It never occurred to me that you can do other things while holding a baby until my mom came to help me after the birth of our first son. I watched her shushing him while she baked cookies and sewed nursery curtains, and even tried to paint my dining room table with her remaining free hand. I put my foot down about the table, but I admired her spirit and have never forgotten the example she set.
We've known for a while that we might be moving this year. We had been hoping to delay it until Spring, mostly because it seemed like a nightmare to move during winter and but also because we knew that we would have a newborn during late fall this year, greatly exacerbating the complexity of the move. However, we concluded just after the birth of our son that it was actually critical for us to move sooner than later, so I was suddenly faced with what I considered a worst-case relocation scenario: selling the house during holiday season, with a new baby, moving in the dead of winter, all on a super tight budget. Yuck.
I have been trying, and failing, to write this post for an entire month.
We are selling our house and I'm pretty sad. It's a house that we moved into with our older baby, and where I have been nursing our new baby. It was the first place I have lived in my almost forty years that I thought I could stay in forever.
I typically start the new year with optimism, a list of specific goals, and as much of a clean slate as I can create, but this year I just wasn't feeling it. Most of my free time in 2014 involved selling a house and disassembling our life in Houston, then finding a house and re-creating said life in Minneapolis. And while that project was a success, it felt like I had made very little progress on any other goal, which led me down the dark alley of why-bother. We've all been there, right? It's not that I was planning on giving up or anything, it was more that my plate is full of the leftover goals from the last couple of years. Also I can't shake the notion that even though things feel smooth this month, as soon as I commit to something, the universe will shake my life snow globe again, as it inevitably does. I don't mind the occasional curve ball, but 2015 doesn't feel like the year that I want to pressure myself and then feel bad when I need to rearrange and be flexible.
I have set up my sewing and knitting supplies and machines in eight different spaces since meeting my husband and subsequently moving all over the place. In the beginning, there was not enough creating and there were not enough supplies to commit an entire room to these pursuits. However, since 2010, and the completion of a diploma in apparel technologies, the collection of materials and machines has grown.
Unfortunately, in spite of the increased space and supplies, I cannot point proudly to as many finished garments or illustrations as I would like. Moving disruptions, a new baby, and the general nature of creativity have resulted instead in a long list of half-completed projects. Every time I pack and unpack these bits of progress and effort, I feel renewed excitement at the ideas brewing, but also mounting frustration at what feels like a low completion rate. People ask me what I'm making and I feel shy because in the face of so many tangible examples of interruption, it feels like I am making very little.
So as we re-settle in Minneapolis, and I cement the post-baby-post-move routine, I plan to tackle these half-baked creative loaves. In this marathon of making, I plan to hone skills, add techniques to my repertoire, and clear the shelves for the next round of sprouting ideas.
As I prepare for tomorrow's departure from Houston, it's natural to look back at the last few years and think about the big picture. In between packing boxes, playing with the baby and stopping for an occasional deep breath (usually while reaching for an adult beverage), I have had to periodically remind myself that this uncomfortable transition will be over soon and we will obviously make it through. My thoughts turn next to all of the things that have happened to us here.
Houston has felt to me like a life-sized, three-dimensional game of Chutes and Ladders. Mostly ladders that have enriched our lives, and made us stronger, happier and more prosperous, but also a few big chutes, where we having been going along and then found ourselves thrown abruptly a few steps backward, scratching our heads in dismay. It has been a time of extremes and big lessons in adulthood.
Luckily, the sum total is overwhelmingly positive, so while I am hoping for slightly lower number of surprises in the next few years, it would be folly to wish them away entirely. Instead, my focus is on improving my ability to roll with it when they inevitably come.
On that note, until next time, Houston. Thank you for the adventures, and thank you for being better than expected.
Then the offer fell through and in the ensuing weeks of house showings and various other low-grade life challenges, I started to feel quite sour at Houston in general. When I shared this feeling with a friend of mine, and expressed my surprise at my change of heart, she astutely observed that "you have to break up with a place". She had been describing her husband's growing impatience with some circumstances at his place of work; little things he had been willing to overlook in the past had now become unbearable now that he was planning to begin working elsewhere. It struck me how much that sounded like what had happened to my relationship with Houston. I had been feeling good here, and then suddenly I wasn't; my affectionate thoughts and concerns about our departure evaporated in the space of days. And so, as our house faces its inspection today, I am feeling hopeful for the strength of this current offer and am allowing my specific complaints about Houston to float to the surface.
