Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Road Less Traveled

The following appears in the October edition of Chicago Parent.

I live in an amazing neighborhood of Chicago filled with cops, firemen, and public school teachers. Everyone knows everyone. There are constant food trains for the sick and fundraisers for those suffering hard times. When a local kid does good, you read about it in The Beverly Review. A trip for milk can take two hours as you will invariably encounter your Catholic School principal, your cousin, and the kid who pummeled you in fifth grade.

As a closet introvert, I fought with Joe 12 years ago to remain living downtown. Neighborhood life wasn’t for me. I am terrible with names, and I accidentally refer to everyone as Bob or Mary. Living in a neighborhood with limited anonymity? Pass. Not everyone needs to know how often I trip and swear.

I ultimately caved when I envisioned my sons learning to ride their bikes outside the Rain Forest Café.

Our neighborhood experience has been overwhelmingly positive. My kids feel safe. There is freedom to roam. Sure, our 7-Eleven occasionally gets robbed and the soundtrack of my kids’ youth is police sirens, but that’s the price of urban life.

When it came time for my oldest son to choose a high school, I was curious:

Would he select one of the nearest choices absorbing most neighborhood kids?

Would he test for selective enrollment along with some of his old gifted buddies?

Would he gamble on his dad’s school, Mount Carmel, where he knew absolutely nobody?

In a neighborhood with an established social hierarchy and a reputation for being unable to reinvent yourself after the 3rd grade, I was pulling for Carmel. I wanted my son to understand the greater world. I wanted him to eschew the safe and known and seek out those who inspired, challenged and supported him - regardless of background or status.

I held my breath. As much as my husband and I love our neighborhood, we didn’t want our choices to limit the choices for our kids.

Dan chose Mount Carmel.

Only time will reveal how this will shape him, and whether reaching for the great unknown is a worthy endeavor.

But I plan to one day tell him how his mother, too, once chose the road less traveled. And it has definitely made all the difference.

Ultimately, it led me to three young men I am so very proud to call my sons.