Sunday, August 28, 2016

random musings on moving to college town

One the selling points of our selected new city was that it was the home of a university. Moving to the midwest, to a fairly deep red state, was never in my life plan. Not even close. But when you factor in a university in town, it often shifts that political hue to the blue side, along with a bunch of other benefits, from our perspective.

Back when we visited in February and again in May, we got the whirlwind tour, and there were so many advantages that we could pinpoint right away. We've been in our house for almost a month now, and in that time we've been trying to take advantage of the city's offerings. As I've walked uptown, sat on the front porch, or ridden my bike around the neighborhood, a few things have stood out. As a new resident, here are some of my random thoughts on our new hood.
  • Bookstores! There are bookstores! I might not need to purchase textbooks, but I love browsing bookstore shelves. I know I can buy books cheaper online, but when I saw a new picture book on display at a local independent bookstore, I knew that I was meant to buy it there since I had it right in my hands. 
  • How wonderful is an actual vibrant downtown area, even if it's supposed to be called 'uptown.' There's an art-housey type theater within walking distance, and we've already seen two independent films there. There are unique shops, restaurants of all kinds, and a wonderful art studio where artists with disabilities work with artists without disabilities to create really incredible pieces. Shopping will be interesting, for sure. Oh, and how could I almost forget? There's a cookie shop that is only open in the evening until the wee hours of the morning. (Talk about knowing your main clientele!) We may have sat in our minivan one night eating cookies and drinking overpriced milk while bar patrons streamed by on the adjacent sidewalk. We're old, but we know what we like.
    Not between classes, not late at night, so you can actually see the sidewalk

  • University = opportunities for concerts and live theater. Yay! And this spring just happens to see the 20th anniversary tour of RENT coming to town. Yes, please!
  • Drunkenness on full display, no matter what time of day? Okay, I'm going to chalk it up to the very beginning of the semester, and the craziness that accompanies a bunch of not-quite-adults enjoying an environment of freedom, but it's been wild watching the huge parties on front porches in the afternoon and masses of wobbly walkers on the sidewalks at night. I've heard more than one, "I'm not drunk!" protestation that couldn't have been further from the truth, and I even had an oddly innocent and encouraging version of a catcall as I walked uptown the other morning. Two shirtless young men called down from an apartment balcony, "You guys have a great day! Go get 'em!" in the direction of the sidewalk where I and another woman were walking. Okay, then.
  • When students return to town, the culture shifts a bit, and I've found myself wrestling with how to address some things with the children. Thankfully, they didn't notice the few signs hanging from off-campus houses in this disgusting fashion the other day, so I didn't need to tackle it in that moment, but I was happy to see a response to a local story about the signs that reflected a community that won't stand for these misogynistic displays.
  • As the university seems to employ the vast, vast majority of folks in town, we're definitely the odd ones out having no affiliation whatsoever. We've baffled person after person in saying that neither of us got a job at the university as the reason prompting our move. 
  • Above all else, I'm finding that living in a college town is making me reminisce even more than I'm already prone to do. Since my husband and I met during our freshman year of college, it's a vibrant time in my memory, and seeing college students again on a regular basis is making me think a lot about that time in my own life. So let's just say that I'm feeling pretty old these days, but the recollections are making me smile at least.

We'll see what the coming months bring!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

home is...

Moving is strange. One day, you suddenly say goodbye to one life and hello to another. You are no longer a part of your former community, the one that you knew so well and knew you right back, but instead immediately become a resident of a new town. You show up in a big old truck, haul in a slew of boxes, and suddenly, this is your new home.

Is your heart there?

If that's how the ubiquitous they determine where home is, then it's a pretty tall order to expect your heart to suddenly shift from one place to another, just like that.

How about we say home is where mail arrives in your name. That's an easier one to quantify. In that case, we officially have a new place to call home. I'd love to say that I always feel at home wherever I'm surrounded by the ones I love, but that would be pompously disingenuous, because my emotions are so affected by my environment. And I am a creature of habit who needs a routine and familiarity. I'm the person who, upon arriving at a hotel, needs to create a place for the shoes, a layout for the toiletries, and order for the suitcase contents. Moving into a new house takes that process up a few notches, to say the least.

At this point, 99.9% of the boxes that need to be unpacked have been tackled, and those that have been deemed important enough to keep but not important enough to unpack for this one year lease have been shipped off to storage. (It pains me to say that my entire picture book collection falls under the latter category, as I'll no longer have little ones hanging out with me during the day. Seriously, it's like a punch in the gut.) The list of things to do that remain are mostly the tasks I know I shouldn't try on my own, so I'll be waving that paper around in the husband's face annoyingly until they can all get crossed off. The biggest job left is figuring out where to house all the boxes that we're keeping since we'll be doing this fun all over again in a year, though a move in town will undoubtedly be way easier and require fewer boxes than a 350+ mile trek.

