It appears that my husband and I, in spite of our careful planning and his near obsessive attention to detail, have overlooked one of the factors of our move to Portland. All of our discussions and hand-wringing about finances (which are difficult) and logistics (not quite as complex as we’d thought) and emotional strength (surprisingly sturdy) did not account for the effect this move would have on our children.
And really, with one child grown and living on his own, completely independent of us, and one child off to the school of her dreams and doing better than anyone expected, and one–the most independent minded of all of them, the one who thought he was ready to live on his own at the age of 15–now a senior in high school, our thought has always been, frankly, only about ourselves. After all, we’re known as “empty-nesters”, right? That means the babies have *left* the nest. This is the time when moms turn the kid’s room into a craft room, when we’re supposed to be adjusting to the house being so empty, when we finally turn to each other with faint recognition in our eyes and say “Who are you, again?” and rediscover our marriage.
Apparently, our children had other expectations.
The oldest has expressed distress over the fact that we will no longer be just six hours away, but all the way across the country from where he makes his home now. I believe his fear is that if he somehow can no longer sustain himself living on his own, he won’t have a safe place to fall. Never mind the fact that in the year and a half he’s been on his own, he has been through some very rough times and hasn’t needed to come and live with us again. Or that he’s got a better job than I have. Or that he’s surrounded by friends and colleagues who have proved their loyalty in those difficult times. Somehow, he still sees us–here–as his fallback position.
I understand that, I do. I’m glad he feels safe here, and that he doesn’t feel like he wants to get as far away from his insane parents as possible. That much, at least, I have given him. If you look at his inauspicious beginnings, I’d say this was a rousing success.
The youngest is probably the least emotionally affected by this, at least from what I can tell. He still lives here, so his stable place hasn’t yet moved, and doesn’t know where he’s going to go to school yet, though he has an idea. I think he’s been inured to any attachment to “home base” because he moved a lot with his mother before he came to live with us. For him, the only concern is where he’ll spend summers and holidays. Because he’s a dedicated jazz musician, he is a little afraid that if he visits Portland, he will never want to leave, which would scuttle his chances to really *do* jazz the way he wants to. It’s a legitimate concern, because I’ve known since I first saw Portland that, of all the kids, he would fit in perfectly there. But jazz is his true love, and I respect his passion and determination. He’s talented, and he’d be a fool to walk away from it.
And then there’s the middle child, the heart of the family, the keeper of emotions locked behind an intense gaze until the energy becomes too great and she erupts in tears. I always laugh when people say their girl children “tell them everything,” and the boys keep to themselves. It’s completely reversed in my house. My son always told me everything. He was physically incapable of keeping stuff from spilling out of his mouth. My daughter has to be approached very carefully before she’ll talk. We’ve discovered that my husband has some kind of magical emotional can opener for her, and can get her to talk when she clams up with me. And so it was this time–she didn’t talk to us for a week, then my husband pressed her gently, and she caved. She’s very upset that we’re leaving her hometown, that this won’t be her “home” anymore, that we’ll be so far away. And of all of the kids, she has the most reason to be concerned about being so far away. She’s a missed-curb-cut away from a life-threatening accident every day. Let’s not talk about *that* right now.
What I never thought about–what never occurred to me–was that my daughter has lived in this hometown of ours for longer than I did before I went to school. My family moved here when I was turning four, and I left for school at 17, coming back only two summers before moving to my university town for good. Then I brought my kids back here when my daughter had just turned 5, and she left for school at 18. She’ll come back for one summer–next year–and that will be that.
In my case, the decision to stop living with my parents was mine. It was less “I’m never coming back here again!” and more “I think I’ll stay at school over the summer and take classes,” which evolved into getting married and having kids. My relationship with my parents was never the same once I got pregnant, so living at home–having a place to land–wasn’t an option. My childhood home was no longer “home” to me. Home became the place I was creating for my children.
I suppose, then, that it’s not surprising that my idea of “home” is fluid, not set in any context of place. Though I’ve spent a total of 27 years in this town, I have no particular affection for it. It’s purportedly a good place to raise kids, and my kids did have a pretty good childhood here, but I’ve been itching to leave since the moment I moved back. I never wanted to be back here, that was never my plan.
But I have always wanted to provide a place for my children that felt stable to them, they they could rely on when their skies got dark. I’ve always wanted my children to know without question that they have a place with me, no matter what happens. And I’ve talked to each of them explicitly about coming to live with us in Portland, and they all seem to understand the option is available. The oldest doesn’t think he’d like the weather. He’s probably Texas bound. The middle one loves Portland, has planned to live there herself, so maybe she’ll be with us a while.
I am glad that each of them like Tim and me enough to *want* to live with us past their expiration dates. I thought we’d have at least one and maybe even two who would bolt the moment they turned 18. But for the middle child, it’s the memories we’ve made in this town, the milestones that happened here, the tendrils reaching out from her roots that go deep into the community
I didn’t expect any of them to be upset about leaving this town. It never occurred to me. I was completely absorbed in my desire to leave, my aversion to all things suburban, my distaste for the nouveau riche aesthetic that permeates this environment. The best friend I made here already lives on the other side of the planet. Nothing but the children has ever tied me here.
The strangest thing about this circumstance is that Tim, who also grew up here, had a similar situation with his parents. Tim, the oldest, was living (essentially) on his own. His younger sister (middle child) was away at school, and during the youngest son’s freshman year at college, Tim’s parents also left suburban Chicago. Tim’s dad was transferred to Salem, OR, where they lived for several years. I find that parallel fascinating.
Tim wasn’t bothered by their move. Neither were the other siblings.
I am perplexed about how to handle this. I’m so very ready to be ready to leave here, so close to shutting the door behind me as I finally seek horizons of my own choosing, that I don’t even know how to help them with this. Aside from a baby-box content review at Christmas, and a summer-long last-look-at-everything-we-love-about-this-town, I can’t offer these kids anything to assuage their impending grief. I’m certainly not extending my stay–we can’t afford to keep maintaining two households beyond the very last necessary minute–and I’m not canceling my departure.
But I feel exactly like George Bailey when Uncle Billy says “They’ll vote with Potter, otherwise!”
I’ll tell you one thing: I will NOT take over at the Building and Loan.