Monday, February 7, 2011

Growing Up in the Bubble

The house where I grew up
When I was five years old and my sister was two, my parents moved us from Dallas proper to Richardson, a suburb just north of Dallas.  The primary reason for the move was so Bonnie and I could go to better public schools.  Growing up in Richardson was pretty idyllic.  If you wanted someone to play with, you just went outside.  The neighborhood was full of kids.  You couldn't cut through our development to anywhere, so traffic was light.  We did a lot of bike riding and skating on the streets.  And there was a wilderness-type area we kids referred to as "the trails" where you could ride your bike over dirt hills and climb around a trickle of a creek.  The trails were just large enough for a kid to feel adventurous going in there but bordered on all sides by houses, so it was impossible to get lost.  There was also a public golf course at one end of the neighborhood, which made for good wandering in the summer and great sledding during the occasional winter storm.  Halloween was like a big block party, with kids running from house-to-house and parents sitting out on their lawns handing out candy.  Our next door neighbors had two boys about mine and Bonnie's ages - Brian and Mike.  When the weather was such that we had the windows open, Brian and I used to chat in the evening across the houses, me from my bedroom and him from his bathroom.  My mom used to joke it was just like "Our Town."
As I got older and went off to college, I started realizing how sheltered that environment was, compared to the rest of the world.  I started referring to it as "the Richardson bubble."  I developed something of a typical young adult attitude that somehow the city was better, grittier, a more "real" place to live, where you could see poverty and suffering first hand.  I did notice, though, that despite my having grown up in the bubble, I did not have the same fear and nervousness some of my peers did when it came to people who were poor or disadvantaged or simply different than I.  When I was thirteen, I had my first boyfriend.  I met him at summer camp, and he had a really different life than I did.  His step father was abusive.  They moved from rental house to rental house, ostensibly dodging back rent.  He played hooky from school on a regular basis and got picked up by the police quite often.  Needless to say, my parents weren't thrilled.  Luckily, he didn't live close by, and we mostly just talked on the phone.  The point is, I wasn't afraid or put off by him;  I was intrigued even though he scared the hell out of my other good-girl friends. 
I noticed this same theme throughout high school and college.  Where I wanted to know more about those who grew up differently than I did, other people who grew up in the same socioeconomic situation shied away.  As a young adult, I traveled to Mexico several times for vacation.  Some of the friends I went with seemed afraid of people who approached them, speaking Spanish, selling blankets or whatever, while it all seemed pretty harmless to me.  So, I've asked myself, why do I have this more open-minded attitude?  (And, yeah, I see it as a positive thing, despite the fact that is has gotten me in a bit of trouble from time to time.)  When I look back to my childhood, my answer is this:  my parents.  Despite having grown up in a place where you don't have to worry about someone popping a cap in your ass when you walk out the front door, my parents instilled in me a sense of general respect for all walks of life.  My parents have always had a relatively diverse group of friends.  Mom used to intentionally drive us through the poorer sections of Dallas to get places so that we might have some exposure to how others live.  When we went to Mexico on vacation as a family, my parents never acted afraid of the locals, just because they spoke Spanish instead of English.  The message I got from them was that I was not better than someone just because I had more money than they did or because they cleaned houses for a living.  What I divined from their example was that all people deserve simple courtesy and politeness until they prove otherwise by their actions.  I also learned that, while it may be prudent to avoid walking down certain streets at night by yourself, fear and acting afraid only invites victimization.  Very little of this was ever verbalized by my mom or dad.  It's a definite argument for leading by example.
I've thought about all this lately, because we are considering moving closer to Jason's work and, yes, out to what is more-or-less the suburbs of Austin.  Jason grew up in a neighborhood much like mine, and we want our children to have the same freedoms as we were given as children.  We want to feel safe allowing them to ride their bikes to friends' houses.  We want them to have kids their age to play with nearby.  I do want them, however, to experience other cultures and perspectives.  I don't want them to be afraid of people who have different skin than they do or who speak a different language or who have a different standard of living.  Maybe we'll have to work a little harder at that than we would if we chose to raise our family in east Austin, but I think Jason and I are both good examples that it can be done.  So I've grown comfortable with the idea of raising children in the suburbs where things are safe enough to allow children to explore, because I know our attitudes and open-mindedness will rub off.  In closing, I'd like to say thanks to my parents, because, Mom and Dad, you shaped my attitudes more than the place where I grew up, and that has made me a happier, more adventurous adult.

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