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City vs. Suburbs: Rat Edition

Photograph by Getty Images

My husband and I are city people. We both grew up in gigantic American cities and plan to raise our kids in the city we’ve called home for over 10 years. While we can easily see the allure of the great American suburb with its beautiful lawns and relative safety, we’ve cast all our eggs into the city basket.

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We’ve invested in our city lives by buying real estate (no yard, of course) and enrolling our children in private school. As each of our friends pulls up stakes and heads for those bucolic communities to the north and west of Chicago, we reconsider our decision and always come to the same conclusion: We will stick out the foreseeable future smack dab in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the country.

There’s only one thing that almost changed my mind. It wasn’t what I expected would turn my loyalty away from the city limits. It wasn’t the staggering tuition bills or the gentle accosting from the homeless population. It also wasn’t the pollution, the insane lack of parking or the crappy equipment at our local park. No, all those things still count as charming compared to the reason I almost left city living behind. Yes, compared to rats—big, wily, brazen city rats—rusty swings and beggars seem like tourist attractions.

I started to think that maybe I wasn’t as cut out for the darker side of city living.

But it happened. A pack of city rats found themselves a home in my minivan. I discovered them one day when my whole family was out for a Sunday drive and one ran across my feet. That first encounter didn’t spoil me on city living, though it was then that I finally understood why the city is covered in signs about how to dispose of your trash in order to keep rodents away. I was horrified, but not ready to change my zip code.

It was after my husband “caught” three and suspected there was a fourth that I had to start asking myself the really hard questions. Like, whether being close to world-class museums that we rarely frequent was worth the price we were paying. Or whether our proximity to the opera house and symphony hall justified having a car full of rats. While I am all for culture for the kids, I started to think that maybe I wasn’t as cut out for the darker side of city living.

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Our car has been vermin-free for about a month, but I still bear those scars. I’m more likely to look at listings for houses in the suburbs or linger a little longer at my friends’ new non-city houses. For now, we are still content to settle in the city, but, deep down, I know that we are only one four-legged creature away from a move to the suburbs.

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