Although she’s a child of the suburbs, Tracey Keenen’s a city girl at heart.
After her graduation from Indiana University she moved to Chicago. "That’s just where all the fun was, I was going out all the time and I ended up getting a job here, so that factor played into the decision. I loved the excitement of it, of being on my own and independent."
Marrying a few years later, she and husband Dan, who shares a suburban upbringing, decided to carve a path for their family in the concrete and brick comprising the urban landscape.
From San Francisco, where Dan’s job took them shortly after they wed 13 years ago, to a Northside apartment, a townhome in the Lakeview neighborhood and their current three-level house in Roscoe Village, the Keenans believe the city provides an ideal setting for their four children to flourish.
"As a mom, I love the diversity of the city. We never get bored," Keenan says. "Even if we were able to go out every single night, we still wouldn’t be able to hit all the different restaurants."
But food is just the beginning. Every weekend Chicago hosts several kid-friendly activities that engage their children, Chris, 6, Lauren, 4, Jane, 3, and Ben, 23 months.
"There’s so much culture available and I don’t think we would take advantage of these things as much if we lived in the suburbs."
It’s commonplace for them to jump on the bus or grab a cab to attend park district activities, museum exhibits or sporting events. In fact, one of Chris’ favorite things is taking a taxi to a Cubs game, she says.
And Keenan says exposing her children to the myriad cultures and races populating Chicago is essential to providing her kids a balanced upbringing.
"I want them to know that everyone looks different, grows up differently, has different clothes, haircuts, skin color and that’s OK," she says. "I can’t think of a better way for them to experience that and I hope it will make them more well-rounded and independent."
But while Chicago provides exposure to alternate ways of life, there are some things their urban address lacks, including a backyard to play in, she says.
But even that cloud has a silver lining, Keenan says. "Not having a yard forces us to get creative and engage the kids in other activities."
In much the same way, the Keenans got creative with where to send their children to school.
They chose to send Chris, a first grader, and Lauren, in preschool, to the Catholic school affiliated with their parish. With tuition at about $6,000 annually per child, it’s a sacrifice the family will make until city schools can provide the same quality of education.
Her city neighborhood lacks little, she says. Keenan and her children walk to the park, El line, shops and restaurants lining Roscoe Village’s streets—streets that are often filled with other young parents and children.
"Roscoe Village is a unique neighborhood because there are so many kids, but in general I think there are more kids in this city. People aren’t doing the mass exit to the suburbs when they get pregnant like they used to."
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