Five years ago, we bought a house in a little East Oakland neighborhood called Maxwell Park, and I immediately ordered a bunch of bareroot trees from a nursery catalog. It was my first claim to an actual piece of dirt, and I wanted that dirt to bear literal fruit as soon as possible.
I knew that trimming the roots and cutting down the main trunk was good for a dormant tree, but my goodness did it feel all kinds of wrong. Latke and I stood in the backyard with what looked like little more than a few dead branches and a branch cutter and held our breaths. Snip. Snip. Snip. All said and done, we had a little mound of wet dirt with a few sticks poking out and only the promise of stone fruit one day.
We did get fruit, literally and figuratively. I gave birth to three of our four children in that house. My kids laid their heads to rest every night just a few feet from those trees. A thousand pretend worlds were created in that backyard as those trees silently spread their roots and pushed out leaves every spring. During LP’s first summer, we had the most delicious peaches I’d ever eaten.
Yet, life felt like a struggle. Despite the knowledge that we were doing all the things we were “supposed” to do, none of it felt very good. It is hard to put my finger on what exactly was so difficult because on paper, we had a decent life. And I was grateful for that life, our friends and family, the kids, the house.
Maybe it was Latke’s 12 hour a day work schedule, or looking into our financial future and realizing that we would never be able to outpace the Bay Area prices. Maybe it was the drought and sun and urbanity; I felt the constant urge to drive into a forest somewhere, climb a tree, and yell at the top of my lungs. Maybe it was the endless traffic that prevented me from going to any forests.
Everything felt like a compromise but I could never quite convince myself that any of it was worthwhile. Latke left for so many hours a day so we could have a roof over our heads. I put up with the toxic parents at the park complaining about their cleaning ladies and stressful tropical vacation planning so I could see my actual friends and their beautiful children. We lived in a neighborhood that felt unsafe at times, because we loved Oakland. I put up with the intellectual elitism of the Bay Area because I thought I couldn’t find such progressive politics anywhere else.
At some point in 2015, both Latke and I looked at each other and voiced what we’d been feeling for so long: Is this it? Is this the end game? Have we arrived?
So we did some root trimming this year.
Latke left his firm’s partnership and started his own practice and now works from home. We moved temporarily into my parents’ house (thank you, Mom and Dad!), sold our house, and… moved to Oregon. Yep. Beautiful, rainy, green, Oregon. We live right now in a little apartment, eventually we are going to buy a house with some acreage. The plan is to unschool with the kids, work a little less, play a lot more, and stop making so many compromises.
It hurt to trim those roots, to leave the place I’d grown up. We left behind some very dear friends and I miss being near my parents. I have some very visceral attachments with the Bay Area that I’ll always miss. Coming through the Caldecott tunnel and seeing the Port of Oakland and San Francisco stretched out on the water. The tule fog. The Korean restaurants I’d been going to since childhood. Driving along Ocean Beach. The produce. And the produce.
On the surface our new life is not very extraordinary. Latke still works full days. We took a fairly large financial loss to make the move happen. Things are unsettled; we haven’t totally found ourselves here, Latke’s legal practice is still in flux, we have piles of boxes in the garage unopened. I am still tired (thank you, Sparrow). I lose my temper, and I worry.
I think we are, once again, looking at a bare mount of dirt with some sticks poking out.
Yet I’m so grateful we left. We were able to get rid of a car because Latke works at home now. We eat nearly three meals a day together. Things are more flexible; the kids get to see their father more often and I don’t feel like I’m a one woman show for 12 hours a day. The six of us have been discovering the Willamette Valley, rain or shine. At the end of each day, Latke and I actually look at each other with smiles on our faces more often than not. We have had enough time to nurture our marriage and remember how much fun we have together.
I had no idea how much Latke and I had changed until he quit his job and suddenly began spending more time with the family. Our politics, bodies, hopes and dreams have all been shifting over the last seven or eight years. Which is normal and inevitable with the passage of time, but when I married him I wanted to evolve together, not just be two people sharing resources. It shocked me to think that we could have gone along like we did and one day looked at each other like strangers.
At the end of the day, I kept coming back to these four people we have made. What are we going to teach our children? I don’t want to be the kind of parent who tries to prepare my children for the life compromises I never wanted to make. I want to be the kind of parent who prepares my children to make leaps that I can’t even comprehend yet. Given that, quitting your job and moving so you can unschool your children in the country seems like a baby step.
So that’s what we have been up to all these months I’ve been missing from this blog. There’s a lot more to it, of course. I’ve decided to get involved in DownSyndrome Achieves (an effort that will create a biobank for Down syndrome specific research purposes). I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing a collection of short stories. I want to slowly start thinking about what I’ll do when I leave PregnantOrNursingBabyLand. Maybe I’ll teach? Write? Start a family business?
I am remembering how to dream.
Dear Love of My Life,
Yup. It has been seven years. Seems so long ago, yet just yesterday when I was moving into that dorm room down the hall from that tall blonde boy with the ponytail. (Yes, world, he had a ponytail.)
You know what I loved about you? Everything. Well, after the ponytail. I didn’t love that. And the handlebar mustache period. Everything else, though, I loved. I swear.
Incidentally, I could never seem to quit you. I’d date other people or even live on a different continent, but you… Seeing you always felt like coming home. It didn’t even matter the circumstances, I just wanted to exist together. Read the rest of this entry »
In a way, I feel like there was no time in my life when I didn’t know you.
You remember that? That was the first line of my wedding vows.
I’m not sure if I ever told you this, but I sorta kinda maybe decided I wanted you the second time I really noticed you. The first time, you were still encumbered by that unfortunate ponytail and I thought you were a little full of yourself. Sorry. But that second time? That was the time. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that you should be mine. That first night we hung out, smoking cigarettes on my dorm room floor, it seemed like I’d known you all along.
That feeling came and went over the years, I’ll admit. While we were roaming the globe and dating other people, that feeling sat in the back row. Patient, waiting. Still, no matter how long it had been, or what had passed, seeing you was like coming home. I don’t know how many times I circled around you in those years. Leaving, coming, leaving again. No matter where I thought I was going, my flight path traced the same repeating orbit, back to you.
And now we have children. Beautiful, wise children who are flying away further and further every day.
I see the way you teach them honestly and never hide their world from them.
I see that you treat them as equal spiritual partners.
I see how their little bodies fly to yours when you walk through the door.
I see the ray of joy and the shadow of pain on your face, every time our children sheds a new skin and emerges a little older, different.
I see that you’re secretly checking behind bushes for kidnappers and scanning the sky for lightning that may strike your babies (even though there’s no storm).
I see you don’t turn away from poor behavior or unkind words, and show it to them each time, so they can learn.
I see your unconditional acceptance of who they are.
I see the father I always wanted for my children.
So here we are, the five of us. Flying, landing, flying again, around and around, spiraling higher and higher. Now, each time I look at one of you, it feels like home. There was never a time in my life when I didn’t know you.
Happy Father’s Day.
All My Love,