Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dirty Little Secret # 17

I fear our lives will change.

Next Friday, my children and I will board a plane bound for Upstate New York. Dirk departs a day earlier, loaded into the station wagon with the dog, the cat, and the desert tortoise. We are leaving Minnesota, with all of Dirk’s medical training finally behind us. We have been waiting for this moment for a long time.

And I’m not so sure any more that I want it to come.

After writing that last sentence, I found myself sitting, with fingers idly tapping my keyboard. After all, we have been waiting for this moment for a long time. With it comes great achievement; Dirk is ready to start a career helping cancer-stricken families learn to deal with their disease with dignity. It is a moment eleven years in the making, and he has proven himself amongst some of the most knowledgeable physicians in the world. I am immeasurably proud of him.

With it comes security. After sixteen combined years of college, graduate school, medical school, residency, and fellowship, we are ready for Dirk’s first real job. We will no longer struggle to stretch $100 through the ten days until the next paycheck. We will no longer be forced to shop at Walmart. We will be able to plan for our children’s future.

With it comes family. After ten years of living apart from beloved family and friends, we are landing in a lovely home a full mile away from my children’s grandmother, my mother. After my sister moves to Illinois, she will often be there with us for extended visits with Emmie. There are friends from high school. Cape Cod is no longer $1,000 in place tickets, but $100 in gas money. I am going home.

Ten years ago, when I left home, I might have called you crazy to imagine I would ever deign to return to live in such a place. Five years ago - after my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer, after I became pregnant with Liz after eleven months of marriage, and after two planes tore my adopted city to shreds - I decided that home didn’t look so bad anymore. Dirk agreed. We re-ordered our priorities to plan for a stellar fellowship in the Midwest that would lead us to a stellar career in a private practice in my hometown. Where we had family. Where we had a reasonable cost of living. Where we could raise our children without fear of their becoming precocious sophisticates, yet still be close enough to our favorite cities to make a day trip for good sushi not unreasonable.

So far, so good. We sit on the cusp of realizing all of those plans. Schooling? Finished. Midwest? Tolerated. Job in private practice? Awarded with ease. Fabulously large one hundred year old home bought for the price of 1000 square in Westchester? Purchased.

But before we all get excited that we have so neatly shot down all of our ducks in a row, let’s talk about what’s missing.

Well, my Daddy, for one thing. I envisioned that he would conquer colon cancer, and after having been scared into the realization that life is short we would all then enjoy each other at close proximity for years to come. But he died one year into our three year stint in Minnesota.

And oddly enough, Minnesota will be missing.

I’ve written here before about how I loved Manhattan. But it was the city itself that lived and breathed for me. I fell in love with the place. It was HARD when we came here in 2003. There were many days when nineteen-month-old Lizzy and I sat on the couch in our new-to-us 1988 split-level and stared out at the cloudless sky and near treeless landscape. Where before we peered down from the height of the nineteenth floor onto cabs and cars and buses and bikes and trucks and more people than exist in this entire state, now we blankly gazed out on nothing. An empty cul-de-sac. Lizzy, my tiny city girl, struggled to understand the car, the enormous grocery store, and that damned itchy green stuff that relentlessly covered the pavement she had grown to love.

Those first few months I joined a few activities sponsored by the wives’ club associated with Dirk’s fellowship program. Yeah. It’s called the “Families Connection,” but when all the women introduce themselves as “Hi, I’m so-and-so and my husband is an anesthesiology resident,” it makes me nervous. It made them nervous when I left out Dirk’s stats and started asking if any of the doctors at this very famous hospital had husbands involved in the Families Connection.

The check-out clerks and hair stylists didn’t seem to understand my jokes, either, so I styled myself as a fish out of water. As my dad got sicker and my mother got more fragile and I struggled through my pregnancy with Teddy that first year, I became determined that this place would simply be a way station. Through illness and grief, I held myself apart from what was really waiting here for me. When I lived in New York City, I fell in love with the place. Here, out in the wilds of Minnesota where good Italian food is to be had at the Olive Garden, I have fallen in love with the people.