As I placed my beloved novels on shelves (sorry, picture books, they did get to come out, don't be mad), a wee bit of a calmness came over me. If I were living in a cartoon, there would have been a little sprinkling of stars twinkling above my head. Then the kitchen began to get settled, and with mac-and-cheese on the pantry shelves and our 20-year-old Corningware nestled in the cabinets, the calmness grew, and it continued to do so with each box.

For days, it felt like I was simply playing a life-sized version of that little puzzle game you see in birthday party goodie bags. You know the one where there are square tiles in a square box with one empty space, and you have to slide them around one at a time until they find themselves in the correct spaces to form the picture? Very often, you have to make moves that feel like you're going in the wrong direction just to get to the one piece that needs to be in place first. That was me with our moving boxes-- lifting or sliding them from one spot to another, seemingly making a greater mess in the process of trying to get one box out and put away. The entire first week found me looking at the disaster area at the end of each day wondering what I had to show for my 8-10 hours of work. It was exhausting, more so emotionally than physically.

Then, it came to an end. (Mostly. 99.9%, remember?) Furniture was in place. Drawers were filled. Grown-up purchases like rugs and curtains were secured. Lying down on the couch in the evening returned to the daily line-up of activities, and books began to be read again. And with all of that, the home designation was complete. Even better than our own mail arriving at our door is the feeling that we are where we belong. Home.

How about home is where the porch swing is?

There will always be a part of my heart in our old 'hood. I didn't get a memento of it tattooed for nothing. But, it's beginning to feel like there's room for our new town in all that love, too.

Monday, July 18, 2016

sleep is for suckers, apparently

As I lay awake just hanging out with the tornado of my middle-of-the-night thoughts, I took a mental tour of our old house. I started in our bedroom, peeking into our bathroom, and walked around both sides of the bed, noticing all the little mementos on the dressers, nightstand, and headboard. Even a thin layer of dust on the furniture made it into the memory-fueled tour, making it all the more realistic.

From there, I poked my head into the teen's room, looking up at the John Green books-themed posters beside the Marvel and Yankees ones. LEGO pieces were littered about the floor, the desk was a jumble of papers, and dresser drawers showed strips of t-shirts or shorts hanging out. It was like I was in the damn room.

The younger kids' room was a bit neater, but of course, little toys were still scattered around on the dressers and the bright red table that sat under the window. Red's neatly made top bunk contrasted with Pudge's blankets that lay askew, as usual, and in my imagination, I straightened them one more time.

I flushed the kids' toilet as I walked by, purely out of long-held habit, and made my way downstairs. Straightening a few shoes on the green shoe shelf as I walked by, I stopped in to flush the downstairs toilet, too, because my children are apparently savages even in my imagination. I passed through the hallway and into the dining room next. Looking at the jam-packed bookshelf again, I smiled at the memory of that chunk of my picture book collection that I liked to keep close. Turning to the living room, I stepped down and immediately curled up into a corner of the couch, feet up, and took a moment to look around. I could recall each and every framed photo on the wall, the smiling faces of the folks I love most in the world looking down at me. A glance out the door brought the image of the back patio, strewn with outdoor furniture, bicycles, and random toys.

No time to waste, I popped back up and headed into the kitchen for a final look around, wondering if the elusive sleep would come after I visited the final room. Happily, the kitchen of my memory was clean, and the sun shining through the window made it sparkle. A quick 360-turn in the middle brought everything into view before I exited the house.

One last visit. How clear will these memories remain? Thirteen years in one home, constantly working to upgrade and improve, room by room, should probably leave a strong mental impression, no?

I hope that I'll still be able to call up these images as vividly in a few years, though it would be better if it didn't happen at 1:00 AM.

Unfortunately, sleep didn't come immediately, but some tears did instead, even as I couldn't help thinking that we had worked really hard to be able to move out of that townhouse. But it can't be denied that I miss our house, our routine, our regular old life. I couldn't be more grateful to our friends who are graciously hosting us-- for a MONTH, saints they are!-- but it still feels like we're on a vacation of sorts, and I am anxious to get back into an environment that has my books, my blankets, my couch. It sounds terribly materialistic, but the familiarity of those things and the rooms that are created by the placement of our stuff will hopefully bring with them a sense of comfort in a time when everything is different.

