For many, many years, I would brag about being a third-generation Chicagoan without perhaps making the mental association that I was also a third-generation hard-core depressive. I thought I’d live in Chicago forever and doom my son to be fourth-generation Chicagoan. Then I realized that I'd like to give my son a better life than the one I’ve endured and hightailed it to Georgia, where I’ve been raising my little Chicago baby as a Southern boy.
And the final verdict?
I've been completely astonished to discover all the advantages that come with raising a baby in the South instead of in a big city:
It can be hard to overstate how brutal a Chicago winter is. Much, if not most, conversation in Chicago revolves around how unbelievably brutal the winters there are, and how remarkable it is that the entire population does not freeze to death like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining." People think "The Shining" was a horror movie. It’s not. It's a docudrama about the effects of Chicago's extreme winter cold on the local population.
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The Chicago winter is particularly brutal when you have children. The little ones must be bundled up in so many layers of clothing that you could probably drop them off the Sears Tower and they’d probably just bounce a few times before landing safely, protected by all that winter gear.
Thankfully my son will hopefully never know the torment of a Chicago winter again. Instead of being unlivable 11 months out of the year, our new hometown of Decatur, Georgia, seems to enjoy an eternal summer. And instead of having to be bundled up in layer upon layer of clothing, our 2-year-old son can frolic about in a diaper more or less constantly.
2. Easy living vs. life as a long, hard slog
For a couple of decades, I would proudly point to the weather in Chicago as one of many factors that not only breeds toughness but demands it. I took a perverse pride in being able to withstand the things that made Chicago a tough city to live in: notorious political corruption, perpetually failing schools and horrific violence.
Then I had a baby and an epiphany. Maybe life doesn’t have to be excruciatingly difficult. Maybe it shouldn’t be prohibitively hard. I’m happy to say that the living is considerably easier here. The weather plays a big part, as does the much slower pace of life, but there’s a distinct change in philosophy at play to boot. Since I moved to the South, the vibe is less a Chicago-style “Life is a brutal test with death as the only escape” and more just “enjoy yourself.”
The weather, the food, the leisurely paced nature of life here implicitly conveys that life is for living and savoring.
There’s a sense here in the South that life is to be enjoyed rather than endured. The weather, the food, the leisurely paced nature of life here implicitly conveys that life is for living and savoring. I want my son to grow up thinking life is easy and pleasurable, not brutal and barely endurable.
3. Integration and diversity
The South has a reputation for being racist that’s certainly merited in many respects. Yet I have found nothing in the South like the intense segregation that exists in Chicago, where black people and white people live in different neighborhoods, eat at different restaurants and generally lead almost entirely different existences.
So I was overjoyed to find that so much of Atlanta is integrated. In my new neighborhood, people of different colors work together, live together and socialize together, and I couldn’t be more excited to raise my baby in a city and a community that represents the genuine melting pot that America truly is.
4. Deep frying
I’m going to be brutally honest here: The Midwest leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to deep frying random things. Oh sure, there’s deep-fried cheese curds, which are, admittedly, the best thing in the world. But when it comes to the South, the Midwest has some real amateurs. Oh, sure, you’ll see the occasional deep-fried Twinkie at a Midwestern fair, but in the South, deep frying is a way of life, and I want to raise my son to know that everything can, and should, be deep-fried and served as a delicacy, from old shoes to recycled copies of USA Today.
My wife has always found Midwestern accents harsh and nasally, so I very much hope that our baby boy develops a Southern accent—the thicker the better, like my wife’s subtle but distinct twang. And I’m excited to raise him around a lot of charming Southern drawls instead of harsh Chicago accents like my own. Hell, maybe I’ll even fake a Southern accent of my own, just to fit in even better in this unlikely paradise.