Parenting: Chicago versus suburbs – Suburbs

I gave birth for the first time in New York City, brought my baby home in a taxi and spent two glorious years strolling through parks and museums. I thought we’d be an urban family, thriving on the energy of the city, lulled to sleep by distant sirens and the rumble of passing trains, but a second baby and private school tuition drove us out.

Finding the right suburb for our family took some time.

We were house poor in New Jersey and miserable in an Ohio McMansion. In the Oak Park area, we found our ideal town: River Forest is close enough to the city to have some diversity and urban edge, yet distant enough to give us a tiny backyard.

My other children were born in the suburbs. Their infancy was not very different.

They too logged many miles in the stroller, but they played at playgrounds and the library, meeting other babies with whom they will go to school. Finding playgroups for them was actually easier and less transient than in the city.

The steep price of private education drove us out to the suburbs, but attending public school has been an amazing experience. Our oldest two children have thrived in their public school. They have gym every day, as well as a rich music and art programs, and when they walk to school, the crossing guards greet them by name.

In the suburbs, we’ve been able to make our home the neighborhood hangout house. Our children’s friends are always around: in our house, on our teams, and at our local pool. Our house is noisy and busy, but it’s a happy chaos that lets me really get to know my children’s friends.

Great restaurants and culture are just a few exits away, but being so near Chicago keeps us aware of crime and poverty. Bikes are stolen, shopkeepers are held up at gunpoint and the food pantry has long lines. We enjoy the perks of small town life without losing touch with the urban reality of the Chicago skyline we see from our yard.

I wouldn’t want my children growing up any other way.

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