My husband’s employer offered him a better job in Raleigh four years ago. Eight months pregnant with our first child, I quit my job in Atlanta so we could move to North Carolina.
I have liked most places I’ve lived, including Atlanta, Aspen, CO, Wilmington NC, and Richmond VA. Since I grew up in a small town thirty miles away from Raleigh and my husband went to college here, we adjusted fairly quickly. Having kids made it easy to make new friends and we picked up again with old ones. My brother and his family also live in town. My mother is two hours away.
My husband and I had reservations about raising our children in a larger city than the ones where we grew up. We are both nostalgic about coming of age in small towns. Around age seven, we each had the freedom to roam, heading home only when the lightning bugs came out. We had friends of all ages and walks of life, not just those in our class at school.
I think we’ve struck a balance here. We live in an in-town neighborhood called Five Points near a woodsy park called Fallon Park. It is inside Raleigh’s I-440 perimeter or what people here call the “beltline.” I love taking the kids, now ages three and four, for hikes through the woods at the park and wading in the stream. I jog or take the kids biking on the Greenway, part of Raleigh’s fifty-six acres of trails that come close to our house. We can walk to the Rialto movie theatre, restaurants, and shops nearby.
But there is access to so much more when we want it. Our quiet neighborhood is only a speck under the umbrella that is considered the Triangle area, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and now Cary. We like it here for the same reasons the area earns top marks on “best places” and newcomer lists: a thriving arts scene, good schools, great weather, and proximity to the mountains and the beach.
Fancy restaurants, specialty food retailers like Trader Joe’s, and upscale retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue have found justification to move in nearby.
I had taken for granted the many attractions that we enjoy in the area until I heard my friends from other cities complain about the cost of going to the zoo or a museum. Raleigh has been referred to as the “Smithsonian of the South” with its many attractions, many of them free. We enjoy free trips to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences or the “dinosaur museum,” as the kids call it. Pullen Park, where we can ride the carousel or train, is also a favorite. When I can, I take outings to the North Carolina Museum of History and the North Carolina Museum of Art and Artspace, a visual arts center where you can visit with and buy art from artists in their studios.
The kids enjoy story hour and crafts at Quail Ridge Books, one of the few remaining independent bookstores, and lunch at the Hayes Barton drugstore near our house. They enjoy entertainment offerings more exciting than games of cops and robbers, kickball, and arrowhead hunting that filled my days as a kid. Starting in preschool, kids can sign up for ice-skating, karate, and Kinderlacrosse, which I imagine might be similar to a chaotic session of Kindermusic, with a stick.
But despite the many reasons to love our simple life here, on more than one occasion we’ve referred to our beloved town as “Pleasantville.” Sometimes everyone I see all day looks and acts like me. Where is Hub, the town drunk, who used to give us quarters when we were kids? Or my other hometown characters like Walking Willie, who must have logged fifty miles a day walking around town? What about Hardhat, who donned a new hat every day? I’m sure similar folks are here, but I’m too busy trying to get some work done or chasing my kids to notice.
The seven colleges in the area do help give the area a bit of an edge. They do their share to attract the best and brightest, who often contribute to a good music scene, start-up technology and biotech companies, and better food offerings. On a trip downtown the other day, my three-year-old daughter mistook a musician with a red bandana for a pirate. Who says we lack diversity?
I would be lying if I said there aren’t days when I think it might be fun to live somewhere else. My mind wanders from the possibility of a small town to one of a more urban lifestyle. Sometimes I long for the anonymity that living in an even larger city like Atlanta provided. And I wonder if Raleigh is doing enough to preserve the qualities we love the best about it. It’s exciting to be a part of the beginnings of what will hopefully be the revitalization of downtown, but it’s easy to see after living in Atlanta that the decisions made now will have long-term effects.
I met a kid at the park the other day who said his parents had just started letting him ride his bike to the park by himself. He was eleven. That used to seem old to me, but I think it’s more a sign of the times than a reflection on the area. It’s fine with me to keep them close for a little longer anyway. If we’re still in Raleigh by then, there’s certainly enough around here for us to see and do together.