Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Wrong coast, wrong time: Feeling out of place at home

Hobo Mama wants you to know she's a professional blogger! Look at how professional she's being!

Karsten getting the mail with Papa
We recently visited my parents in Massachusetts, and I surprised myself with the desire I felt to stay.

We moved to Seattle sixteen years ago. (Could that be right? Surely not. But math doesn't lie even if my memory of years passing does.)

Sam and I came off childhoods of regular motion, both of us moved from place to place at the whims of our fathers' employers. We thought we'd stay mobile as adults, but we hit the northwest coast and just felt instantly at home.

But I've struggled, particularly since having children, with the worry that we've chosen wrong, because our families are so far away, his in Michigan and mine near Boston. As our children and our parents react to time in the usual way by getting progressively older, I feel regret and the fear of all our time together slipping away with just these occasional visits, the empty spaces filled with Facebook photo uploads and texted jokes and messages.

When my firstborn was younger, I was a more defensive mother, and, in turn, my mother was more apt to offer advice and correction that caused me to chafe. We've both mellowed into our roles since then. She doesn't offer much direction or criticism anymore, and I don't think I'm always right.

So what was inconceivable several years ago — the thought of living near them peaceably in a way that didn't send our blood pressure jointly skyrocketing — is now a pleasant daydream. Living down the street from or across town or even in the same house as Nana and Papa. Just think of the free babysitting, the grandparent–grandkid cuddle times, the evenings we adults could while away playing euchre. And did I mention the free babysitting?

My mom keeps offering to build a mother-in-law addition on to their house. She points out cute real estate offerings near them. (The prices are just as uncute as here, but that's neither here nor there in daydream land.)

I keep smiling weakly and saying, Oh, I wish.

I wish.

The challenges are still seemingly insurmountable. We do love it in Seattle, no matter how temporarily dissatisfied and uprooted I'm feeling personally. It's a good fit for us culturally in a way Boston is not. I know what the homeschool resources are here. I like not shoveling snow (though my kids wish they could play in some).

Packing up our entire home we've tried to make a pretty little nest for ourselves is sad and expensive and overwhelming. Then, what if we regret moving? What if we don't fit in, and the negatives outweigh the positives? What if proximity brings back the emotional scuffles we've been able to avoid with these infrequent and neutral meetings?

So I just continue to feel the push-pull. The premature grief of watching my parents grow older, of watching my children yearn for a closer distance to them. The smaller disappointments that I have been unable to give my children the things they could have there, like indoor play space, a backyard, a dog even. We'd be closer to Sam's parents, too, making more frequent visits to Michigan a possibility. I think about the possible money we could save renting the house from my parents, the dinners we could eat together, the vegetable garden I could carve out from their yard.

And then I wonder about the trajectory of that imaginary future. Do we stay while the kids are little and then leave? Do we rent out our place in Seattle so we can return someday? Or do we feel beholden to stay on in my parents' place once it is passed down to us as the third generation to live there? Do our kids retain any Seattle identity, or do they become East Coasters and go to school and get jobs on that side of the country so that we have no impetus or permission to leave? How much would that disappoint me?

That's what it feels like: a contest of which regret will be stronger. Will I more regret missing these precious years with my parents, or will I more regret missing our lives here? What is home? What is my home?

When my Mummu, my mother's mother, died, I was fourteen. I'd never lived near her, only visited every few years in the house my parents now call their own. At her funeral, I was tasked with reading a passage of Scripture. I stood before the mourners when my turn came, proud of how I'd rehearsed it and managing to read it clearly and with nuance, scanning the listeners' faces for recognition of inspiration. Then my cousin stood up to read the next Bible verses. He was younger by a few years and had always lived near our Mummu. He started to speak and then broke down in tears, unable to finish. I compared my polished performance to his and realized I'd failed. That was how I was supposed to have reacted.

And so I wonder how deep my children's relationship with their grandparents will be. I can't pass along my own love for and relationship with my parents to them — they need to have their own.

For now still, we live 3,000 miles away, and I wonder if we're on the wrong side of the country.

What choices have you made about where to live in relation to family? What were your pros and cons?



 

2 comments:

Olivia said...

I feel you on this. Such a difficult choice. I grew up in CO while rest of my extended family is in TX. We were only able to visit once a year or so, and that became even more infrequent as I became an adult. I do wish I knew my grandmother and cousins better, but I'm also glad I grew up in CO because I love this state, and I have lifelong friends that I wouldn't have met otherwise.

My parents have since moved to NM, and when my children were born we were in IN. Leaving IN was easy because I didn't like that state, but my love for CO won out over living really close to my parents. They are a six hour drive away, and I wish it was shorter so we could visit even more often. But, I really don't want to live in NM, so for now I count our blessings that my kids see their grandparents at least four times a year.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Olivia: That does sound like a nice compromise, seeing them often but getting to live where you love. I used to live in Colorado, and it's lovely. I understand being attached to it!

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