Just when I get used to writing “2012” on everything, the year goes and switches to 2013! Since 2013 will mark the 2nd anniversary of our family’s move to Vermont, I’m going to ring in the New Year with some sweeping generalizations about why our family loves living here. The following statements reflect only my experience, during two years spent in my particular town. Here you go:
Five Great Reasons to Raise Kids in Vermont
1. It’s too cold for evil. We have three little girls with very active imaginations, so there’s a lot of fear in our house. They’re afraid of witches, wizards, monsters, and (yes, really) blue-ringed octopi. Never mind that witches, wizards, and monsters are fictitious, or that blue-ringed octopi require an OCEAN to survive. No; whenever one of our daughters gets worked up over some evil entity, all my husband and I have to say is, “There aren’t any [witches/wizards/monsters/octopi] in Vermont.” To which our middle child always adds this beautiful bit of logic: “Nope, not in Vermont. Too COLD!”
2. Lack of alpha-parenting outlets. In the cities we previously inhabited (Manhattan and the Bay Area), there were as many options for children’s activities as stars in the sky. From the moment your child turned three, if you wanted it, you could find it: music lessons, voice lessons, dance lessons, sports, martial arts, cooking classes – you name it. Where we now live, it would take real effort to become a hyper-competitive parent with over-scheduled children. (As long as you avoid hockey.) Here, as far as I’m aware, your child has ONE choice before turning five: gymnastics. After five, the choices broaden somewhat to include swimming, dance, and softball, plus skiing and skating in the winter. It’s a lazy parent’s dream. (As long as you avoid hockey.)
3. Simple pleasures. In addition to extracurricular activities, more populous areas offer a variety of entertainment options for children. Deluxe playgrounds! Museums by the score! Stimulating indoor play spaces! Enormous toy stores! My daughters, on the other hand, get hysterically excited over the prospect of grocery shopping at Hannaford’s, where they might ride in one of the car shopping carts and get a free sugar cookie at the bakery. With limited kid-centric entertainment nearby, they’ve learned to make their own fun, and to appreciate the times when we do travel greater distances for splashier options. My five-year-old has already planned the ULTIMATE day for her 16th birthday: she’s going to take her sister and best friend to jump in the bouncy house at Whirlie’s World, and then drive up to Burlington for lunch at the (very modest, by most city standards) Burlington Town Center Mall. Apparently, that’s as good as it gets!
4. It toughens them up. One thing that’s NOT limited in Vermont: the Great Outdoors. Vermont kids tend to spend a lot of time outdoors, in all sorts of weather. This exposure to nature, combined with the overall safety of the area that allows for less supervised wandering, creates some tough kids. My three daughters are already showing a strong inclination to walk out in a snowstorm wearing flip-flops. They climb rocks, swim in lakes and rivers, get completely filthy, and can play just about anything with a stick. My one-year-old’s first words were “rock” and “acorn,” my three-year-old wants to be a large-animal vet when she grows up, and my five-year-old can identify local bird calls better than me.
But I’m still waiting for the day when they’ll stop moaning, “Gross, cows!!!” whenever the smell of fertilized fields wafts through the air.
5. Everybody knows your name. This gets a little tricky, because I don’t want to seem like a negligent mother, or get in trouble with my children’s grandparents. So, let me start with a fact: according to the CQ Press’s 2010 state crime rankings, Vermont is the 2nd safest state in the nation (after New Hampshire). I know that statistics only take you so far, that it’s important to be vigilant, and that bad things can (and do) happen anywhere. But I do feel that my family is safer in Vermont than anywhere else we’ve lived, and here’s why: we know people everywhere we go. Whether we’re at an event, in the library, walking along Main Street, or eating in a restaurant, we’re guaranteed to see at least one person we know -- all this after less than two years in our town. So, when my two oldest daughters dash ahead of me into the library, I don’t feel a panicked urge to bark, “STOP! Wait for me! Hold my hand!” the way I would in a larger town. As soon as my girls enter that library, 85% of the patrons, plus the librarians, know them by name.
This may not be preparing my daughters well for life outside of small-town Vermont. In fact, NOTHING on this list is likely to prepare my daughters for life outside small-town Vermont. But maybe that’s the greatest reason of all to raise kids in Vermont: when (or if) my kids leave Vermont, they’ll have plenty of time to feel scared, to get overscheduled, and to shop in major department stores. A childhood that’s safe, relaxed, and allows for plenty of time swimming in lakes and listening to birdcalls --now that’s something rare and precious.