Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Look Back

In 2013 we were faced with some huge decisions regarding schools, our home, and neighborhood.  Although all of this actually started back in 2012, it was in the beginning of 2013 that we were wrestling deeply with all these questions.  Not long after the 2012-2013 school year started we began to have serious issues with Grace's school.  It all started with bussing that was provided by the local school district.  But soon it became more complicated as we began to really examine the school, it's leadership and culture.  The bussing situation was horrible.  For a school less than 10 miles from our house Grace was expected to ride the bus over an hour each way.  It was intolerable especially considering her school operated on a longer school day and longer school year than the local schools.  Her day would have been longer than Brent's.  Bussing issues were nothing new with this school.  Some years were better than others.  Because I couldn't tolerate such a long day for Grace I began driving her in the morning.  I also drove 2 other kids from the neigbhorhood.  Margot was also in preschool last year in a different neigborhood than where Grace went to school  and I was responsible for transporting her both ways.  Needless to say I spent many hours in the car and put a lot of miles on my car.  Not being one to love to drive that much, I was very unhappy.  The long days at school and the hours computing were wearing on the kids.

We knew we needed a change.  With Margot starting Kindergarten I couldn't imagine 8 more years of bussing issues and/or driving to that school.  We implored both the school and the local school district for help.  Neither of them were at all helpful much to my disappointment.  The local school district was hostile.  And possibly more frustarting was the administration at Grace's school.  They talked a lot about helping us but in the end there was a lot of broken promises and lies.  Beyond the bussing issues, I could no longer feel like that school was good for my family anymore.  There was so much negativity and unnecessary drama associated with that school.

So we began to think about moving out of the city into one of the suburbs to take advantage of the better school districts.  Our local school district is pretty horrible which is so typical of urban school districts.  There are some well perfroming schools and we were hoping to be able to use those schools. We chose not to send Grace to elementary school in our neighborhood.  It ranks near the bottom 15% of ALL Pennsylvania schools.  So we sent her to a charter school across the city.  That's how we ended up at that school in the first place.

After talking to a realtor about selling our house and spending a lot of time driving through the suburbs, going to open houses and scouring Zillow, we realized a lateral move to the suburbs would be really a step down. We would end up with a house 1/2 to a 1/3 of the size of our house yet we would be paying the same.  We would gain better schools but we would lose the benefits of living in the city (that's another post for another day but if you know me you know I value city living).  In the subrubs, the kids would have a shorter commute to school but Brent's would increase from a 10-15 minute bike ride to maybe a 30-45 minute commute by bus or longer.  Or else we would have had to buy another car and then pay for Brent to park.  We really just couldn't make it work in our favor to move to the suburbs.  No matter how I turned it around and around in my head, a move to the suburb just felt like losing.

So in a final act of desperation we visited the two Catholic schools closest to our house.  I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic elemntary school.  And we are raising our kids Catholic so this was a real option for us.  The first school was just a couple of miles from our house and the one connected to our parish.  We found this school just did not fit our needs.  It was very small and very poor.   Though the teachers and administration seemed lovely, that didn't seem enough.   The second school is in the first suburb north of the city (although not the one we were looking to move to) and took us less than 15 minutes to get to it by car.  Brent and I dropped in unannounced and were pleased that they took the time to give us thorough tour of the school.  Almost immediately we loved the school.  It was large and vibrant.  It was clean, modern, and in good repair.  The teachers and children are seemed very happy.  I knew this was the right school for us.  Although I knew it would be hard to move Grace but I knew it was right.

By March we had made the decisions to send the kids there next year.  It was heartwrenching but we knew it was right.  At this point we were just trying to get through the school year.  It was hard and Grace probalby missed more school than necessary.  I have never been so happy for a school year to end.

The summer was a relief and we spent a lot of time in my hometown.  In July my Mom and I took the girls to see Taylor Swift!  This was the most money I have ever spent on a concert in my life.  And it was the first time I saw a concert in a Stadium.  It was totally crazy to spend that amount of money on a Stadium concert but it was worth every penny!  I never thought I'd say that.  I was always one to prefer alternative music (remember 120 Minutes on MTV?).  Anyhow, I just might be Taylor Swifts biggest fan now.  We sang, we danced, we screamed and we cheered.  Truly we had the time of our lives.  So thankful I got to share this with my girls and my Mom.  This summer, we also went camping with good friends at one of Pennsylavania's beautiful state parks.  Even though we went in the middle of summer we had the most lovely weather.  Warm during the days but cool at night.  Some days were even cool which made it great for all the hiking and sitting by the fire we did.  It was lots and lots of fun.  And I look forward to doing again.  We rented a cabin and while that was fun I dream of owning a camper.  But that probably won't happen anytime soon so I've looked into renting campers and it's affordable.  Maybe not as cheap as a cabin in a State Park but affordable.

