Thursday, January 20, 2011

Parenthood - Part 4: The Problem with South Florida

The Problem with South Florida

We came to visit my wife's Grandfather every year in South Florida. It was always a dream to move to the warm weather of South Florida. After finishing college, we made that dream a reality and moved down from Michigan to enjoy the weather and to keep Grandpa company. When Grandpa passed away, my wife's parents actually moved into his place, and a few years later, her brother also moved down to the area.

Our first place, in Coral Springs, was across the street from a high school. Hearing the marching band practicing from our balcony, I remarked to my wife that we should go see a high school football game for fun. To this day, ten years later, I'll never forget what an eye opening experience that was to the horrors of South Florida culture - or rather a lack of culture.

Two area high schools can have as many as 3000 students, while being located only a few miles from each other. I was shocked the first time I saw the stands at a football game between two of these over-packed schools. The stands were empty. The culture down here doesn't care. 3000 students; 6000 parents; 12,000 grandparents - empty bleachers.

My family moved to a small town in Southeastern Michigan during my junior year of high school. I attended a football game for our school and I was overwhelmed by the community attendance at the football game. The high school had about 400 students and the town had a population of about 4000. It seemed as if the whole town showed up for every football game. My dad didn't believe me. He had to see it to believe it. He learned the hard way that it was standing room only for late-comers.

South Florida, despite being a salad bowl of cultures from all over the world, is actually totally devoid of a culture of its own. Maybe a culture of selfishness; of meanness; of greed; of indifference; of business; of materialism. There is no community here. It isn't just the high school bleachers that are empty.

The professional hockey arena across the street is empty for most games. The professional baseball games are mostly empty. The professional soccer team is expired. Fairs and festivals are laughably irrelevant at capturing the community.

I've heard people throw around statistics about South Florida, but I prefer to simply show the absence of culture through ten years of experience living down here. Nowhere is it more painful and obvious than in the neighborhoods.

When looking for a home, we went out of our way to avoid a gated community. The reasons should be obvious and self-explanatory. Our non-gated neighborhood has been nothing but a disappointment. (I've alluded to this in past posts.) We've gotten to know most of our neighbors within a 5 house radius. This is a major accomplishment in South Floridian terms - most of these neighbors don't know each other.

These neighbors have come to parties/dinners at our house and remarked that, in 25 years, no one else has ever invited them over. At Christmastime, most homes are devoid of decorations/lights. At Halloween, most homes are dark and "closed for business". Its depressing. Everyone pays a lawn crew to take care of yard work. Everyone pays someone to come and wash their car. Many pay someone to come in and clean the house.

Neighborhood kids are rarely seen, and if so, its usually loitering under a basketball hoop that is set up in the street. And the speed limit on our streets is 30 mph.

Should I go on?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Parenthood - Part 3: Homeschool and Preschool

As a first grade teacher, my wife is uniquely equipped to raise our young children. I'm an educated, fairly smart guy, but I couldn't begin to know how to teach a kid how to read. My wife, on the other hand, is more than able to teach them how to read, among other things.

To homeschool or not to homeschool?

I've told my wife that it is up to her. If she wants to homeschool our children until about third grade, that is perfectly fine with me.

I'm not sure how keen I am on the homeschooling ideology as a whole, but I do feel that my wife is uniquely qualified to at least homeschool our children in the beginning stages. Our garage is a veritable library of reading materials, school materials, crafts, etc. etc. etc. It is overflowing with materials that my wife has collected (because of her love for her students) that could easily be to the benefit of our own children.

To preschool or not to preschool?

I've been substitute teaching at a private elementary school for the past several years. Occasionally, I'd sub in for the P.E. teacher. At these times, I actually had access to the pre-school classes. This is exaggeration of course - but handling a dozen toddlers is almost impossible. It seems to me that each of them brings to the table their own bad habits. To be fair, each of them probably only has one or two bad habits. But put 12 children into a room (or a playground) for 40 hours a week and they'll pick up each other's bad habits/behaviors. So each child goes home with about 25 bad behaviors/habits when they went into it with only one. By the time they're in kindergarten, they've probably picked up close to 40 or 50. And for what benefit? So they could learn their ABC's? So they could learn to count to ten?

To me, its not worth it. The trade off is terribly uneven. This isn't a knock on particular preschools, other people's children, or anything else. This is simply my justification for why I don't want my children setting foot inside a preschool. Especially for 40 hours a week.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Parenthood - Part 2: The Second Child

My wife went back to work when my son was a little more than 4 months old. Up until this point, we had never even considered the option of her staying home with the children. My wife has always been a strong, independent woman (she plans to pick a fight with the Apostle Paul when she sees him in Heaven.) It never occurred to us that either one of us would want her to stay home from work.

Almost immediately, we realized our mistake. Going back to work was going to be very painful for her. Despite the fact that she loved her job. She loved being a first-grade teacher. She loved the kids, as if they were her own. But every day at work, she was missing valuable time at home with our son. Not to mention the fact that after giving 11o% every day at school, she simply had little energy left to expend while at home.

When she went back to work after the birth of our son, we also found out that she was pregnant again (she was craving chocolate milk - which was the telltale sign.) This changed everything. Having already made the mistake of sending her back to work after the birth of our son, we weren't about to repeat the mistake.

Prior to the birth of our son, there was no way we could know how important it would be for her to be there for them at all times. Its funny, because both of our own mother's were home for us when we were young children, but in the generational gap, the importance was lost.

Secondly, we couldn't burden Grandma with having to watch two children at once. During the first year of parenthood, we relied heavily upon Grandma, but it would have been unfair to her to expect her to keep up with the Irish twins - a full time job for three adults.

Thirdly, the expense of childcare/daycare/babysitting almost cancels out the benefit of a two-income home. Beyond cost, there are a variety of reasons why I don't want my children spending their formative years in the midst of 10 other children and one adult who may or may not be able to keep up with them all - if they are even trying.

It quickly became a non-decision to have my wife step-down from teaching a dozen children that belonged to someone else, and give all of her energy and time to raising our own children. If and when she returns to "work" remains to be seen.

To be continued.....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Parenthood - Part 1

When my wife and I turned 30, we decided that the time for parenthood was "now or never." Having been together for 12 years, we figured it was about high time that we added kids into the mix. We tried to get pregnant for almost 4 years. When we finally got pregnant, it was a short-lived excitement, as we lost him/her. We then immediately got pregnant again. Again, the excitement was short-lived as it turned out to be twins and one of them was lost in complications that almost took my wife's life. My son was truly a miracle baby. My wife lost a lot of blood, was hopped up on Morphine - a medical necessity, as she describes the pain as being worse than childbirth itself, and the surgery to save her were all factors that were supposed to bring the chances of survival for my son down to a sliver of hope.

We waited on pins and needles as each week passed and hope grew. When my son was finally born, the last thing we expected was that God would immediately give us another child. (We had forgotten that we had already spent 4 years praying for a child, and God was about to answer those prayers twofold). My wife became pregnant with our daughter almost immediately after the birth of our son. I'll admit that I was in shock for at least a couple of months.

One child is an earth shattering life change. But still, its not so bad. Its like he's our little sidekick that goes along wherever we go.

But the news of a second child changed everything. We started to seriously reevaluate everything about our life.

To be continued.......

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