We live in an upper middle-class neighborhood between Pico and Olympic Boulevards in West L.A. We’ve heard gunshots, loud helicopters, drug-addled, homeless Jesus Advocates, horns of Starbucks-amped commuters and quite particularly the mating cry of a feral cat named Jafar who is the lusty owner of a pair of particularly intimidating cat balls.
We’ve seen an armed robbery at the Bank of America (okay, our neighbor Claudia saw it, but it scared the crap out of us just to hear about it). And we discovered that our recently departed (not dead, simply moved out) teenage neighbors were drug dealers. Fine, they were pot dealers. Still, it could’ve been meth. So the burning question is: Is it safe to raise our kids in L.A.?
I grew up in the ‘70s in suburban Southern California. We lived on a cul-de-sac and my parents sent me outside to play with the neighborhood kids until dusk. My siblings and I didn’t watch TV, play Wii, text, computer, iphone, nada. We played war in the lemon grove next door, building forts out of cardboard boxes and grenades out of dirt clods (which actually really hurt if you threw them hard enough).
My kids, who are 7 and 9, stay within the confines of our Spanish courtyard. We schedule play dates with the neighborhood kids and one parent sits outside with them if they insist on riding their skateboards and scooters on the sidewalk. Forget about letting them ride their bikes in the street because cars shoot through here doing 50 mph during rush hour. This means my kids TV, computer, Wii and iTouch their brains out.
Sometimes I feel like I’m raising veal.
To answer my own question, it’s not as safe to raise my kids in L.A. as it would be to raise them in, say, Thousand Oaks where a lot of my fellow moms have fled. Good public schools THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL (!) and one of the lowest crime rates in the country. Sounds good to me. Being the parent of young children in L.A. means extra vigilance, extra get-off-your-butt motivation and extra cash.
Having said all that, here are the things I love about raising my kids here:
They attend a multi-cultural public school where every religion, race, color, class and creed is represented. My kids are blue-eyed white girls of agnostic Christian background. Their friends are white, black, brown, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, you name it.
Their friends’ families come from New York, India, Mexico City, El Salvador, Russia, San Francisco, Iraq and Israel just to name a few. Their friends come from every kind of blended family, including same-sex married couples despite Prop 8.
I’ve taken my children to the Getty, LACMA, the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center, the Skirball Cultural Center, the LaBrea Tar Pits and Page Museum, the Peterson Automotive Museum, the Zimmer Children’s Museum, Kidspace Children’s Museum and many more I’ve blocked from memory.
I’ve taken my children to a drum circle at the L.A. Music Center, to eat taquitos at Olvera Street, to be terrified by the bizarre Bob Baker Marionette show in downtown L.A., on field trips to the Watts Towers, Descanso Gardens, the Huntington Botanical Gardens, the UCLA Observatory and again, the list goes on.
Man I sound like an awesome mom. I did all these things over several years while jacked up on anti-depressants so don’t feel too intimidated. The point is, if you can get your butt out of a sling there’s a lot for kids to do in L.A. and a wide variety of influences and activities that you just can’t find anywhere else.
The last thing I love about L.A. is that I’ve made my best friends here, mom or otherwise.
There’s something about L.A. that draws like-minded people to it. Certainly there’s the dream of succeeding in the entertainment business, but there’s something more.
In L.A. you can redefine yourself, shed whatever labels you’ve been given by your family, your church, your school, your small town. This is the place where it’s safe to explore, if not always the streets, then your own internal landscape. This is a place where you can discover who you really are and how you want that to manifest in your life. This is where often you find your tribe of kindred spirits.
I don’t know if we’ll stick it out in L.A. through middle school and high school. There’s the problem of the beleaguered LAUSD and the exorbitant private school fees. There’s the random violence. And let us not forget sex, drugs and Miley Cyrus. But I’m hopeful we’ll stay and navigate our way. That our children will survive and even thrive. Because moving to L.A. from my safe little suburb truly made me a citizen of the world, taught me tolerance, street smarts and helped me find my authentic voice.
I’d love to know what challenges you face raising your kids here, but also what you love about it…