It probably sounds silly, but one of the things I hate most is the deplorable condition of the streets and sidewalks. While running outside, or walking the baby in the stroller, I face sidewalks that are broken, interrupted, missing, filthy and in one instance even blocked (for months) by a fallen telephone pole. Once, I tripped on a broken piece of sidewalk which abutted a huge tree root, and a half-block stretch of no sidewalk. When I put my arms down to break my fall, my hand and wrist were both gouged by the broken sidewalk and attacked by a swarm of nasty ants who bit me all over. As if all of that were not enough to deter a committed urban pedestrian, I was also recently bitten by a (leashed) dog. Ugh.
An additional headache day after day are the residents of my neighborhood who park their large vehicles on tiny driveways, blocking any hoped-for passage and forcing pedestrians onto the equally treacherous streets. People who park this way do it over and over again, never receiving any type of citation from the city. Luckily I am able-bodied and have a sturdy stroller, but I feel anger in my heart for the challenges that such obstacles pose to wheelchair-bound and other people with mobility challenges.
I will also not miss Houston's aggressive and terrible drivers, who are so bad and scary that I will not ride my bike in the city, nor will I allow my husband to bicycle with the baby. Lanes are narrow, drivers are fast and careless, and the bike lanes are a joke. Recently on the radio there was a story about a rash pedestrian and bicycle deaths in Houston, and the spokesperson for the police had the audacity to blame the pedestrians and remark that jaywalking would be in the future more aggressively ticketed. Shame on you, Houston.
I will not miss living in a place where the air quality is terrible enough to warrant warnings as part of the weather forecast. I will not miss living somewhere where I am sometimes hesitant to speak my mind in case the other party is trigger-happy. I will not miss being "governed' by Rick Perry. I will not miss living without lakes. I will not miss living in a place which celebrates "freedom" in the name of lawlessness, but is only too happy to deny freedom to women trying to take care of their health.
There are lots of things I like about Houston, and I have spent much energy in the last couple of years enumerating them on this blog. Most of what I appreciate about being here relates to food and our friends. As with any breakup, this is a messy decision, pocked with grey areas of emotion. It is possible that we have put home on a pedestal, and once we get there, we may find it not worth the fuss. Perhaps ultimately we will have to break up with the idea that there is a "home" for us which can be marked on a map.
In the meantime, Houston, it's not me, it's you.
Our baby was a month early and it still sometimes feels like I'm cramming to catch up; he's growing up fast and it's not easy to keep abreast of the changes. I finally made him a toy rattle, and I'm pretty sure he would have enjoyed it even more a month or two ago, but he still took some time to check it out before breakfast this morning.
I don't know anything about this artist, so I have no idea what her work or her teaching are like, but her voice was calm and her response was soothing. Just listening to her response made me feel instantly more relaxed about what I might be able to do in the coming days, weeks, years. I could feel my brow loosening and my shoulders unfolding as she responded to the question.
She said that when her son was born, she just learned how to make differently: "It happens in your kitchen, it just happens differently...trusting that just because you can't be in whatever you call your studio doesn't mean that you are not having a thought or insight. If I conceive of them as being separate, then I would be forever frustrated, but if they are all one practice, and...all the projects are one big project...not that we don't feel pressed for time in some ways, but there is an anxiousness that I can at least allay a little bit. Sometimes the most important thing is to...make the soup and in the soup is going to be the project even though a kid is sick upstairs and that's why you're making the soup."
"Everything feeds everything else," she said, and isn't that so true?
It feels lucky that the universe connected me with her thoughts at just this time, as I am coming to realize that executing the move to the village is going to cost me dearly in any kind of private free time for a large portion of 2014; the thought of which renders me both slightly devastated and also a little bit defeated with regard to the uncomfortable goal for 2014. It's not that I have given it up, but it is true that I had to let go of the pressure I was placing on myself with regard to the deadline.
In spite of my dismay at yet another disruption to the ever-so-brief settled feeling that I have felt only recently in Houston, and how that links to my creative life, I have been working to imagine what small projects will travel well while we are in limbo. Some days it sounds fine, almost like a fun creative challenge, and other days, it is hard to resist a feeling of desperation about the sum total of lost time due to continuous moving disruptions. Hopefully, anything I can accomplish along the way will feed both my soul and the future of my ideas, a la Ann Hamilton.
Another notion that Ann addressed was the idea of time as a material, instead of a boundary, and the importance of letting things take the time that they need, which is another nice validation of what I have been working on personally for a few years now. I know people who succeed, and indeed thrive, at a breakneck pace with no down time, but I have learned that I am not one of those people. Not only that but it just feels like things are still brewing and fermenting for me, and that maybe the uncomfortable goal was a little premature. Immediately after I made it, I felt anxiety every time I looked at the calendar, and it had me spinning.
