It’s no secret to those close to me that this year for the first time in years, I have gotten terribly home sick. I haven’t been back home to Chicago since my Mom’s untimely death 5 years ago. Part of the reason has been money but the truth is after my Mom’s passing, I didn’t feel like I had a home to go back to. After all my Dad lives in an efficiency apartment, so no place to lay my head should I visit. My brother lives in a bachelor pad and with my Granny passing a mere 6 weeks after girl child was born, for the longest I felt there was simply no home to go back to.
Maybe it’s my daughter getting older and asking about our extended family or the fact that elder boy has been in Chicago lately checking out colleges, but the past few months, Chicago has been on my mind and in my spirit. I am reminded that while I make my home in Maine, deep down I am a city girl. I find myself missing my favorite diners, missing rides on the el during rush hour and just being able to get some real Mexican food without having to travel from hell and back to find it.
At the same time I think of all the pleasant parts that I miss about Chicago, I am reminded of why we eventually came to Maine. It did start because of my ex-husband but truth was I was very nervous raising my son in Chicago. My parents left a decent area in the early 1990’s because gangs were checking my brother out and he wasn’t even a pre-teen. I admit I was scared of what my son could get into by merely just walking around and the fact is living in a good neighborhood in Chicago is no guarantee that trouble won’t find your kid. Yesterday in my old neighborhood, the very one the Spousal Unit and I were living in before we moved to Maine, a 14 yo boy was brutally beaten and left on the street where had it not been for a passerby the child could have died.
I watched the video that accompanied the story in the link I provided and was struck by the fact that Chicago’s top cop mentions that kids are in need of conflict resolution skills, I agree they would help but as a parent I can’t help thinking a large part of what we are seeing happen in Chicago is that kids need parents. I know times are rough and folks are working hard to put food on the table and a roof over their kids heads. I know this all too well because I spent 6 years as a single parent who at one point worked not one, not two but three jobs. I know when you are working like this its hard to parent but you know what? Too many parents feel guilt over not being present with their kids and ply them with the latest gadget or the hottest pairs of sneakers and its got to stop.
I used to be conflicted about the fact my parents chose for my Mom to be a stay at home parent despite the fact that it meant we spent most of my childhood living pretty close to the financial edge. Yet the older I get, I see the greatest gift they gave me was the gift of being present, being there when I came home from school to hear me and be a part of my life. Look, I know in some families a stay at home parent is a luxury but there are ways to be present in our kids lives, it just requires some creativity and even more a committment to our kids.
I think the epidemic of child violence we are seeing back in my hometown is directly related to the fact that for many kids there are no parents or loved ones playing an active role in a kids life. Instead kids are left to fend for themselves and receive a diet full of unhealthy images pumped directly into the home via the idiot box. How else can we explain why kids so young would be filled with so much rage.
Conflict resolution classes are nice and most certainly helpful but what we need are parents and adults who can take a positive role in the lives of kids. In some cases just an adult who cares is more than enough to make a difference; I see it daily in my line of work. The center I run is located in a low income ,high density area where dysfunction is the norm yet our center provides a safe harbor for kids. We need more such places in communities throughout this country. What we are seeing in Chicago may be garnering national attention but kids mistreating each other daily happens all across this country even in a small rural state like Maine.
So while I am saddened by the violence back home, I won’t let it deter me from going home soon. After all there is a deep dish pizza and a night at one of the best spots for jazz in the country calling my name!