other people’s lives

ImageAw, Katie. I’m sorry your friend is moving. I know you guys are close. I’m sorry, too, that you don’t feel settled. Feeling settled seems like the apex of grown-up-hood to me. I feel like an adult, sure. I have these kids, see, and this minivan, and even a 401k, whatever that is, but I don’t feel like a grown-up because I don’t feel settled, either.

I don’t know if it was your last post that did it, or just a rough patch I’m struggling through, mood-wise, but I’ve been missing our old town in Kansas very much lately. Like, it’s sort of painful in my chest when I think about the good stuff we drove away from. I mean, we literally drove away, waving goodbye to our neighbors and crying, everyone in the minivan except the baby. And it sounds ridiculous to anyone, probably, that I’m sitting in the land of opportunity with the most perfect weather, missing a state that just got hit by a major snowstorm and a with a governor as reprehensible as Sam Brownback.

Go West, young man.

I’ve been thinking about how, as social creatures with so much cognitive ability, we relentlessly compare ourselves to others, against false interpretations and impossible standards. I think about it all the time, really, which is why I blog and write and read non-fiction. To set things straight, at least on my end.

Take, for example, the trip we just got back from just a few days ago. We went to Kauai, the island in Hawaii I’ve been wanted to visit for years. Living in California makes it easy to score cheap plane tickets to Hawaii. I was so excited about going that I ran through a quick blog post in my head about how to travel with kids and on a budget. I dubbed it, “traveling with kids on a budget”.

From the outside, it sounds like stuff to envy: we had the time, and were able to afford, to take our family of five to Hawaii on a bit of a whim. It was the trip of a lifetime to my younger self, a child who grew up hovering around poverty, an adolescent who had never traveled been beyond Arkansas.

Our children are great on planes. We know how to pack light. We stop at roadside stands to taste new fruit like rambutan and we’ll lay our heads to sleep wherever we’re told. We are adventurous. We snorkel. We are fortunate souls. I bet others looked on admirably.

But, still.

I’m ashamed to say it was difficult or that I didn’t have the Greatest Time Ever. But, Katie, it was difficult and I didn’t have the greatest time ever. It turns out that I’m no expert at traveling with kids, on a budget.

What does this have to do with your friend moving? I don’t really know, exactly. I guess what I’m trying to say is that everyone struggles. EV. RY. ONE. Even the ones who look like they’re having a fantastic new adventure.

(Well, maybe some people don’t struggle? But I don’t know anyone like that because I would dismiss them rather quickly.)

What I’m not sure about is that we have an inherent need for stability. Most of my friends seem to think we do. One friend in particular, the neighbor I moved away from, loves trees. Says we need to establish roots.

But another good friend told me, when I was debating our move: “Ships are safest in the harbor. But that’s not what they’re made for.”

I don’t know if we’re trees or ships, but my experience growing up was of moving to a new town at least every two years. This is what I know. It wasn’t until I graduated college that I lived in the same town for more than a couple years. You told me it was hard to make good friends as an adult, when you move somewhere new.  I wasn’t sure; I’d had practice as a child. How hard could it be? But the house Chris and I lived in with our children in Kansas, for five years, was the longest I’d lived anywhere. I took the friendships and family nearby for granted, despite my best efforts not to.

What matters most? Setting out for new horizons as a tight family on its own, to struggle and grow together? Or growing deeply-rooted traditions and relationships that wash up and down in your psyche, like the tide? Who can keep track of the years that go by?

Will I never feel settled because I never learned to in my formative years? Do I not feel settled because I haven’t found “the place,” like someone who’s fallen in love?  Am I actually settled wherever I am, as long as I have my husband and children near me?

I don’t know. At least not yet.

But you were right about the many complaints you voiced when I announced our move to California:

  1. Costco is always crowded.
  2. Traffic is always bad.
  3. The palm trees aren’t native.
  4. There are too many mountain ranges to bother remembering names.
  5. It’s hard to find new friends.

And, Katie, it’s even harder to be away from old ones.

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9 thoughts on “other people’s lives

  1. I used to think of myself as a missing person because no matter where I was or who I was with, I missed somewhere or somebody. From the bustle of the city, I missed peace and quiet, and vice versa. It was the same with people. A part of me wants to pick up and go to where I don’t get sinus headaches from weather changes, but I remember how lonely I get without family available or when I haven’t learned the lay of the land or the rhythms of the people, and for now I stay. All that is to say that I can relate to your blog. I don’t think it’s universal, but it’s very, very common and very familiar.

  2. I’m also adding that our mantra song for moving down here was Dave Mathew’s You and Me. “We’re gonna take a boat to the end of the world…. And when our kids are old enough, we’re gonna teach them to fly!” I love that we’re teaching our kids to be adventurous by example. What will they not be afraid to try someday??? So cool!

    Also, I think that those of us who miss friends desperately are living the best part of life. I’ve heard people say that they hated a town and couldn’t wait to get outta there. That’s always sounded so sad to me. I’ve always hated leaving anywhere we’ve lived from a small 3,000 populated town to a big city like Seattle. Connecting with the people is what matters.

  3. I read this for the first time on Thursday while sitting in an airport halfway between California and Kansas. My flight home had been cancelled because of the snow and I was waiting to see if the flight they had rebooked me on was going to be cancelled. This was the tail end of a very long trip. I’d spent 3 weeks in California on business and was heading back home to the midwest. One of the last days in the CA office, a group brought up the idea of keeping me in CA on a semipermanent basis. It was flattering but terrifying.

    Three days into the trip, I got an e-mail from a girl. She told me she thought I wanted to ask her on a date. I called later that night and did. We scheduled our first date for the first day I got back. I don’t think I could describe adequately in words how desperate I was to make it back home on time. I’ve never really felt attached to any particular place, but the last 2 weeks I did. Again, a difficult subject to write about, but a good one and well written.

    (I got my first Costco card and experienced an In-N-Out burger…and found the name apt for both the establishment and me!)

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