This very wise maker added still another thought to an already-helpful conversation; she posed the question "how does your own vulnerability become a place of incredible strength...if you can just occupy that, then there's whole lot of knowledge in there".
To me it feels that my vulnerability is the uncertainty of our geographical future; the inability to know with confidence that a place I make my own, or my home. will remain my place for any length of time. I have dug deep into my heart and soul to find ways to live comfortably alongside that notion, and it continues to be a challenge. We made the hard decision, but today it feels almost unbearably risky and exhausting. I need to take a deep breath and find a way to make turn these challenges into assets.
That was seven-ish years ago. The surprise we have felt at not hating life in Houston, and even rather enjoying it, has been noted on many occasions in this blog; and has been accompanied by multiple other surprises since moving here.
Either way, I thought that the decision to leave, when it came, would be a clear and simple one; that it would be easy and obvious. I was wrong. We have found a way around the location-versus-job roadblock, but it is not without emotional and logistical risk. I am able to make a clear list of reasons why it is time to go home to Minnesota. My instincts say that it is finally the right time and for the right reasons, and possibly even under sustainable circumstances, but I do not feel the sense of elation that I expected. I feel good and positive about it, but I also feel a little sad and a smidge nervous to move away from the one version so far of life with oil that has felt largely pleasant and seamless.
Creating a family has always seemed a slightly curious endeavor to me. My husband and I both have parents who raised kids that grew up and promptly moved far away in early adulthood, so a little part of me thinks, 'Really? That's it? Raise kids who then take off and that's it?'. It could definitely happen to us. So if you're not sure whether or not you love kids before you take the plunge, and you know there is a good chance that you will spend outrageous amounts of time and resources for many years raising children who you will then rarely see, then why do it?
The answer to that question came from my gut. I can report that the reasons to do it are complex and intangible, but real. Ultimately, our baby, besides just being a tiny human that I love, has also given us the drive and the clear picture of why and how to go home. The baby and I spend too much time alone while my husband is at work in Angola. My husband likes his job, and I have come to appreciate the quality time we have with him when he comes home, but the long weeks and weekends alone while he is gone are too hard. We have great friends in Houston, but they are busy, too, and anyway it is not fair to them or to the baby that they are the only safety net we have here for weeks at a time. We could hire help to resolve this, but we could also go home.
In short, in caring for our family, I want the village. I want the baby to know his grandparents. I want him to know my other family members. I want to raise him alongside my other friends at home who are having babies and not moving every couple of years. I want him to play outside in air that I know from experience is fresh, and learn to ride his bicycle on streets that are (mostly) unbroken. I want him to swim in the lake that I know to be clean, the one that I swam in growing up. I want to launch his education in a quality system in which I already feel safe and confident. I want to be able to drop him off with my parents for the weekend so that my husband and I can have time to ourselves once and a while, as grown-ups are meant to have. We have put the pieces in place and if we don't do it now, I believe that we will always wonder if we should have gone for it. We could get a nanny, but we can also have the village, so at least for now, we choose that.
There is a chance, and indeed strong likelihood, that we will not want to, or will not be able to, stay in Minnesota for the long term. If it doesn't work out, we will face another move. If that happens, it's a hassle, but on the other hand, what's one extra move at this point? A small price to pay in order to test out a long-held dream, and to improve the quality of both our baby's young childhood and my nascent motherhood.
I'm ready to stop thinking about this old nagging problem so that I can save my energy for the fresh new ones.
My husband and I just returned from taking our baby on a trip to Missouri to see family. We spent four days in a house with six other people, bringing the household total to nine people, ranging in age from six months to forty-six years. We arrived in time for an ice storm and were essentially snowed in until our departure. It was our first trip with the baby, and while it went well, it was intense. I still can't believe that I was one of those people at the airport that I always pitied in the past (a person with a baby and a stroller and car seat and unbelievable amounts of shit in my luggage and carry-ons).
In spite of snow days and trips, I finally made something practical for the baby, with extra bits I already had, instead of buying new stuff:
I borrowed the pattern from some other bibs given to us as gifts, and used my serger to keep it fast and simple. The material came from a hand-me-down baby blanket that we did not need. They are not beautiful, but they are something that I made with resources I already had, which felt good. As the baby starts to eat real food, I am coming to realize that I will need many, many, many bibs. And a sense of humor.
Also, we’re moving. Stay tuned.
We are also the proud owners of a new shed, which takes the place of the garage we do not have. Who knew sheds were expensive?? Who ever wanted a shed before? Now, I understand. Even the shed makes me happy.