After my dad died, and I was learning to be free from the burden of his illness and its subsequent ravages of our family life, that empty cul-de-sac began to fill with people. Our second summer here we discovered that a companion for Lizzy lived across the street, two doors down. She learned to walk on grass, sometimes even with bare feet. The pre-teen boy at the other end of the street discovered that Dirk was a decent role-model and I was a good cook. They learned that we were a little quirky and we learned that they were all far from bland Swedes. We found a wonderful pre-school that insists on parental involvement. We made the 1988 split into a cozy home that welcomes all thirty-three neighbors, sometimes all at the same time. We became masters at blocking off the circle so the kids could ride their bikes in the early evenings. We learned that our Evangelical neighbors weren’t space aliens, but were people who were open to discourse and with whom we shared values. We conquered our goal of never, ever stepping foot in the Mall of the Americas. We discovered that 32 degrees means no hats and mittens. We saw Garrison Keillor live. We specialize in the impromptu potluck.

We found a sweetly simple life that I greatly fear will change.

Our ship has finally come in, and we trade 1800 square feet for 3600. We trade a family of four on less than $50,000 a year for much, much more. We trade friends for family. I worry that we will become complacent about our financial good fortune, that my children will grow to be entitled. I worry that we will retreat to the bosom of our families and old friends to the exclusion of making new friends. I worry that we will lose the independence that 1500 miles inevitably brings. We’ve never had the luxury of a built-in baby-sitter. We’ve never had family popping in for a visit. While I have often envied my sister’s lunches and dinners with my mother and my father, when he was alive, I have instead had my own schedule. We are free, out here, to do as we please. The realities of our everyday life are unknown to the family and friends who believe that they know me best. I have grown to like it that way.

A week from today, the packers will arrive. My children will be bewildered as their lives are carefully packed away. The girl who had such a hard time adjusting to life outside the city no longer remembers it. As far as Lizzy knows, this is her only home. Teddy is a native Minnesotan. But the objects that define their lives will be loaded onto a truck and driven across the country. After two weeks at the beach, they will not return home. We will learn to live amongst our familiar objects in an unfamiliar place.

It will be become their home. Teddy, at two, will not likely remember Minnesota. At four and a half, Lizzy may have more concrete memories. They will fade pleasantly. We will make new friends. We will struggle to keep ourselves in check, to be thankful for the opportunities and good fortune granted us. It will be alright. The changes ahead are certain. I will learn to welcome them.


blair said...

So, having just moved away from our friends and community to the wilds of central Ma. I can tell you that, as you know, it will be what you make it.

We left our dog park, our favorite breakfast place, our evening walks on the shore, ice cream, the beach and all of our friends, community and the existence I had worked so hard to create and foster. I was SO happy in Salem. I was terrified for another round of D.C. Depression (and you KNOW how happy I was there.

Rather it has been concerts on the common, new neighbors with lots of kids, the rock house, another doggy and LOTS more community. Best thing we ever did was complete upheaval. You'll do great and I can't wait to spend time with NuKK because I have missed the old one.

I am a LITTLE worried about your mom...

lynsalyns said...

I love you. I am sorry I have to move away from you, more sorry than you can know.

You envied me? Well, dear sister, I envied you. Now we trade places. I feel in my heart it will go as well as we decide it should go.

I'm sorry for your heartache. I share it. I always share it.

mothergoosemouse said...

I love this post. Love love love.

Last night, Tacy asked me to put on "Free To Be You and Me". As she watched the kids on the carousel, she asked, "When can we go back to New York?" She started to cry, and so did I. It's not the first time this has happened.

Congratulations to you and your husband and your family. I'm happy for all of you, and more than a little bit envious too.

bubandpie said...

It's one of those things nobody warns you about, how you lose the ability to pick up stakes and start over as you get older (a little bit older, anyway). At least this time, you know that you are free to stay, to put down roots that will last. It really hurts, though, to say goodbye to a place where you've been happy and to the whole era of your life that represents.

Kurt Schroeder said...

In contrast to your post, I offer the following from Minnesota poet Louis Jenkins:


Insects never worry about where they are. A mosquito is so dedicated to the pursuit of warm blood that it neglects the long range plan. If a mosquito follows you into the house it waits patiently until the lights are out and you are nearly asleep then it heads straight for your ear. Suppose you miss, hit yourself in the head and knock yourself out and the mosquito succeeds in drawing blood. How will it get out of the house again to breed? What are its chances?