Yes, I'm still excited and happy about our move, but those feelings coexist with sadness and longing, too. Change is hard, no doubt.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

sometimes we're making this up as we go along

Dear children,

Hey there, it's your parents. We know that to you, 40 year olds are super old adults and that you probably think we should have our acts together by this point. Well, spoiler alert, we don't. I'll let you in on a little secret... in my head, I still feel 17, and I'm usually scared shitless when a little moment makes me realize that we're responsible for three human beings. So, with that out on the table, I wanted to take a minute to explain to you where our heads are in the midst of this life-changing chapter in our family's life.

So you might have thought that our decision to move out of state was pretty spontaneous, coming out of left field at you all just a few months ago. And that must have been uber-confusing, because you're all old enough now to know that your mother and spontaneity do not usually travel together. It could be said, though, that our entertaining the idea of moving away was both surprising and totally logical at the same time.

You know that we'd tried to sell our townhouse several times in the last few years, always with the hope of getting into a larger house in the same town. But, there were undeniable sticking points to that plan involving the school situation and overall costs that weren't ideal. When it became a possibility to come out here to visit our friends, the seed of the idea of moving was planted, but it just turned out to be a super fast growing seed, ala Jack's beanstalk, because once we got here, it just felt right.

That's the part that I think can be called logical; it may not be apparent to you now, but maybe by the time you're looking back at us with older eyes. We tend to follow our respective guts, your father and I, and when something feels right, we just kinda go for it. Maybe it all doesn't sound like it makes sense, but that's us. Pretty nonsensical at times. (That part you should know all too well.) 

And now here we are. The decisions are behind us, and we've exited the roller coaster ride that was the last few months of house hunting. Though the point we've come to isn't what we expected, and doesn't necessarily give us all the things for which we were hoping, it hits enough of the checklist to make it work for now.

You three, however, may not be able to see all of that just yet, because you each have aspects of your old lives that you're mourning right about now. I know that. I see you. My heart is hurting thinking of the pain you're feeling in your own hearts out of longing for your friends and wishing for missed experiences. It has not been an easy thing to ask of you, but we're hoping that this will turn out to be a gamble with a big payoff.

Because we recognize that this is indeed just a big gamble. Seriously, sometimes we're making this up as we go along. All I can say is that I expect a continued rocky path for a little while more, including my own challenge of needing to find gainful employment after not having gone for an interview in 18 years. If I were able to fast forward about four months, I hope I'd see a little more comfort, a little less anxiety and sadness.

"I don't want new friends. I want my old friends back." This declaration brought the tears for both of us this week, my dear daughter, and I didn't want to admit to you just how much I related to your sentiment. I get it. Damn, do I get it. I miss so many people right now, like vividly feel a physical pang at missing them. The thought of having to start over in the friendship game is overwhelming. I want to offer you platitudes that it will be easy and you'll have a new BFF before the first week of school is over, but neither of us is that naive. It's going to be a process for you, and for your brothers, each in your own way. We'll continue to be there to give you a hug when things are good or bad.

In the meantime, we're just trying to take it day by day during this transition phase. The busy-busy-busy days aren't too far off, so let's try to enjoy a wee bit of slowness before we have to move all the stuff, unpack all the stuff, and figure out where the hell all the stuff is going to go. With that in mind, we're trying to learn the ins and outs of this new place we're calling home.

When you look back at these days, I hope you remember things like the massive 14 mile bike ride we took during our second week here. Okay, maybe I was the only one feeling like it was massive, but it certainly was memorable and made for fun pictures taken while pedaling.

my view as the caboose

my alternate view

community gardens that reminded me of our old town

old rail cars turned into stables

couldn't help but chuckle at this sign

I guess there's the part of me that feels like we should apologize to you for disrupting each of your lives in exchange for a grand adventure with an as-of-yet unknown outcome. I can't help but also want to thank you each for being as good sports as you've been so far. We're in this together, and goodness knows that we're all used to facing challenges by now, so we're totally equipped for this one.

Rest up, we've got some unpacking to do in two and a half weeks.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

four days in

A new state. A new region of the country. A new start. A whole lot of new going on for the fam right about now, along with quite an up-in-the-air quality to life as we still try to finalize our housing situation. If I were ever one to use a hashtag, I think I would go all in and use the biggest of the big -- #blessed -- in reference to our friends who are sharing their home and daily lives with us for the time being. They are remarkable folks. I only hope they're still speaking to us by the time we depart.

Though we've got everything that we need right about now, most of our belongings are not on hand, and life still has a vacation feeling to it. I have to mentally remind myself as we drive around town that this is our town now, which simply feels odd. I'm comfortable, don't get me wrong, but I absolutely feel like a visitor. I imagine that will subside as we get more permanently settled, and I look forward to it.