I have my coffee in the little back yard or on the big front porch and feel good. Maybe I never wanted this before because my inner survivalist knew that it wasn't financially feasible, but now that it does feel like the right time, it is exciting. Also it is a little bit scary...I can feel the risk. Not a feeling of financial risk necessarily, but more an emotional one, or a complicated mix of the two. Here I am, my loved ones and my favorite stuff and my little bit of investment, right on the road for anyone else to mess with, or for any kind of natural disaster to crush. There is a vulnerability to it which I did not anticipate. The stakes are higher.
But all is well right now and we love our little tiny new-old house.
I have started thinking more about this idea of 'neighbor' now that we are committed...will we have nice neighbors? Fun ones? Mean or crazy ones? Who knows. In this old neighborhood, as in many big cities, homes are nearly on top of one another and the result is lots and lots of fences. Our fence is tall, giving us the illusion of privacy, even though technically people are all around us.
One thing I have also noticed a few blocks from said new house is that there is a neighbor with a lime tree, and a couple of branches currently hang heavily over the sidewalk, laden with limes. I want some! Can I pick some? Probably not, but if this one branch hangs outside of their fence and over the sidewalk (which it does), does that make it more ok? Vegetation in old Houston urban neighborhoods frequently crowds over sidewalks, something I have noted while running this year. I am forever dodging scratchy tree branches and sticking my arms out to brush aside palm fronds ahead of me. During those moments, I have cursed lazy home and business owners for not respecting pedestrian traffic.
Now is my chance to take care of a little bit of sidewalk! The whole universe suddenly feels different. This is just like falling in love.
This morning I went on a little neighborhood bike ride, looking for signs of life or signs of trouble. Better to perform an in-depth investigation before we risk more than earnest money. Now that we are invested in our surroundings, I want to know more about those around us. Plus, I needed to further investigate the lime situation. I rang the doorbell, but did not experience satisfaction or free limes; no one answered.
As mentioned in recent posts, in recent weeks my husband and I have been working to decide our next step. For a period of time, maybe the last month or two, heading for a home base in Minnesota seemed both sure and sure-fire. In the last few days, the pendulum has swung back to a grey area as we learn more about possibilities that exist if we remain in Houston, and I'm also feeling unsure about signing up for another immediate upheaval. The benefits of taking our time heading home in order to make the most of the opportunities right here, mixed with an uneasiness about committing to separation for fifty percent of our time (which basing our lives in Minnesota would require), have risen to the surface of our planning efforts. In all honesty, I'm stumped by this decision.
In this era, it is amazing to even have multiple good choices, so while I remain truly confused, I don't want to sound ungrateful. Still, it feels like a true chicken-egg conundrum. It feels like I am required to choose between a better relationship with my husband, or one with a large portion of my friends and family network. A significant body of sociological research reflects both the value of a dense and supportive friend/family network, and the value of mobility, which serves as a tool for improving both the quality of our lives and our economy. My husband and I have lived the ramifications of both of these notions.
At times I have worried that it would be impossible to ever feel happy while living almost entirely without roots. But I have just finished reading a book that was so full of amazing coping mechanisms, that I feel far more empowered, and even more optimistic about not only remaining on the no-plan plan about where we live, but also about having a family of our own.
The Immigrant Advantage, by Claudia Kolker, culls some of the best coping mechanisms that new members of our nation use to not only survive, but thrive, here. It is not a book that troubles itself about whether immigration is right or wrong; it stays firmly within the boundaries of how immigrants from all over the world use cultural tools from their backgrounds to improve the quality of their lives here. I swear it is apolitical, and even more exciting, it is full of great ideas that people from any culture would benefit from reflecting on in a quest to improve the quality of daily life. Additionally, the author lives in my neighborhood, and I feel that she has captured in this book some of the feeling of diversity in Houston that I think is one of its best features.
When I taught English to refugee and immigrant students, I often felt compelled to defend them to those who had harsh words for their existence here. Many people feel uncomfortable with immigration right now, and it was hard to explain to them how if they knew my students like I did, they wouldn't feel as upset. They would see people working hard, supporting themselves, and making excruciating daily decisions in order to improve the quality of the lives of their families. They were doing exactly what Americans have always done. What amazed me about my need to defend them is that by and large, my students had much more conservative values than mine or most of my other American, middle-class, well-meaning peers. Immigrants often show examples of being better at saving, less likely to use services, more connected to faith, and more committed to taking care of their families than American caucasians are turning out to be. Obviously, there are bad seeds in all groups, and clearly breaking laws to do these things is still problematic and burdensome.
But in the meantime, read this book. It makes me more optimistic than anything I've read in a long time. And if it feels compelling, follow it up with the Summer 2012 issue of Good magazine, which is also devoted to the topic of migration and how it's affecting the world.