I grew up in the suburbs in Toronto. Back when I was my daughter’s age, I had a lot of friends on the street and we’d all walk to school together, or get together and play after class. As we got older, a great adventure was considered taking two buses to the mall to buy $3 New York Fries. Oh, what an adventure!
I went to school with pretty much the same people since kindergarten. We went through junior high and then high school together and, finally, university. Most of us stayed in the city, or just on the outskirts, for university. So you can see that I grew up in a bubble. Because of this bubble I have a lot of regrets. I also have a lot of envy. I’m not sure it’s right to envy your own child but in some ways, I really do.
Most of my classmates went on to be lawyers or dentists or accountants. I’m not sure anyone but me went on to be a writer, but then again, I always did feel different from most of my classmates. As soon as I was allowed, I moved straight downtown, living in small basement apartments or cramped attics in old Victorian houses. I loved it.
There were things I just did not know as a student in the public school system in the bubble of the suburbs. Things I completely regret not knowing. I had no idea, for example, that I didn’t have to go to school in Canada and that I could have gone to school in New York or move to Los Angeles and take acting classes, or even study in Maui. (These were probably not options, due to money, but then I think, “Hello? Scholarships!” I could have been in debt for years like a lot of students these days, but it would have been worth it…if only I had known those were options.)
The fact is, these options were never talked about, because our mothers were teachers and our father’s dentists, and they probably never knew about these options either. There were three main universities people went to from my suburban bubble and no one talked about New York, or moving out of the country, or writing, or being an artist, or actually doing something you are passionate about as opposed to “getting a job that pays well.”
Nine years ago, when I told my parents I was moving to New York, their response was, “Why?” Seriously. How could I explain everything that New York has to offer to my parents, who are happy in their bubble of suburban life? If my daughter one day tells me “I want to move to New York,” you bet your ass I’ll be helping her pack.
Which brings me to my daughter and her schools. For JK through second grade, she attended a downtown school. They didn’t have a gym so they shared the one used by the nearby university. They had art classes at the museum. Their teachers walked in with Starbucks coffees and were called by their first names. Some students were pulled out of school for months to travel, and that was just fine by the school, which believed that a child could learn a lot from seeing other parts of the world. My child was living the downtown life at age 4, befriended homeless people, and loved the daily hustle and bustle of downtown life, which I didn’t get to experience until I was 18.
When I got the call last spring that she got into the one private school I really wanted her to get into, I cried – not because I was super proud she got in (although I was), but out of sheer relief. My daughter, unlike me, will have options for her future. Options she will be well aware of. Options that her teachers and friends will talk about because the students are from all over the world and know that there are choices to do whatever you want to do in life.
Graduates from this private girls’ school are all over the world now; they’ve become Olympic athletes, fashion designers who studied at Parsons, Hong Kong businesswomen, entrepreneurs making jewelry and bathing suits or opening bakery shops. I don’t remember one teacher ever telling me, “You could open a bakery shop!” Or my mother saying, “If you study hard in math you could end up in Hong Kong as a banker!” (Likewise, if I had known about Parsons and suggested that to my parents, they’d say, “Parsons? What’s that? What do you mean you want to be a fashion designer?”) I think it’s still hard enough on them that I’m a writer. After all these years, they still don’t “get” what I do.
When I first visited my daughter’s new school – before she was accepted – I witnessed at this private school a bunch of sixth grade girls making a robot they were going to enter in a citywide competition. Yes, an actually robot. I walked out thinking, “Girls can do anything!” My heart felt like it was about to burst. I thought, “Dear God, my daughter could become the Prime Minister of Canada.” And, yes, I walked out, too, tearing up because I knew my daughter was entering a life that I never had the chance to have or know or really live.
Of course I want my daughter to have the best life (doesn’t every parent?) and – ga! – I actually said to myself, “I just want her to have a better life than I did,” which is such a cliché and, quite frankly, my life isn’t, and has never been, so bad. But I know that she’s at least going to know the options out there in the world – like, hey, maybe I will study in Paris for a year, or move to Hong Kong to work, or become a writer in New York, or give it a shot in Los Angeles.
These were things I never thought about because I really did grow up in a suburban bubble and no one talked about artists or studying abroad. I truly didn’t know these choices existed and by the time I did, well, it was a little too late. I am happy that my daughter will know about these options. And I will at least get to live vicariously through her. Whether she follows through on any of these opportunities, like moving countries to study, well, only time will tell. But at least I know that she will know that there are many, many options out there for her that don’t only include staying near home and studying to be a lawyer. Then again, she may just do that. But, oh, I can’t help but think, if only I could switch places with her now.
Do you find your daughter has more options than you did? Did you grow up in a bubble like I did? Share.