In January of this year, we bought an elephantine mansion in the small hovel of Farmington, Minnesota. We passed up a much larger estate in the mature city of Orono. The $62,000 annual property tax bill, not to mention the price tag of $32,000,000 for the place, was a bit much to swallow. So, we settled for a 4000 square foot Victorian era mansion for the steep foreclosure price tag of $176,000. The $3600 in property taxes was also a bitter pill to swallow, but, in my opinion, quite reasonable, considering our excellent schools and perpetually plowed streets.
Yes. For those of you who are not from Minnesota, plowed streets factor into a home buying decision before location to schools, proximity to parks, city and county government’s ear to the public, whether or not the paint is falling off the house, running water, and even working electricity. Without the streets being plowed, we have to remove our 13 inch Rolls-Royce Phantom spinners with the offset weights and install our 18 inch Blizzak LM-60 snow tires, wrap on our tire chains, snap on the snow plow, and hope for the best. Doing this on my 1998 Saturn SL2 Dual Overhead Camshaft four-banger can be quite a challenge, but here in the great North, I have it down to a flat five minute procedure.
Speaking of snow plowing – the other day my wife and I were out shoveling the driveway, being too cheap to purchase a lousy snow blower, when I heard a diesel engine behind me and a honk of a loud horn. I looked over my shoulder to see a city front loader sitting back about ten feet. The man in the cab was waving me off. So, I jumped out of the way and he plowed out the six foot snowdrift at the end of my driveway. After doing this, he jumped out of the loader and shook our hands, introduced himself as our neighbor, and left. THAT is a consideration in buying a house as well, though I don’t recommend walking away from a home, based on lack of neighborly charity.
We moved to Farmington from the larger Twin Cities suburb of Eden Prairie. The school district there was fraught with nationalistic politics. The schools themselves were excellent at education, for the most part, but lacked the personal touch with parents. It felt as if they cared more about the world’s perception of their medium sized community school district than what the parents needed or desired. This fact played no small part in our moving away.
On the other hand, Farmington was full of back-country hicks. My wife called the school office only one time to register the kids. When she called back a week later, the office manager recognized her voice and bellowed out a hearty “Hullo!”, calling my wife by her first name. The teachers have an agenda to get to know the parents and work in partnership with them to provide the smartest, directed educational program to each individual child. The principal grabs little babies the minute they walk in the door of the school and prances around with them as if he has just won the Boston Marathon. His smile twinkles through his unshaven cheeks and trimmed chin beard while he welcomes you with a personalized harrumph and hello. With this family atmosphere, anyone would want to participate in extra-curricular school events to enhance the experience for the whole community.
On a cold night last week, Farmington Elementary held a Read-in. My wife was busy troweling on Mary Kay make-up with a very good looking young lady who was wicked good with children – turning a carbon copy sheet of paper into a much desired toy of the century in thirty seconds with all five of my older squirts. I left her to her personalized Home Shopping Network and took the four oldest to school.
The Read-in was split up into three classroom sessions where teachers, staff, and members of the Farmington Community would do nothing more than read their favorite book to those who came to listen. They had fifteen minutes to do so and then everyone would move on to the next classroom. At the end, we were to meet, all together, in the auditorium.
When we walked into the school, my third grader pulled us in the direction of her classroom, my first grader yelled that her classroom was where we needed to point our feet, my kindergartner shook with excitement and then channeled that excitement into loud boasting about his school knowledge, and my three year old walked right up to the registration table, grabbed a cookie and a cup of apple juice, and walked down the hall. We obediently followed her, right into the first classroom that had a teacher in it reading a book. Yes, she was reading a book. My cackling crew yelled their way into the door, bursting with pleasure, fighting over who had the bigger cookie or even a cookie at all. My first grader was grabbing cookies away from everyone else at random, making darn sure the portions were even, across the board, regardless of age, weight, or fatherly favoritisms.
The whole classroom looked back at us. I giggled (yeah, I do that sometimes), shoved the kids toward the reading carpet, grabbed away their cookies, ate two of them, spilled a cup of juice, shoved their coats down in a chair, grabbed a little kiddie chair, spun it around and straddled it. I was in. The parents looked at me with awe. Here I am – a dad of six kids and I can take them to school at night all by myself, getting enough to snack on in the process.
The three sessions went fast with only one awkward moment that was actually quite sweet. My three year old daughter was sitting in my lap in the back of a classroom with a dad from the community reading a book about modern day New York horse stables, sucking her thumb. In a flash, she popped her thumb out of her mouth, jumped off my lap, scooted right up to the man, knelt down, staring into his eyes, and began rubbing his leg. I rolled. Why bother teaching them “proper” social graces? They’ll have their lives ruined soon enough, by attempting to “fit in” in their middle school years. I’d rather they enjoy being themselves now, and maybe get used to it, so they stay individuals, throughout life.
We made our way to the auditorium. When we walked into the large room, my first grader yelped that we should make the long climb to the top of the risers and sit with our backs against the wall, thirty feet up from the floor. Of course, being a man of adventure, I obliged. I sat down with my three year old on my right, cuddled up to me, sucking her thumb, my third grader to her right, and the other two on my left.
My third grader piped up, “Daddy, I’m going to go sit with my friends,” and she subsequently disappeared. My kindergartner then noticed that a classmate of his was sitting twenty rows below with her mother. He informed me that he was going to sit with her and climbed down the risers and squished up to the girl. The mom was pleased and commenced with a long conversation, asking many pre-relationship questions. I’m happy that I’ve prepped my son with all the right answers to win the heart of the parents of the girl he has the hots for. She was won. Then, my first grader left to sit with my kindergartner, then moved off to disappear with some of her friends. My three year old rubbed my arm, looked up in my face and said, “Daddy, it’s just us twos.”
That it was. That it was. I felt slightly alone in the world, but very, very proud. My kids had made friends. They were much more advanced than I was at their age. I never made any real friends until ninth grade. Life was good.
After the final reading, we all found each other and walked back to our car to make the short trip home. Everyone chattered away loudly. But, through it all, my kindergartner could be heard, mumbling under his breath – “I miss Anabelle.”