, not close enough to Roncesvalles, and too far from the Annex.

And here I come to a touchy subject. Our neighbourhood is one of two distinct cultural groups, neither of which we belong to. We knew this moving in, and it wasn't an issue for us. It still wouldn't be, but for what happened once I had Peanut and started to move around the neighbourhood, going to the park and trying to meet other mothers in the area. For what I quickly found was that in belonging to neither cultural group, I was also welcomed by neither. Attempts at conversation with other mothers in the park were quickly ended. The other mothers, congregating and chatting amongst themselves. I thought it was just me, but Mr Babbler also noticed it in his attempts to get to know our neighbours and his several attempts to make conversation. Eventually we both gave up, saddened and somewhat disillusioned.

The past four years have also seen us grow disillusioned with a city that we both loved. Several years ago we saw a mayor come to office for whom we (and by we, I do mean Mr Babbler and I) had extremely high hopes and who offered an opportunity for change on a large scale. A change from the cronyism and ridiculousness of our previous mayor, with his social gaffes and ridiculous spending. A change in environmental policy. A change in the way we run the city. Sadly, we found ourself with a mayor who seems to bumble haplessly from one mismanaged episode to another. A mayor whose record has not been stellar, to say the least. The infrastructure is rapidly crumbling, the budget has been mismanaged and the city is in a bad a place as ever. Still he is reluctant to make the tough, hard changes that are truly necessary for the city, this city which I love, to survive and prosper, offering tax cuts to the rich businesses, increasing salaries for city councillors at a time where social programs are being cut, allowing the TTC to run rampant ... oh, I could go on. To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement, and was yet another factor in our decision to move.

And here we were, in a city that we loved but were frustrated with, with a house that we were outgrowing. (An aside - my in-laws stay with us frequently. The house has one bathroom, and a tiny and narrow staircase leading to the third floor where our guest bedroom is. It was not an ideal situation.) Our closest friends all lived 45 minutes away in Markham, and we were having difficulty building a support network in our neighbourhood. We did consider moving to another neighbourhood, but quickly discovered that our options in the city would be limited, at best. In the four years since we had purchased this house the market had grown out of control, and we just were not prepared to pay $650,000 for a shoebox sized complete fixer-upper in a better neighbourhood that would still require a bidding war if we had any hope of getting the property.

And so, we swallowed our pride. We made the decision that perhaps that 'burbs weren't that bad and maybe, just maybe, there was something out there for us. Our good friends suggested a neighbourhood in Markham that had many of the attributes that we loved about Toronto - efficient and eco-friendly use of land, with smaller lot sizes and houses situated feet from the sidewalk, rear-loading and mixed use business-residential. There is a good mix of incomes and housing ranges small townhouses and semi-detached to fully detached homes. The neighbourhood is also a truly diverse one, with a broad range of cultures. Eventually we went and explored the neighbourhood and were pleased with what we saw. After much discussion and comparing the pros and cons of such a move, we made the decision that this move offered so much for our family.

The house is, admittedly, large. It has four bedrooms, a large kitchen/living room, separate dining room, living room and office. It is large for our family, but my in-laws, who are not young, already spend a lot of time with us (at least one extended weekend a month) and will likely spend considerably more time with us as they age. This house gave us the opportunity to have space for them, without all of us living on top of one another. For Peanut, it gives her room - room to run, room to play, room to explore - all of which she is sorely missing in this Little House. She already loves it, and is upset when we
bring her home to her shoebox in the city after a visit to the McMansion, her disappointment and disapproval palapable as she finds herself confined to our small living room (compounded by the decreasing floor space as boxes take up every nook and cranny).

