My husband and I have raised three daughters in Hartford. Well, we're actually not quite done. One is fully raised — entering her junior year in college in Pennsylvania — another has one more year to go in high school, and the last has a ways to go yet, as she is not quite 10.
We both have postgraduate degrees and are tax-paying members of the middle class. During our 20 years of child-rearing in Hartford, we have toyed with the idea of moving out to the suburbs several times. We have been tempted by the allure of good neighborhood schools, well-kept T-ball fields and, of course, low crime rates. But each time we seriously faced the decision, we came to the conclusion that we just couldn't do that to our kids. We owed it to them to raise them right and Hartford has helped us do just that.
We have taught our girls many lessons. We expect kindness and hard work in our home. We have rules about dating and about putting family first. We have a loving extended family that has also had a hand in raising our children. Yet there are other lessons they would never have learned if they had not grown up in the city — lessons every American child would be better off for having learned.
• Appreciation. It is very easy to be grateful for what you have when others around you have less. My daughters have never had to be reminded that they are lucky to have a home, or their own rooms or food on their table, because they personally know those who don't. They don't spend time wishing for luxuries we cannot afford because they are very well aware of those they enjoy that some of their friends do not.
• Awareness without fearfulness. When you are raised in the city, you develop an awareness of your surroundings that helps keep you safe from harm. Through city bus rides, visits to the park or walks around the block, my daughters have had much practice in learning how to read a person's intentions. My teenage daughter doesn't have her license yet and is comfortable navigating the city by bus, walking or bike riding. She and her sisters have internalized the precautions you have to take in any urban area and has developed the ability to live in a city without fear.
• Honesty. The people of Hartford have no patience for political correctness. There is no tiptoeing around the issue of race. My daughters are half Anglo and half Hispanic. They and their friends discuss race issues openly without guilt or presumptions. They don't camouflage their opinions in order to spare the feelings of someone of another race. When you go to school in Hartford you learn that black can mean Jamaican, American, Liberian, Somalian, Dominican. Hispanic can also mean Dominican, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, Mexican or Spanish. White can mean Albanian, Bosnian, Irish, Italian. With so much exposure to different cultures and races, you learn that everyone is an individual and our backgrounds just enrich who we are.
• Pride. There is nothing like growing up in Hartford to give one the feeling of being an underdog. We are the black sheep of the Greater Hartford family and our relatives never let us forget it. When my daughters go to summer camp or any statewide activity where they meet children from other towns, they are always met with the unmasked surprise of their peers when they learn that my daughters live in Hartford. Suburban students are amazed to meet normal, well-mannered kids from a city they thought for sure was full of armed criminals. These experiences make my daughters proud to represent Hartford wherever they go, and they immensely enjoy playing their part in shattering suburban myths.
If you would like to raise independent, socially conscious children who can get along with anyone, and if you would like your children to be grateful for what they have and be proud of where they live, don't wait another minute. Move back to Hartford where you can raise exceptional children and live where all the cool people live.
Vivian Novo-MacDonald lives in Hartford and teaches at the Montessori Magnet School in the Learning Corridor. Her husband, David MacDonald, serves on the Hartford Board of Education.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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