Insects don't seem to have a sense of place but require only a certain ambiance. A fly that gets driven 500 miles in a car and then is finally chased out the window does not miss the town where it spent its maggothood. Wherever this is it will be the same; a pile of dog shit, a tuna salad sandwich, a corpse.

Here's hoping for good tuna salad and no corpses. As for the mosquitos, you are heading the right direction--away. I wish you well.

Binky said...

You don't have to give up Garrison Keillor completely. He does a show every year at Tanglewood in Massachusetts, which would most certainly be worth the trip. I think it's so interesting how the paths of you and your various family members intersect and diverge, intersect and diverge. Literally and metaphorically. Makes for great blogs.

John-Michael said...

You have touched... moved... and softened the 60 year-old heart of a man who just, this moment added a new person to love to his world. I do so admire, respect, and appreciate ypur beautiful candor, honesty, and willingness to be vulnerable. Your husband, children, and circle of 'significants' are blessed to be part of your life. My humble and sincere "Thank You" to you.

Jill said...

Aw, Minnesota will miss you.

Just found your blog on a crazy/hip mama random search and was psyched to find a MN blogger. I also have a Lizzy (who would have been Teddy if a boy) and my Dad battled back colon cancer.

Enjoy your move back home. So glad you were able to find a happy home here in Minnesota.

Tater and Tot said...

I will comment more at length later, but for now I just want you to know that between you and your sister today, I have read the greatest posts that mention my two favorite guys - Garrison and Gordon. Just so you know, I am incredibly envious of your chance to see Garrison live. That is on my list of things I will do before I go. I would rather see him than...well, anyone. I do, however, have a signed copy of one of his books that my dad got for me when he was at one of his after show book signings. What more could a girl ask for? Oh yeah, to see him myself.

Becky said...

I just want to wish you all the good fortune your heart can handle. I can't really relate to such a big move, I've only moved an hour and 45 minutes from friends and family, but we moved back rather quickly! Anyway, I do hope the move goes well and that all of you adjust well. By the way, this post is absolutely amazing.

macboudica said...

Even though I have never moved far from anyplace, I can commiserate with you. I love my house, but it is very small and on the edge of a very bad neighborhood (even though it is in a good neighborhood--the joys of segregation in this city) and I know we will have to move from it someday, probably soon. It breaks my heart. This place holds so many memories for me. So much of my adult life has been lived here, the good, bad and ugly. I have grown into myself here as my family has grown in number. I wish you the best in your new home.

tpon said...

during college, my parents lived in Minnesota... lovely in the summer, just can't be beat. But, I can tell you that I do not miss the winters.

but there is something about that place that gets under your skin. Good luck with the move...

Sandy said...


I know how to remedy this...don't leave. Seriously, don't go! Annika loves your sweet little girl, and we have just started to get to know you and your family. Can't you stay, as Annika would stary, "just a few more minutes"?
In all seriousness, we will miss you dearly, and no matter where you go, you and your family will brighten the lives of everyone you meet. We will miss you all dearly!

Heather said...

I read a stat a few years ago (I can't cite my source, because, as I said, it was a few years ago and I don't make it a habit to remember things like that). Anywho. The stat was: 75 percent of people who move out of MN, move back. Scary huh? The state holds some sort of charm I guess. My parents were born and raised here, they moved away and moved back. Must be the winters that numb everyone's brains.

We'll miss you all as well. I'll be reading your blog to keep in touch, if no other way!

motherhooduncensored said...

I envy you - however, I'm happy for you all the same. As someone who's been away from home for A LONG time (and who never really wanted to be close to it until now), I can totally empathize with your excitement.

Hooray for family. Double Hooray for MONEY!

Congrats, Karen. It sounds like an exciting journey.

Lisa said...

I know it wont be easy for you. I know when my dad died I couldnt go back to the home I had grown up in. I still cant although I will in a few weeks before my childhood home is sold. Its easier to deal with death when we arent constantly smacked in the face with it everyday like we would be if we were living close by. But this will be good for you and your family. You will do fine.

J's Mommy said...

Wow, what a thoughful post. Moving is definitely an overwhelming experience and it sounds like so many emotions are wrapped up in this for you. All I can say is that things have a way of working themselves out and although you might be scared or unsure, you will all come out on top.

Desitin's Child said...

Wonderful post. Keep some clear boundaries with your mom, engage in your community, and you'll be fine. Better than fine! Hope the move goes well.