There are certain elemental things parents do for their children: Feed them, shelter them, keep them safe from harm.
There are also nonmaterial aspects to parenting like moral and educational instruction, emotional support, giving advice, and other intangible, though vitally important, things.
But what about where you raise your kids?
We are products of our environment after all. And it’s proven that some environments are better than others for certain things.
The question for parents becomes: Which do you choose? Stability or Opportunity?
What’s New In Baltimore?
I thought about while listening to one of my favorite artists of all time, Frank Zappa. I have read his wildly entertaining autobiography, as well as other books a out the man, several times for the same reason any of us read about famous and influential people: To find out how they got to become who they became.
Zappa’s case is interesting, because while he was born in Baltimore and moved to Florida when he was six or so, the family packed it’s bags shortly thereafter and headed out west to California.
Yes, California in the 50s and 60s. California, the state where pretty much every single celebrity, musician, and actor seems to come from or end up in, comparable perhaps only to New York City. California, which has fired the imaginations of Americans–and the world–for generations.
Given the timeframe in which the Zappa family made their move, is it any wonder that the curious, rebellious, and quirky Frank ended up as a musician?
But what if his family never left Florida for California? He says in his autobiography had he not become a musician he probably be a chemist or something. Great! Maybe he would have enjoyed that life too, but the world would be a far more boring place and he never would have realized the potential within him.
When you have children, your thoughts turn towards things like this.
You Got a Killer Scene There, Man…
There have always been centers, or scenes, were successful, creative, and just downright cool people seem to congregate. Whatever the cause of this effect is, it’s undeniable that certain locations produce certain types of people.
Think about music scenes: San Francisco, Detroit, and London in the 1960s, L.A. in the 1970s, New York City in the 1980 and 2000s, Seattle in the 1990.
Go back further: Italy? Austria? Germany? Russia?
And it’s not just music. Think about the Renaissance or Dadaism. Think about Athens and Rome. Think about Silicon Valley in Caifornia or Cambridge in Massachusetts (hi, Mark Zuckerberg!).
Why do you think everybody wants to go to New York or L.A. or Seattle or Austin? Or London or Paris? And no offense to the good people of Helena, Montana, but artists, musicians, and tech geeks aren’t chomping at the bit to move there.
I think about this as it relates to my son. But since this is the Internet, and we are all narcissists, allow me to talk about myself for a bit first.
I grew up in a very small New England town in the middle of the mountains. There was a college, but the town’s full-time population was just under 3,000 people. It was a nice town, pretty and safe, very little crime to speak of. But by the time I was 13 or 14, I wanted to get the hell out. Not only because I wanted to be a musician or an artist, but because I felt that there was nothing there for me. It was constraining.
Alas, we stayed.
One thing I can say, though, is that I experienced next to none of the social problems plaguing many other places. Drugs, crime, urban decay, natural disasters, even nuisances were virtually non-existent. The town was, as they say, a real nice place to raise your kids.
Also kind of dull. You were either into sports or geek culture, drinking and weed or straight-edge, and maybe skateboarding, if you could find some dudes to rip it up with.
Now, decades later, I still haven’t really left New England, current situation not withstanding. Needless to say, despite some time spent in Boston, my musical ambitions never really took off. I think location played a huge part.
There are other reasons, of course, most of which have to do with me. But I think that where I grew up affected more than just the opportunities available to me.
I went to high school with two people who are, I guess you could say, famous. Do you want to know what these two individuals did after high school? They got the hell out of New England. Funny how that works out.
My wife and I are still in limbo, thinking about whether we want to uproot ourselves from the small New England town we currently live in to a major American city.
Our little town that is safe, spacious, idyllic, has good schools, and is close to family. The city has more crime, more congestion, a higher cost of loving, less space, and in general more headaches. But there will be far more opportunities and people for our son to interact with and learn from.
It’s a real conundrum, because if I could go back and redo my life I would pick the city 10 times out of 10. However, there are certain advantages to growing up in a small town. It gives one a sense of humility, a naïve wonder about the wider world. There is something to be said about small-town values.
That said, and I hate to be like this because small towns are full of lovely people, the isolation does lead to diminished thinking. Most people seem so…content. And why silent they?
People in cities can seem so jaded, which in and of itself is not a good thing. I think this is the result of being exposed to so much more. You learn faster and gain a little bit of street-smarts.
And what about my son, and any other children I may have? What if he has all of these talents that will not emerge living in a small town? What if he needs to be in a place like Cambridge to unlock his scientific, technological, and business talents? What if he needs a California or New York-type environment to bring out hidden creative abilities that would otherwise languish in small town obscurity?
What do I really want for my children? Stability or risky potential?
It’s the cage of safety question all over again.
It’s similar to the college question as well. I am 100% in favor of alternatives to college, and again, if I had a second pass through life, I would not of gone to college, or at least not right out of high school.
But am I really going to feel comfortable actively encouraging my own children not to go to college?
Honestly, I don’t know.
Parenthood means constantly worrying that you’re screwing up your kids. Where you choose to raise them is just one aspect of it.
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