Growing up in "the 'burbs" of West Michigan, I carried a bit of guilt for choosing to raise our infant son in the booming metropolis that is Chicago.
Were we making the right decision? Would it allow the freedom that I was afforded as a small child? Would he be forced to join a gang by age 1? Would my single neighbor downstairs tire of his a.m. dose of techno music in time for my son's nap?
Then it dawned on me, this was going to be the only life he knew. He wasn't missing out on anything; in fact, he was experiencing firsthand the life I yearned for and chased down in my mid-20s.
Living in Chicago-and the Uptown neighborhood, in particular-Leo was born into a world of diversity. I remember sitting in awe that his first playdate looked like a mini-United Nations. From the day we brought Leo home, he never saw the world as "minorities" or "majorities." None of the children had "funny names" or "weird customs." Everyone was different, yet everyone was the same.
My son was a terrible sleeper. Nap time consisted of lugging baby + giant stroller down three flights of stairs (condo living) and then walking the neighborhood to get him to sleep. This frustrating routine led to meeting some of the nicest folks in our neighborhood. You see, there were two options after Leo fell asleep: either I could lug baby + giant stroller back up three flights of stairs and risk injury, or I could park it at the local Starbucks. Coffee always wins out. Leo would sleep for an hour or so in that stroller while Dad would enjoy a warm beverage, good conversation, a newspaper or an hour of blissful peace.
Finally, before my son could even walk, he was enjoying the many cultural amenities of Chicago. We would stroll along in Lincoln Park Zoo as members. We would bounce to "Africa" to see the giraffes and then to the "Arctic" just around the corner to see the polar bears. We would spend hour after hour at the Field Museum, so much so that "dahadoo" (baby talk for dinosaur) became to us our son's most cherished word. We took fun classes with him at The Old Town School of Folk Music, we enjoyed many of the amazing Chicago parks, and we dined at some of the best family-friendly restaurants the city had to offer.
The crowning point of all this came just a few months back.
Leo, now 6, was enjoying a tractor ride with his grandfather up in Michigan. I sat back and watched, thinking, "What if this was his life?" On the ride home I asked him if he wanted to leave Chicago and move to a house in "the 'burbs"?
My son started to tear up a bit and said no. He loves his home, his school, his friends, his downstairs neighbor's techno music, and the only life he has ever known … in the city of Chicago.
See more of Ryan's stories here.