Saturday, December 25, 2010


Once upon a time, when we were resentfully living in Cleveland, my husband and I took a ten-year anniversary trip to Paris. As we strolled through the left bank, we fantasized about relocating to France, as my sister had recently done. I came up with the notion of opening an American style cookie store. Yes, I know, France Land of Pastry, but cookies, plain old easy to bake chocolate chip cookies, not to mention snickerdoodles, were unknown in the City of Lights. (This was years ago and I have no doubt that today you can find a cookie on every coin de rue).

By the time we got back to our hotel, we had already franchised our cookie business and were poised to expand into Italy. Would we ever have really done it? Probably not. My husband is hopeless at languages and I would have been condemned to life as an interpreter. But mental and, occasionally, actual relocation has been a leitmotif in our relationship since we first met. I had just moved to Los Angeles and he had been pondering spending a few years in Saudi Arabia, where there was an overabundance of overpaid contract work. Due to my lack of enthusiasm for gender apartheid, we didn't riff on that notion for very long.

There were other near-moves and actual relocations. We moved from LA to Cleveland for my husband's job and spent five years fantasizing about getting the bleep outa'there, which we finally did, settling on my home town of Washington DC so my parents could be near their grandchildren. We lived there for a good long while, but my husband hated the climate and pined for Los Angeles. As far as I was concerned, that was not an option. Too much asphalt, too much sprawl, too much time gone by. Still, the wanderlust never fully dissipated. We took a family trip to Costa Rica and marveled at the lush scenery, tropical climate and enticingly low cost of living, but couldn't quite see ourselves as gringo neocolonials. After an Alaska vacation, we seriously contemplated a move to Seattle. We pictured ourselves boating in Puget Sound and salmon fishing in the Inside Passage. We'd get a large freezer to store our catch after it was flash-frozen and shipped. I even looked into a Winter dogsledding trip in Denali, which my husband informed me I'd have to take, and pay for, by myself. The wilderness beckoned - the Olympic mountain range, the Cascade volcanos, the alpine lakes of British Columbia.

Three years ago we did move West, but adjusted our destination to the Bay Area. We thought it would be a better advertising market. The HR person in my old job told me I was so talented, I'd have no problem finding a job. (She lied). Our son was (is) having a difficult adolescence, and the therapist recommended boarding school and a change of scene. I was mad at my parents, who didn't believe in ADHD and blamed all of our son's issues on our lousy parenting.

The first year was a romantic empty nest experience. We lived an unfettered adult life, went out when we felt like it, read lots of books, took walks and worried slightly less about our kid, mostly because we hadn't yet realized that the the artsy Ojai school we had chosen for him was a holding pen for spoiled Hollywood brats. My old boss kept feeding me freelance work. Our daughter graduated from college, moved to San Francisco and quickly found a job. Everything was falling into place like level 2 tetris.

And then it all went to hell. The kid, the economy, our daughter's career and grad school plans and my poor husband's joints. The long nature walks I'd envisaged as our bonding activity became solo meditations on hubris and loss. Our son got into all kinds of trouble. Our daughter left her boyfriend and moved back East. The lucrative freelance dried up when my old boss got down-sized. And my guilt at having moved away from my parents came crashing down on me like a cartoon anvil.

I eventually found a part time job telecommuting, ironically, for a Seattle agency and I get regular assignments from freelance contacts in DC, Philadelphia and New York. I work at home, in my pajamas, with only the dog for company. After checking off every possible transgression on the teen age hellion to-do list, our son is slowly turning himself around. I miss my women friends terribly. My daughter is a first year law student on the other side of the continent. My husband and I have no social life: It's hard to meet people when you both work at home and no longer have young children.

Why am I telling you all this? Because Joni was right. You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. A home of your own, where you have a history. Parents who are predictably, charmingly annoying and turn out to be right about things like the dangers of uprooting yourself when you're not so young anymore. Comrades who know you and your life story, who get your jokes, who are actually willing to provide a sympathetic ear even if your story bums them out, because it's understood that sooner or later, you'll do the same for them.

You want someone to tell you to make your move and follow your dream? Go watch Oprah. Of course, if you have a job to move for, or you're young and unencumbered by family responsibilities, relocation can be an exciting possibility. But beware of wanderlust. It could be naive romanticism in disguise. An adult ADD impulse. A desperate need to believe that you're still young and daring. A subconscious desire to escape things that will hitch a ride on the moving van and resume tormenting you after you unpack. My advice to you is bloom where you're planted - as long as it's not Cleveland.


j said...

just reading this, but...come here and open a cookie shop! there are no cookies. they don't have baking soda, so the choco chip cookies they do have are totally flat and weird. you would make a killing!!! husband and i are thinking of opening a pizza by the slice place....

j said...
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