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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Houston Update: our feelings, months later

You might remember my previous post regarding our first few months in Houston, where I shared with you the good, the bad, and the ugly of this giant metropolis. It was an honest reflection of our time here up to that point, but I feel like we’re far enough in to truly reevaluate our feelings about this city.

Things we like:

Last time I started my post with a list of the things we like about Houston. Rain, amenities, great food, proximity to family and cost of living were all celebrated, and still are. But I’d like to add a few more, as things are finally starting to look up a bit:

-Access to the best medical care in the south: This is one of those things you hope you never have to worry about, but if and when you do, you have a whole new appreciation for top-notch facilities. Even as the bills are piling up, we already feel like we’re in the best place for Quinn’s care should he need any serious interventions at birth and beyond. Even services like Early Intervention (EI) therapies and special needs education seem to be more advanced in Houston than in surrounding areas. I know that we would be a bit more nervous about Quinn’s impending arrival if we were still in Austin, even though we adored our former doctors, but people here are just better-equipped to handle any serious issues should they arise. 

-Our house and ‘hood: At first we were on the fence about this one, and there are still a lot of things we would change if we could, but as we spend more time (and less money) in West Houston, we realize that it really is the best place for us right now. First, we’re so incredibly close to work. Less time in the car means more time with my family (or in my bed). Second, I suddenly understand the appeal of suburbia. Sure, there’s not a ton of charm in strip malls and perfectly-landscaped lawns, but good god is it cheap. And we need cheap right now. We moved here to save money, and it’s nice to know we can do that and maintain a level of comfort that would be impossible to uphold if we lived in the Heights. Our house isn’t huge, but it’s perfect for us, and the playground and Hershey Trail are within walking distance. Since we’re also really close to Westpark Tollway, which takes you directly to Central Houston with no traffic or red lights in about 10 minutes, we’ve made a point of heading to the cooler parts of town every weekend. So we’re experiencing Midtown, the Heights, Montrose, and Downtown without the high cost of living or the daily commute to work. It’s the best of both worlds. We’re also very lucky that Atticus adores being in the car. 
-My job: I take back anything bad I said about my job. Ever. This campus is a teacher’s dream. There are no meetings, no useless paperwork, no assignments taking me away from my real purpose of teaching. My administrators are supportive and trusting, my coworkers genuinely happy with what they do. My colleagues and I spent a lot of time complaining about our jobs in Austin (and drinking away the pain), despite the fact that we truly loved teaching. Now, I feel like I have nothing to complain about…I actually get to teach instead of babysit, enter data, attend meetings, and jump through a thousand hoops just to prove that I’m doing my job well (which I wasn’t, considering all the time wasted on hoop-jumping). AISD should take notes: this is how you run a successful district. My students are sweet kids, if a little naïve, but I’ve accepted that as my challenge for the year. Since I don’t have to teach them how to read and write (they’re well above average on both counts), I get to spend more time teaching them how to think while they hone their reading and writing skills. It’s becoming pretty cool. 

-Kid-friendly everything: Houston is a family sort of city. While I always envisioned raising my kids in Austin (and we still intend to return someday), our part of town wasn’t especially kid-friendly. In fact, we had all of two restaurants that really catered to families and the rest of the places we frequented meant we were always the only ones there with a baby/toddler. It’s not fun to be the only one with a baby/toddler. People become annoyed when said child is not on his best behavior and then I feel bad and can’t enjoy my dinner/drink/time away from home. Here, there are kids everywhere. They run and play and climb on things and no one bats an eye because their kids are doing the same things. And it’s not just in the suburbs; there are families in Central Houston, too. On Sunday we met Brian’s mom for brunch at Empire Café in Montrose and on the patio alone there were numerous families, a few tables of hungover hipsters, and even a lady with three parrots in a stroller. And get this: we all not only tolerated each others’ company, but we actually smiled at the kids and the birds and the groggy hipsters in a way that said, “I’m happy you’re here. Everyone is welcome.” I guess you’d have to be a parent to understand that this didn’t happen often in Central Austin, at least for us.

-Friends: We’ve made some friends here in town, and it has been such an improvement in our outlook and mood. We’ve needed an inordinate amount of support lately, and people have been quick to offer. In fact, upon Quinn’s diagnosis we were suddenly introduced to numerous families that are raising kids with Ds and their experiences have been an invaluable resource for us. What’s more, they’re people we would be friends with regardless of that one commonality, which is pretty cool. We’ve also gotten to know our neighbors better, and found one family in particular who are not only kick-ass people, but their son and Atticus are mad cute together.

Things that still suck:

-Strip malls: ugh. I hate them. And they’re EVERYWHERE.

-Zoning (or a lack thereof): There is no zoning in Houston, which is ridiculous.  This is why there are so many strip malls. It’s also why the only homes we could afford in the Heights are across the street from factories or car dealerships. So beautiful neighborhoods can suddenly lose their charm when a KFC opens next door to a giant McMansion, next door to a church (with a lack of ample parking), next door to a liquor store, next door to a school. Coming from Austin, where growth is strictly regulated (amen), this is likely something I’ll never get used to.

So all in all, things are looking up in terms of our adjustment to Houston. I still miss Austin like crazy and spend a lot of time reminiscing about my incredible time there…that sort of happiness is rare and I still kick myself for being willing to throw it all away so quickly. But given our recent circumstances, I’m glad we made the move. Houston is the best place for our family in terms of support and finances, so I might as well just suck it up and make the most of this massive, sprawling city. It’s not where I saw myself 10 years ago, nor is it the last place I’ll end up. But in my quest to accept my new reality, I need to find a way to be ok with where I live and move on to making the most of everything else. It’s not perfect. But then again, nothing ever is.