Monday, June 06, 2005

The village that raised our child

Everyone thinks it's a cliche. They attribute the idea to Hillary Clinton, a vaguely disreputable proponent of socialistic thinking. It's the old, "takes a village to raise a child" sentiment.

But it's not a cliche. It's true. And I realized it in spades this past week when my wife and I returned to Indianapolis for our son's high school graduation.

For those who don't know the story, we left our only son behind in Indianapolis last year when we moved to Philadelphia for my wife's new job. At seventeen and entering his senior year, he was completely opposed to accompanying us to the East Coast before graduation. Hey, we're enlightened parents, and we decided his arguments made sense. He could stay behind to finish school with the same classmates he'd had since kindergarten.

Well, it wouldn't have happened without my sister Jan and her husband Dennis. They had just become empty-nesters, and in spite of their desire for some privacy, they agreed to take our son in for the first semester. He lived with them for weeks, and as an angst-ridden 17-year-old, changed their lives as you can imagine. Still, they stuck by him, met his friends, went to his soccer games, and waited up late nights when he didn't come home on time. They provided the skittles and microwave popcorn and macaroni & cheese dinners a teenager requires. They gave him just enough rope—but not too much.

And his other two aunts—and grandma—were always just around the corner to offer an invite to a barbecue or some family function to provide some grounding when necessary.

After Christmas, things got a little looser. He wanted to be closer to his urban public high school, so he moved in with a family we knew—but just barely. We had met these folks years ago when we were all public school advocates determined to take over the school board running the Indianapolis Public Schools. The fact that they had eight kids and had sent most of them off to college gave us a sense that they probably knew how to handle teenagers. The fact that we succeeded in taking over the school board all those years ago gave us all camaraderie.

Then there was the school itself. Broad Ripple High School is a challenged, urban public school, but like many such schools, is underestimated and dismissed by many people who don't know better. The low point was our son's Sophomore year when five of his fellow students were killed (none at school, all in the community overwhelmed by drugs and homelessness and single parenting and unemployment and all the other negative factors afoot these days.) After that, things got better—marginally. With grants from Bill & Melinda Gates and a whole lot of humor, Broad Ripple soldiers on. During this year the dedicated teachers and staff knew our son was on his own, that his parents were 650 miles away on the East Coast. And they helped him out. (I forgive them for letting him claim he was homeless so he could get free and reduced lunch in the cafeteria, They must have fallen for his considerable charm.)

Everybody came through for us, and more importantly, for him, As I sat proudly watching the commencement exercises, I realized he had 1.) not been arrested; 2.) not gotten into a car wreck; 3.) was graduating from high school, and 4.) had been accepted into college. And his entire year had been without parents! The village guided him to success.

What a village it is! The northside of Indianapolis is a community-builder's wet dream, one of the sweetest places on the face of the earth. It's liberal and traditional at the same time and it came through for us. Maybe Hillary has something there.


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