I just got this wonderful essay that my friend Neylan wrote for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought about her growing up experiences in NYC. As the daughter of an acclaimed Metropolitan Opera star, Ariel Bybee, she grew up surrounded by the best art, music and culture and went to one of the fanciest private schools in the city. Her essay talks about how her unique upbringing helped build her testimony and addresses the issue of how her world. If anyone wants to read her essay which I highly recommend, let me know and I'll send it to you.
Anyway, her essay really got me thinking about what I want my kids to learn and where I want to raise them and I thought you might be interested in the response I wrote to Neylan after reading her essay:
I loved your essay - had to read it right when I got it this morning in the midst of the twins' usual craziness. It was so fun to learn more about your upbringing and your essay helped me solidify my fomerly somewhat softening resolve to keep the arts and the great cities I love a big part of my children's upbringing. We had so much fun on our trip to Boston and NYC and Ashton and Isaac talk about the trip constantly.
Jared and I have always been resolved to raise adventurous children who are excited about the vast array of places and pursuits and possibilities the world has to offer. We want them to be as comfortable hiking and rock climbing in gorgeous places that celebrate God's creations as they are visiting a fine art museum or attending a play to celebrate the creations of mankind. We want them to be as comfortable in the humble homes of their little Hispanic friends from their bilingual school or in the dirt huts of the communities we'll visit in Kenya or Bolivia as they are in the homes of their affluent friends from our ward here and the apartments of our friends in New York or Boston. I loved it the other day when one of Ashton's friends who has a very humble home was playing over here and said "I wish I could live at your house - it's so big and nice and you have a movie theater" and Ashton came right back with, "I wish I could live at your house because you have a dog and really cool board games." I want my kids to appreciate that there are great things about so many situations people live in.
We're trying to raise citizens of the world - and I think that can be done regardless of where you actually live - it's related to the attitudes and mind-set you pass on to your children, to the travel budget you set aside and use to go to places other than a cruise or beach resort or Disneyland (it amazes me how much money people spend on that place again and again when they could mix it up and actually see something real with less money), to the ways you use your weekends to explore your immediate world (we go so many random festivals and events around here - Native American jamborees, nature walks with Park Rangers at the neighboring State Park, an India Indian dance festival which randomly popped up here, every art show at the little St George gallery which actually does some pretty nice stuff...).
When we were in Boston and NYC doing and seeing so many things I love so dearly my heart yearned to be there more but as we watched Noah and Kristi carrying their little McKay in his stroller up and down all the subway stairs in Manhattan and saw them stuffed into their very nice but tiny apartment, I felt glad that we opted for a less urban life for now. We may live here - but my kids will KNOW cities, know and love them.
I guess everyone knows what they've grown up with. Here in St. George we're surrounded by some very good people, many of whom grew up in a typical Mormon suburban environment, some of whom built a live of luxury for themselves from a very humble upbringing (often without the benefit of much education), many of whom have Las Vegas as the one big city they've ever been to, many of whom got married right out of high school and educated themselves primarily through church callings and running "parties" to sell everything from candles to kitchen gadgets to modest clothing. What they want for their families is often a mirror of what they perceive to be good from their own upbringing and a rejection of what they thought of as bad. So many people just want a simple life of soccer on Saturday mornings and movie nights Friday night and kids riding bikes around the neighborhood and doing a good job with callings at church. They haven't seen "more" enough to want more. And I guess that's OK to some extent. But I'm doing all I can do to expose people to the larger world and give them chances to expand their world view even slightly. I have nice art and photos of trips all over the world displayed in my home and people always have questions. I'm always sharing experiences from my schooling and travels with the Young Women I work with. I'm putting together a book group that will read "real" books and a CareerMothers group that will help mothers really think about what they want to help their children learn and become. We're doing a benefit concert where our kids and their friends will perform to raise money for orphans in Bulgaria and I'll tell attendees all about the situation for orphans in Bulgaria and offer them a chance to learn and share. When I volunteer in my kids' classrooms at school, I'm always reading stories about other cultures and helping them do art, etc. So while I don't fully understand a life that is as simple and boring-seeming as the lives of most people around me - I do understand their choices - and I want to do what I can to create a home and a family that is sort of an oasis of culture and perspective and new ideas in this community. And at least for now, that seems right!
So there are some random thoughts for you. Thanks so much for stirring them up with your wonderfully well-written and insightful essay. One thing I get SO tired of here is the fact that not many people care to read or write insightful things or talk much about ideas. But I'm gradually finding some good friends who do get below the surface and that's good - just a long process in a place like this.
Hope your holidays are going well! Love, Saren