Growing Up in a Small Town and Raising Your Kids in a Big City

Growing up in a small East Tennessee town, you become accustomed to knowing everyone, or at the very least knowing their mother, grandmother, and cousin twice-removed. There are connections everywhere. With this comes constant scrutiny. If you step a toe out of line, your family will know it. There were three elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school in my town. I knew everyone in my graduating class and they knew me. As kids we used to watch “Cheers,” and the theme song about a place where “everybody knows your name” would always make me think Man, why would you want that? I would like to walk into Wal-Mart or Walgreens and not see ten people I know.

But I grew up, went to college (again, in a small Tennessee town), and met a boy from Nashville. Fast-forward 14 years and here we are, living in the Big City. When I left my small town, I said “good riddance.” And it was nice for so many years to be able to go to the grocery or to have dinner and a drink with friends and not see anyone I knew. I enjoyed the anonymity of it all.

Three years into our marriage, we had our first daughter. I can remember vividly going back to my hometown for a visit with her when she was three or four, and stopping off at the local Wal-Mart. We saw no less than four people I had grown up with in the 20 minutes we were there. My daughter asked if I was famous.

We now have two daughters, and we are experiencing big city joys and big city problems daily. Davidson County is the second largest school district in Tennessee, so the issue isn’t just going to school but choosing a school. We have a magnet program, charter schools, and standard-zoned schools, and everyone is fighting for the place they want their kids to go. And the drive! Between dropping the youngest off and trekking from there to the eldest’s magnet school, it’s an hour. It was all a bit overwhelming the first year. Add to that being a working mom, and suddenly it felt like I had picked up a second career as a chauffeur…

It makes me wonder whether I am doing the right thing raising my girls in a large city. Am I who I am because I grew up in that overwhelming small-town spotlight watching my every move? How will my daughters turn out being visible to merely their core group of daily acquaintances? Will they dream of moving to small-town America, or will they choose an even larger city in which to raise their own children?

I would have never had the career opportunities available to me had I remained in my sleepy little town. Don’t I want the same choices for my girls? I tell them they can be anything they want to be—I try to set the example that women’s options are limitless. Isn’t that part of what we, as working women, are doing: forging the way for the next generation?

But I do wonder how different things would have been if I had never left.