There is a lot I love about living here, and enumerating the reasons would really just read like a bunch of clichés: the food is good, the people are hilarious, the winters are mild, blah blah blah, etc. Mostly I live here for the same reasons that are important to people everywhere – because it’s home and it’s where my family is. My dad lives four blocks away. My mom can pick Ruby up from school. My in-laws can watch the baby while my husband and I get a quick dinner. I certainly have no plans to leave, and I know from experience that I truly wouldn’t be happy anywhere else.
That said, I sometimes do grow weary of New Orleans’ particular quirks. As my colleague, fellow blogger and fellow former Missourian, Haley Adams, noted on Wednesday, the Office of Motors Vehicles here is particularly maddening.
The marriage license office isn’t much better. When I got married in January, the judge wrote one word on the license in blue ink, which is verboten. He quickly realized his mistake and wrote over the word in black ink, but it was too late. They rejected our license, and we had to track down the judge (who is retired and was only doing us a favor in the first place) and our witnesses and resubmit the license without the slightest taint of the apparently horrible blue ink. Then we waited for our certified copy. And waited and waited. Finally, I called and was told they didn’t have it. I meant to go down there in person, but then suddenly I was nine months pregnant, and then suddenly I had a newborn, and it just never seemed like a good time. But as we were packing up our important papers before Hurricane Isaac, my husband said, “Hey, baby, did you ever get our marriage license?” And I kind of laughed nervously and said, “Um. Yeah. About that …” So then as soon as the hurricane passed, I had to go down to the office and follow up in person. I had to pay for the license for a third time, but at least they found it, misfiled under my last name instead of his.
“Eh, bureaucracy is frustrating everywhere,” said my dad, who is 74 and constantly telling me to just calm down.
He’s right, sort of. But bureaucracy is not this frustrating everywhere.
The tipping point for me, though, was the boil water order earlier this week. If I were just a normal single adult, I would be moderately annoyed by the boil order. But as someone with a 5-year-old and a 4-month-old, the boil order was life-altering. I couldn’t wash Ruby’s hair. I couldn’t bathe Georgia after she spit up on herself. I wasn’t sure if I could wash Ruby’s school uniform. I had to boil Georgia’s bottles and pacifiers. I was washing my hands after every diaper change and then coating them in hand sanitizer. A friend of mine, who has a baby just a few months older than Georgia, had it even worse – her son is on formula, and she had mixed some for him and fed it to him in the five hours between when the water pressure dropped and when they issued the boil order, so she was worried about him for the rest of the day.
I will always defend New Orleans as a place to raise kids. I grew up here myself and came home to raise my own kids. I think Ruby and Georgia will ultimately benefit from the rich culture and the diversity and the many wonderful things about the city. And it’s not like we hang out on Bourbon Street – we go to the zoo and Storyland and the Children’s Museum and BooKoo Bounce. But Monday night, as I watched my Facebook newsfeed light up with status updates proclaiming various iterations of “Who cares about the water; we’ll drink booze!” I couldn’t help but feel like this was not the best place to have a family. I can’t wash a pacifier in Abita, and I can’t give Ruby a Sazerac in her sippy cup (well, I suppose I could, but …).
I know it’s the crime that is supposed to give me pause about raising kids here, and it does, sort of. But honestly, I am so overwhelmed by the violence here that I just adopt a head-in-the-sand approach. It’s not a good strategy, and I know that, but I am so horrified every time a child is accidentally killed in this city that I just have to tune it out to stay sane.
Water, though, that is a manageable thing to worry about. And this is the second time in as many years that we’ve had a boil order, so it’s not like this is a totally isolated incident.
It does make me grateful, I guess, for all of those other times when we do have clean water, something that I, as a spoiled American, take completely for granted – but still, even if twice in two years isn’t that frequent, it’s two more times than I ever had to boil water in the decade I lived in Missouri.
No place is perfect, and as I said, I’m not rethinking my decision to move here or planning to relocate – ever. I love New Orleans unconditionally, like family, but just like with family, I get fed-up sometimes. And I do occasionally feel a twinge of guilt for moving Ruby from nice, safe, family-friendly Columbia, Mo., where we would have spent last weekend apple-picking or at a pumpkin festival instead of spray-painting our hair pink in my friend’s backyard. I am perfectly happy with the tradeoff of more crime for more interesting people, of Mardi Gras for a corn maze, of jazz funerals for hayrides. But I don’t know that I should have made that decision for Ruby.
I do hope, though, no matter what, that in about 25 years, she is still here, raising her own kids, occasionally frustrated about the city’s failings but happily living here for the same reasons that are important to people everywhere – because it’s home and it’s where her family is.