Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Islands, Universe, Home - Burr Ridge Illinois and São Paulo

Probably the way I have stayed so happy in Brazil is that I try not to ever compare the two countries--my native USA and my adopted Brazil. The two places are so completely different that either one can suffer depending on the item compared. It is of course, inevitable when I have a bad day or there is sticker shock (a $20,000 car in the US costs $55,000 in Brazil). And these comparisons are the most striking to me on the first day I am back in the US. The simplest of days out at the park here make me overwhelmed by feelings of happiness (the luxuries of life afforded by the US) and sadness for the things not available to me or any other person in Brazil.

Here is what happened yesterday. I am visiting my parents in Burr Ridge, Illinois, a small upper-middle to upper class town (pop. 10,500) about 40 minutes outside of Chicago. It is not where I grew up but where my parents moved more than 15 years ago. As a child I did not have access to its  benefits (though I hardly suffered in New Canaan, Connecticut): elementary school kids walk or take yellow buses to good public schools from up to a mile away, several excellent parks, an exceptional library which makes me so happy that I could roll on its soft-carpeted floor, as well as the usual benefits of wide sidewalks and well-run public services.

It is only by living outside the US that I have become so overwhelmed with amazement at what Americans are offered every day without even being aware of how lucky they are. With my two six-year-old boys I watched two uniformed little league teams (age 6-8 years old)--the Lugnuts and the Mudhens (!!??!!)-- take to the well-kept baseball diamond in a clash for district champion bragging rights. I am not talking about t-shirts as uniforms--I am talking full baseball uniforms. The parents sat on bleachers near each dugout and cheered for both teams. They shared around treats and talked about summer plans. The friendliness of the midwest meant that when I asked a few questions about the rules of little league (father pitchers if there were four balls thrown, etc),  I was rapidly told that I needed to move to the neighborhood and their kids could help out mine in learning the sports. When I left, I felt vaguely like hugging everyone. Next to the baseball diamond a barbecue was set up by the parents-- starting at 10 am, free hot dogs, hamburgers and drinks were available to everyone. Everyone. Not just players, not just family--we were there and they gave all the kids some hot dogs. I admit that my brother and I also scarfed the free burgers.

Any American reading this will say "so what?". Because this is what you get in varying forms in most middle class towns in America. No, not in inner city Chicago--this I understand. But I make the inevitable comparisons to how sports tournaments run in Brazil. It's not the same. Though at their club (private) the soccer tournament included a free barbecue (much better than US burgers) and trophies as well. But behind high walls and not open to everyone.

I promise that I will not be spending my 35 days in the US saying how much better life is here. Because that is not the purpose of my blog. And I don't necessarily believe that in every part of life--I miss the human warmth of Brazil and daily laughs at my interactions with its residents. And as I spend more weeks here, my guess is that my appreciation of life there will increase--I will begin to miss it. Right now, it just makes me sad that what is available publicly here is not even close to being offered there. And of course, that is the reason for some of the protests going on now.  And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Harvester Park, the site of this tournament and a huge playground, was given by the founders of International Harvester--the private sector feeding the public. The volunteerism and public support that is ever-present in the US is fairly well absent in Brazil.

Everyone deserves Little League championships and free hot dogs and playgrounds filled with exceptional toys.

And that is Burr Ridge in my eyes.

Photo Credit: Harvester Park Little League


  1. I could say a lot about this post. It's a sliver of what I referred to previously as my tiny little Kansas mind.

    But mostly I've really come to enjoy the quality of your writing and your "voice".

    There has been much discussion in recent years about the 98%. And you know I'm a bleeding heart liberal so I get that. And yet simply by being American I am also the 2%. So very fortunate. I'm in Johnson County, KS. Just another place not so different than Burr Ridge. Luxury. Convenience. Safety. That it lacks some culture seems trivial. I try to explain to my kids how fortunate we are. They lament not having the latest gadgets like some of their friends do. Sigh.

    Anyway, enjoyed this one.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Kathy. I really appreciate hearing what you think. And I wish you would stop saying "little Kansas mind"...being from a small town or state does not mean you have a small mind. As long as one as curious about other places, your mind is not small...

      You are fortunate. The key is to instill in your kids an appreciation of it--which is pretty hard if you don't get out of it once in a while. Only by seeing "how the other half lives" can you realize what you have. But of course kids are kids and they want things that don't seem important to us--in our case, it would be the latest bey blade and soccer shoe. The best laid plans...

  2. Well I do say it ironically. Knowing how sheltered you are is the first step right?