The summer flew by and before we knew it, it was the first day of school for both girls.  We all were so nervous!  But I am so pleased to say we all love the school.  My only regret is that we didn't discover it earlier.  It would have saved us a lot of agony.  The girls get the bus around 7:45  which is about an hour later than last year and they get home around 3:30 which is an hour and half earlier than last year if she would have ridden the bus.  I ended up picking her up in the afternoon since it was the longer of the ride. And I don't drive them either way now!

And we get to stay in our house.  We've been here since 2001 and we've poured our hearts and souls and blood and sweat and tears into this house.  I've written before about the ups and downs of living in an old house and it certainly has it challenges.  But when we compared this house to the houses we could afford in the suburbs we realized how much we do infact love this house.  And we love this neighborhood.  It's not perfect and it's not for everyone but it is right for us.   Moving to the suburbs would not just mean moving to a new neighborhood, it would mean moving to a new town.  And I'm not ready to leave Pittsburgh just yet.  Although I am not a native Pittsburgher I've been here since 1998 and I've lived on the Northside since 2001.  There is something so special about living next to these rivers.  It's hard to explain the connection we have with these rivers.  We were just coming back from visiting family over the holidays and once we hit the city and saw the first view of the river, Brent said that everytime he sees the river for the first time he lets out a sigh of relief.  I have a similar feeling but it's about a minute past the spot Brent is referring to.  It's on top of the Ft Duqesne Bridge, I look right and see the three sister bridges that conncet the Northside to Downtown.  That's my moment.  That's when I know I'm home.  I can't imagine living in the suburbs and not seeing these mighty and mysterious rivers every day of my life.  Sometimes it takes almost losing something to realize how much you value it.

Just as I was beginning to adjust to having both girls in school and not having to do any driving, I fell into a perfect job.   Temporary but perfect.  I took a position teaching toddlers at a lovely school with an amazing history.  This school is celebrating it's 60th anniversary!  It was founded by Dr. Spock and Mr. Rogers did his student teaching there.  What an amazing history!  Margot and I went to the Mommy and Me classes there while she was an infant an toddler so I know firsthad how excellent it is.   When I quit my previous teaching position more than 6 years ago, I was thoroughly burnt out and could not imagine ever returning to the classroom.   But when this opportunity presented itself, I was ready to give it a try and the fact that the positon was temporary and part time made the decision to go back to work very easy.   I am happy to say that I love it.  I love working part time.  Right now I work two morning a week.  That gives me plenty of time to take care of the house, exercise, cook and sew.  That's really important to me.  Not just the sewing, but everything else.  When I worked full time, I had little time or energy for anything else than working.  The kids in my previous classrooms got the best of me and that didn't feel right as a Mother of a young child.  Working part time is really perfect for me.  I do love it.  I am lucky that I will get to keep my position of just two days a week through the end of the school year. I started out with 4 morning a week but the teacher I was filling in for came back only part time.  So it's been a small blessing to discover I still have some teaching left in me.  Who knows where this will lead me?

And now we are looking at 2014.  A new year.  I hope for the best for all of us in 2014!

If you made it this far, thanks for reading, this one was a long one and nothing at all related to sewing.  Next post I will recap my most favorite things I've sewn or made in the last year.


  1. A wonderful post Sarah.
    I wish you much health, wealth and happiness for the New Year!
    xx N

  2. For such a rocky start to 2013, I'll have to say that it ended pretty well for you, Sarah! I'm glad that the girls are settled in at their new school. Best wishes for 2014!

  3. Thank you for sharing it Sarah!
    I'm always moved by your reflections - I suppose that's what parents are suppose to do - we care and love our children and hope we're making the best decisions as a family.
    Happy New Year for you and your lovely family!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this, Sarah. It's so nice to have a chance to get to know you a little better!

    As a long time resident of St. Louis, I know exactly the connection you feel to the rivers. (St. Louis is cradled between the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and the Meramec). Any time I traveled and came back home, my sigh of relief was when I saw the Gateway Arch.

    Wishing you and your family all the best in 2014!

  5. It sounds like things really fell together for you in 2013. I'm glad you were able to find a good schooling option for your kid (and at the same school, yay!).

  6. I have a feeling 2014 is going to be even more amazing for you and your family;) I am so happy for you that you got over the rocky patch and you are all happy.