When I moved to southwest Florida, I had no idea what it would be like to live here, let alone raise children here. Sure, one hears stories about the majority-retiree lifestyle, but what is it really like?
Well, since we had a daughter pretty soon after we moved, I learned fast. And it turned out to be awesome.
At first I felt intimidated. Big A. and I often described taking a baby into a restaurant full of grandparents as comparable to that scene in bad crime movies where the hot lady detective walks through a cell block. You know, the scene with all eyes on her, prisoners banging on the bars, and salivating? Like that, only more polite, with less drooling.
We experienced that on the way into the restaurant. During the meal, I would often literally flinch from all the looks shooting our way from around the restaurant. So many people glared fixedly at us that I never knew where to look. We struggled to keep the gurgles, coos, and cries to a minimum—not to mention the throwing and kicking—but to no avail.
Then, on the way out, nearly every table would stop us to tell us how beautiful/cute/well-behaved our baby was. (Even when they weren’t!) And I realized the glares weren’t really glares after all—just grandparents watching baby fun.
Huh. How ’bout that!
At church, we discovered another phenomenon. Folks who sat with us regularly saw us all through the pregnancy and practically adopted S. before she was born. But our church is large enough that we’d often run into people who didn’t know us. The conversation would go like this:
Grandparent: “Your daughter is so sweet! How old is she?”
Me: “Thank you. She’s six months old.”
Grandparent: “Oh, she’s practically the same age as my grandson—he’s twelve years old.”
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out I’m talking to someone who just loves kids and wants to talk about his or her grandchild.
But that’s not the best thing. This is.
For some reason, the Catholic church doesn’t have nursery or any alternative for kids under five. The kids just have to sit through the whole hour of Mass. To say the least, it gets challenging. Often we leave church feeling like we’ve run a marathon and fought ten rounds with a heavyweight while negotiating world peace. After one particularly painful performance (S. cried all through the consecration of the host), I apologized to the priest. He said the best thing ever: “I don’t mind. I’d far rather hear a baby than a cell phone.”
And he’s not alone. I’ve lost count of the kind retirees who have laid a hand on my arm after service and said, “You have a beautiful family.” Or “You’re doing a fantastic job.” Or “It’s great to see your whole family here.” And they respond to my apologies for the kicking, throwing, and general noisemaking with, “Don’t worry—I raised five boys.” (Talk about street cred!) Or “They’re sweet at the age.” Or “They’re doing fine.”
I’d really love to tell them all how incredibly much that means to us, but I have to settle for saying my thanks and hoping they remember how powerful kind words can be when you’re in the trenches of parenthood. They must, because they take the time to share them.
So, is southwest Florida is a good place to raise kids? I sure think so.