Bringing a New Life Into New Orleans

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Commentator Michael Depp's wife is going to give birth to their first child any day now. He has more than the normal pre-parental anxieties. They live in New Orleans, and Depp is still not completely sure if New Orleans is the right place to raise a child.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. There will likely be more than four million babies born in the U.S. this year, and one of them will be a first child for commentator Michael Depp.

Mr. MICHAEL DEPP (Commentator): I suppose that every man hearing the news that he is to be a father for the first time experiences a brief moment when the ground is suddenly less solid beneath his feet. When I found out, I was about to launch our compact car from an extremely short entrance ramp onto the Northern State Parkway out in Huntington, Long Island. Halfway up the ramp, I was pushing my speed, eying a tiny window of admission into the stream of traffic when my wife Darlene said, I'm pretty sure I'm pregnant. I'm pretty sure I felt all of my bones momentarily liquefy because there was the parkway ramp and then there was also something else.

That something else was the reason that we were even on Long Island on an early September weekday. A day when Darlene should have been reading A Wrinkle In Time with her fifth grade class, and I should have been at my desk at my newspaper editing stories about yet another public school crisis in our home city of New Orleans. Only thanks to Hurricane Katrina we were on a parkway 1,300 miles away from home in an exile of uncertain duration staying with family, pregnant.

Before the storm we had secure jobs in New Orleans and the city had at least a semblance of a civic infrastructure. We had hospitals, criminal courts, neighborhood meetings. If we dialed 911 in an emergency, there was a reasonable chance that a policeman might come. But when we returned to New Orleans having a baby suddenly seemed radical. Will evacuations now be routine? What will this do to our child's sense of stability? What about that gun that went off next door the other night, and the two calls to 911 that went unanswered? How can I bring a child into this city now? A place where law and order and the future itself are unsteady concepts. I wrestle with this question all the time. I reason that it's not too late to cut and run back to some safer, quieter American city that isn't a test case for racial divisiveness and the limits of federal obligation. I argue over this with Darlene. She is from here and bound tightly to New Orleans. She insists, often against all evidence, that it will rebound. I accuse her of being too willing to go down with the ship. She thinks I'm too quick to head for the lifeboat.

Our baby is due any day now, on the edge of the next storm season. I fear that his entry into this world will be like that ramp onto the parkway on Long Island. Chaotic with hostile, unaccommodating forces bearing down, fast. Entrance ramps shouldn't be so short. It should not be so difficult a thing to join in life's stream of traffic. Only for my child it will be.

And yet back on that Long Island parkway in September, Darlene gave me the news and I sped up and I merged and we found our place among the other cars. I worried, but then worry passed for the moment because we were in this thing now and it would carry us forward. And more, we would add life to it. We will make a leap of faith. We will have our baby here, and after that we will try to believe that New Orleans still can be home for the three of us.

SEIGEL: Michael Depp lives in New Orleans.

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