Max managed the car ride better than expected... no rest for the anxious, but he at least stayed on his bed

Wildflower bouquet (or baguette, if you're a forgetful 8 year old), a bit of the natural beauty we've been enjoying
State Senator Lou Gentile at a local Democrat meet-up-- a politically aware 4th of July

An evening walk along the path by the river

We're settling in as much as can be said for not yet being able to settle into our new family homestead. We'll get there somehow, but the wait is disconcerting, I gotta say. Thankfully we have some leeway with it being summertime, but I know these weeks go by quickly and school starts earlier here than we're accustomed to, so I feel that clock ticking down.

But... a new hometown for my children. New memories yet to be made. All the good stuff awaits.

Friday, July 01, 2016

this one's for you

This first of the month brings more than the turn of a calendar page for us. We've sold our first house, and we're heading out of state for the next chapter in this grand adventure. No, we don't have family out where we're moving. No, we're not moving for a new job. We've simply chosen a new place to live based on a lower cost of living, more affordable housing, and the highest recommendations from dear friends who live there.

The last few weeks have been nonstop. Packing, purging, and meeting up with friends for "one last hurrahs". That last part brought about the most tears, and I've cried on many a shoulder recently as I've given hugs that were probably too long to be socially acceptable to some. I will miss so many people, and it's impossible to fully describe the impact of the last 19 years living in Maryland, especially the last 15 in our dear city of Greenbelt.

I've got nothing but love in my heart tonight as I think about all the folks who have helped make us feel at home here.

This is for friends who have been by my side as I tried to navigate the world of new motherhood three times over. Your support was priceless.
This is for the friends who have stayed by my side through the darkest moments of parenthood, sharing their own challenges or simply not judging when I called my kids assholes. You made me feel normal when things were at their craziest.
This is for the friends who have sat in my tiny living room eating, drinking, and laughing. Your camaraderie filled me with joy. 
This is for the friends and acquaintances who I've run into while out and about in town and have stopped for a quick chat, making me feel like I really belonged in this cool place.
This is for the people I've met in our city's organizations. You showed my children endless kindness in camps and at events; your work made our city a gorgeous place to live; and you created a community I was thrilled to call my own.
This is for the friends who have invited my family to be a part of theirs. When we moved to town, we knew very few people and had zero family nearby, but I feel surrounded by love now and my heart is heavy at the thought of moving far from you all.
This is for the people who made my professional life full of learning and creativity. You challenged me and helped create an environment in which I could be proud of the work I was doing.
This is for the friends who've seen me at my worst, whether it was after a few too many drinks or a bit too much emotion-- or the toughest of all, a combination of both!. You talked to me still the next morning and beyond. Amazing.
This is for the friends who shared the momentous times of their lives with me. Weddings, birthdays, new babies, new homes, you name it. Just by inviting me to be there you shared your love.
This is for everyone here who has made me smile and laugh, everyone who has offered a shoulder to cry on, everyone who has shared in our Maryland adventures.

Thank you all. My heart is apparently huge because you all fit in there.

Much love,

Friday, June 17, 2016

against all odds

About a week ago, I was walking along and saw this little sprig of a plant peeking out of a crack in the cement block wall. Even though it was almost 90 degrees outside and I still had a bit of a walk ahead of me, I circled back to take a closer look. I had one of those moments where everything around me faded away-- six lanes of traffic to the side of me and all the cacophony that comes with it-- and I felt as if the world were presenting me with a real life, in my face piece of symbolism.

We are this plant.

There have been several layers of figurative cement walls stacking up in front of us as we've been trying to take a major step for our family. You could argue that the walls began being built several years ago when we first tried selling our townhouse with the hope of moving into a larger home in town. Hope, schmope. We gave it a go again last fall, and we even tried for a particularly beautiful house that, in hindsight, was a bit too big for our britches. I'm quite thankful that we didn't see movement on our place then, because we likely would be in some financial troubles right about now.

But, like that plant-- or perhaps weed, depending on your perspective-- we kept on pushing. This time we could see some sunlight on the other side, because we had a signed contract on our place within a week. A week! Yes, sunshine indeed. But, nothing is going to come easy, right? I imagine when that plant got its first little leaf through it realized that the struggle wasn't over yet, as each new leaf needed to grow out, too. Well, we've had a whole lot of that process going on over the last almost-three months, because the other half of moving still required the securing of a new home.

Here's where the story gets interesting. What would it be like to throw caution to the wind and move to an almost entirely unfamiliar city? What if two homegrown Northeasterners who have spent the last 19 years as Southerners (technically living below the Mason-Dixon line) decided to give it a whirl as Midwesterners?

Like that plant, we're pushing through to see what it's like on the other side. In two weeks, we'll see how life in a new region treats us.