I grew up in a rural place. Not on a farm, so much. By the time I came along my parents had already burned out on growing a garden, even. But in a rural setting, where the woods for a wide distance around were my playground. I spent hours alone chasing the creek to its source halfway up the side of a mountain or building a boat out of an avocado shell to float down it. I played Indians among the trees with my siblings and friends. We spent autumn afternoons raking leaves off our huge yard and then burning the pile of leaves and sticks in the edge of the woods in the evening.
I knew where the columbines and trilliums grew in the woods, where the poison ivy was, where huckleberries and blackberries flourished. I knew how to make a flower crown with nothing but flowers and grass, and which vines I could pull down off trees to make little wreaths. I ran away to the woods when I got fed up with my family. My Side of the Mountain was like a wish-fulfillment fantasy for me.
I thought that this was the kind of childhood that everyone had. Further, I thought this was the kind of childhood everyone was supposed to have. So when I began to have children, and we began to choose places to live, I began to try to recreate what I loved best about my childhood for children of my own.
And reality, that old bugbear, said not so fast.
What I learned very quickly was that in order to raise your children in a bucolic countryside paradise, you have to have a) a job that lends itself to living rurally, b) a long commute or c) enough money to live on acreage close to the city. And I married myself a software engineer. While that doesn't necessarily mean one must work in a city, it seems to be where the jobs are.
So, during the time we've been raising our family, there's been this tension: city or country? How far into the country can we get and still see Daddy a reasonable amount of time? How badly do we need what "the country" can offer us anyway? What are we willing to give up in order to be closer to work? These questions cut close to the core of what makes a family work, the time balance, the philosophy on raising children.
Now we've come to the point where we're having to make this choice again. I am an incorrigible country mouse, I'm afraid. When we stand in houses on lots with no land, and I feel a little claustrophobic, I think two things. First, I think, oh, you greedy woman. This is simply the way people do things, and you are being high maintenance. Second, I wonder whether raising my children in a place like I want, where they have all kinds of land to run around on, makes it less possible for them to enjoy living in places like these. Am I perpetuating this cycle, and is that helpful or handicapping?
Two nights this week we've gone to downtown Greenville and enjoyed events at Falls Park. We left the van in little alleyway parking lots and walked down Main Street. We looked in the windows of shops and passed people sitting on restaurant patios enjoying evening in the city. It was nice to be right there where things were happening, where there was evening entertainment that was educational and fun, and for a moment I wondered whether I could enjoy being a city mouse. I could walk to everything, have everyone and everything close, choose from a million different options of anything I needed or wanted.
I would love to tie this up and say that I have this one figured out, but I don't. Fortunately, this time, "country living" isn't as far from work as it has been. There's not such a devil's choice to be made. And yet a choice must be made, because we can only live in between for so long. The strain begins to tell on all of us, and we have to pick a place and begin to grow roots again. So what would you do? I hear the siren call of the city, but I know the country's quiet comfort too.
Are you a country mouse or a city mouse?