Perhaps most importantly, this new house gave us the chance to be close to our friends and our support network. Peanut does not have siblings as of yet (and this is a whole other topic of conversation). She has no cousins, and none on the horizon. Two sets of our closest friends live in Markham. One set is Peanut's godparents, who have a son who is a year younger than Peanut. The other set are the good friends of Peanut's godparents, and have since become our good friends also. They have a daughter six months older than Peanut, who is quickly becoming her little friend. These two women are two of my closest friends, the husbands both terrific guys who are friends with Mr Babbler. Additionally, one of Mr Babbler's business partners and good friends lives ten minutes away, a wonderful single mother with a daughter that is enough older than Peanut to be a potential babysitter in a few years time. She has also discussed moving into our neighbourhood, and Mr Babbler is pleased that we'll finally be close enough to offer to help her out from time to time. These are people who I am proud to say are like aunts and uncles to Peanut, and our children will grow up together. It is hard to find people like this, and this was probably one of the largest factors in our decision to move away from the city.
Our house is five minutes away from each of these couples, and I feel very grateful that I will soon be able to call these people neighbours. On the weekend, Peanut was able to have her first official playdate with Baby 'Zilla, and watching her run around our new house, squealing with glee, was one of the happiest moments of my life and confirmed absolutely why we were moving north.

And so we move from our Little House in the Big City. I'm sure we'll always have some regrets about leaving, as with it we leave behind many memories, both good - bringing home our tiny Peanut and starting our lives together as a family, and bad - building a new bathroom ourselves only to find that each fixture we turned on leaked into the kitchen (note to aspiring DIYers - you can NOT do it yourself, and they will NOT help when you ask!) We also leave behind our youthful idealism, replacing it with the pragmatism that comes (I guess) from age, and wisdom and the making of decisions that are in the "best interests of your children".

I hope that this city which I so love can rebuild and reinspire. I'll be watching closely, as our paths diverge and our story continues from the McMansion in the burbs.

* * *
Edited to add: Oh, and yes. The schools - that
cliché of modern parenting. The public school in our neighbourhood is, to put it frankly, pretty terrible. I am not Catholic, nor a hypocrite, so I will not be sending Peanut to the Catholic school in search of a better education (where the hypocrite part steps in). And yes, I do understand that it is partially the parents that make the schools better yada yada yada, but really? I'm not sure that, high ideals notwithstanding, I am willing to put Peanut's education on the line like that. Needless to say the neighbourhood we are moving into has a terrific school, with terrific parental involvement.

The answers to your questions are coming at some point when I can find my computer and get an hour to myself before 1 am! I promise!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Truth spoken here

I've always been the person who tries to find the equilibrium in every situation.

As a child, I tried to smooth over the rough patches amongst the angry members of my family. I soothed hurt feelings, tried to stop the yelling.

As a teenager, I would often just opt out of groups or friendships that required the careful negotiation of catty comments, cutting remarks.

And as an adult I still attempt to tread calm waters. My ability to tell the truth in its purest form, devoid of the social niceties and smoothing over of the harsh realities that are expected, has been suppressed, eaten up by my fear of saying the wrong thing.
In short, I don't stir the pot often, even when I really should. This extended to when my daughter was born and spent three weeks in the NICU. Parts of her birth experience and parts of her stay in the NICU were, in a word, unacceptable. Did I complain? Did I say something - anything - to change the status quo? I did not. My fear, fear of the social consequences, fear of the powerful, and fear of the consequences for my daughter while she was in their care stopped me. Later it felt too late.

But there is someone far braver than me. Someone who is standing up for what's right and changing the status quo. She's challenging conventional wisdom and fighting back against the doctors, the nurses. She takes the ridiculous commentary that unthinking people all-too-often have and instead of mmm-ing politely while inwardly seething, she refutes it. While she may argue that she rants or lets out the crazy, with every post she tells the truth and has the strength and courage to put words to what lives in mine (and from her comments) many other's heads. For that she has my eternal respect.

When you have a child in the NICU or a special needs child, there are many platitudes that come flying at you. Parents in the same situation share their "favorites", grimace and snicker amongst themselves. In her post Next Time I'm Taking The Train, Lisa B of Making Other Plans took an all-too-familiar platitude and ripped it apart. It was a post that was smart and left me breathless. For this, I award her a Perfect Post.

The Original Perfect Post Awards 02.08

Kudos to you Lisa, you deserve it!

For more perfect posts, head on over to Suburban Turmoil or Petroville.


BLITHELY BABBLING © 2008. Chaotic Soul :: Converted by Randomness