9/3/08

Bi Coastal

We are home from a few weeks on the East Coast and it seems we all are still adjusting. On the way home from the LA airport, Zoe kept asking to see cows and horses and didn't seem to appreciate our response: "Sorry, babe, no cows or horses here in LA. But LOOK! Big buildings! The LA "River"! Graffiti on the overpasses!". And one of her favorite games since being home is pretending to put bug spray on us, which, after looking at cows and horses, was apparently the most salient feature of our trip.

Being on vacation at my parents' house in Vermont was like being in a messed up time warp, even more so than being in my childhood home in New Jersey. Hanging in the hall bathroom is a wood "carving" I waled away on in 7th grade Wood Shop. Zoe slept under the watchful, cheek-obscured gaze of me and my brother circa 197something.
The rickety red wooden steps to the dock, the view from the screen porch
and the moldy, freakish 70's children's books in the kids bookshelf

all take me further back than my memory banks normally store. It was a strangely lovely "This is your life" kind of feeling.

But the strangest feeling was that I was truly coming home. After 12 years in California- and the acquisition of some SERIOUSLY thin skin when it comes to cold weather- I was struck by how much the east coast feels like home. Maybe it's just revisiting the memories and the cabins where I spent every summer as a kid. But I also think the lifestyle is just different when people don't need to spend tons of precious water keeping their lawns alive (this summer, they worried about them flooding away), seasons wield undeniable power, blue-green hills roll on for miles and homes are almost always at least 100 years old. I found myself seriously wondering when and if and how we could move east.

(And look! The adorable grandmother with child photos! On a lush green hillside, after a humidity-drenched, ultra-bug-infested hike!)


Sounds like we should move east, right? Unfortunately it's not that simple. On this trip, CG told me he feels himself to be essentially a Westerner. He was born and bred in Arizona where the expansive views stretch for miles, navigation is based on where the big mountain is and the land is dry and arid. Vermont is beautiful, he says, but it doesn't quite feel like home.

This east/west difference between us is not new but it IS much more important lately as we face big decisions about where and how we want to raise our family.

When we got married, I signed on to a life path that is no longer our reality. At the time we met, CG was a PhD student and wanted to be a professor. This meant we would eventually be moving to whatever locale had a post doc (which we did, moving here, to Pasadena, three years ago) and then moving again for whatever tenure-track job was open that year in his field. He is now, after much tortured soul searching and with one year left on his post-doctoral fellowship, disillusioned with the life of a professor and beginning to look outside of academia. Our old reality meant that we never had to face the East/West divide between us. It wouldn't have mattered when the only job he could get that year would have been at a university in Idaho or Tennessee or some other place I've never been or thought to live. (No offense Idahoans and Tennesseans. I'm sure it's really lovely there.)

Now we are left charting new terrain. How do we chose where to put down roots and raise a family? Do I sulk and whine and try to bully him into moving to the East Coast when I'm not even sure that's what I want (and if I could survive the winters?!)? Do we try to pick a place that fits our social ideals (progressive activism, good farmer's markets, environmentally conscious lifestyles, walkable downtowns) and then find jobs? Do we still allow his career path to decide our locale, choosing where to be solely based on what job is the best fit for him? What about my career path (such as it is)? Do we move to be closer to family (and if so, which one?)? Do we move back to the San Francisco Bay Area, where we fell in love, where a group of mutual friends still reside? Do we stay in Pasadena to maximize both the few real, hard-fought connections we've made over three years, as well as the dwindling value of our tiny but sweet, sweet house and hope CG can find a job when his fellowship is over?

Do we value cultural diversity, an urban environment and warm weather more? Or do "real" seasons and proximity to more family have a bigger pull?

All this makes my head hurt. We both want to put down permanent roots. We want to invest in our neighbors and a neighborhood and a home and a community knowing that the growth and depth of those relationships will pay off. My somewhat transient life was novel and exciting in my twenties. It is seeming less and less so as I get older.

While in Vermont, I spent my little reading time with "In the Shelter of Each Other" by Mary Pipher (the author of "Reviving Ophelia"). Pipher's ideas and opinions on how to protect and nurture our families in a uniquely challenging time really resonated with me as I watched Zoe play in the lake and explore the farmer's market and walk through a tiny "downtown". What I want more than anything is to make sure she grows up in a community that we are excited for her to enter, rather than one we feel we must battle against and protect her from.

Is that too much to ask?

Is that even possible?

3 comments:

Astarte said...

Ohhhhh, I miss Vermont. A lot. We're stuck here in MD b/c DH wants to live in FL, and I want to be in VT, so here we are. Sigh.

I'm going to have to read that book. I read her other one years ago, so come to think of it, I might want to re-read that one as well.

My Buddy Mimi said...

All the moving invovled with academic careers can be even harder on the spouse, I think, but (from the couples that I have known) the kids usually adjust just fine.

FirstPersonArts said...

If cg needs a little nudge, perhaps some of your east coast friends can lean on him. Lots of opportunities outside of academia out here. And some of us *ahem* find that our "essential western-ness" dissipates pretty rapidly under the right conditions.

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