On the road again

            The movers came for the first shipment of children’s books, wooden trains, and t-shirts, the items we deemed essential for our stay in temporary housing when we get to Los Angeles in just a couple of weeks.  It did not take them long, as we necessarily tried to limit what we set aside for this shipment.  We will be in a small, furnished two-bedroom apartment until we find a house, and there will not be room for tents with tunnels or oversized dolls’ houses.  This shipment went air, so I kept fuel economy in mind with each item I set aside.

            The next shipment will be packed up in just two weeks, our last day in London, as we scurry about attending Zachary’s Easter Hat parade and fitting in nap time.  And then, the children will wake to an empty house, and we will head to an airport hotel for the night before our departure.

            I have seen my life disassembled like this time and time again.  When I was younger, I packed and moved everything myself, hoodwinking friends into lending me vans and taking one end of the box spring down three flights of stairs.  Now, with the relative luxury of a corporate move, others come in and pack for me.  It is a nice perk, having someone else do the packing, although I cannot imagine they could get people to move this often any other way.

            In the past, moves have been towards school or towards jobs – Philadelphia, Washington, Chapel Hill.  When we moved back to Philadelphia, I was following J’s career, for the first time moving to a city for no reason other than someone else.  I had no job waiting, although I found one as I finished graduate school.  But, I was returning to a city I had lived in for six years before, and Philadelphia had a stronger pull on me than any other place.

            Then we moved to London, a great adventure, a two-year foray into another land.  And now, we move to Los Angeles, returning not to Philadelphia, but to yet another new city.  Again, we will broaden, we will grow.

            Yet, I wonder to myself.  If something (heaven forbid) happened to my husband, where would I go?  Not to Massachusetts, a place that lost its hold on me the day I no longer needed someone else’s roof or food.  Not Los Angeles, which pulls us only through the force of J’s work.  Not Philadelphia, where we have sold our house.  My friends are scattered about the country, a few in each place I have lived but even more in places I have never been as they themselves have moved.

            The truth is, I have no career right now.  I could build one up again rather quickly, but I could build it anywhere.  This has been a great asset with all the moving about.  I have no family to speak of, or at least none that speaks to me.  Moving to London has loosened many of my friendships, too many time zones and too few visits.  And, the children are so young that they have no real ties anywhere.  The only thing that anchors us is my husband’s work.

            I am a woman defined by my husband’s work.

            I am from nowhere and I have nowhere to go.  I have no family beckoning.  I have no career.  My children are not in schools.  We are, all four of us, easily transferable.

            And I am, I fear, easily erasable.  For, beyond the walls of wherever we are currently calling home, there is no place for me in the world.

            I usually end on a hopeful note, because I am, for reasons no one has ever quite been able to figure out, an optimist.  Today, however, my optimism is tired.  I have grown out and up many, many times.  I want to spread roots down.

37 responses to “On the road again

  1. I know that fear well. I am taking steps to alleviate it, but it’s hard to carve out an identity for myself when I have let it languish so long.

    But, I think we are both strong, intelligent, resourceful women.

    We will triumph. Right?

  2. Oh, Emily…….you know that I relate to your absence of family. There is no one from my family that speaks to me or knows my children, and since John’s parents passed…we know this sort of ache all too well. We are linked to our home and our town, although neither of us grew up here and we knew few people…and I must say that having the job that I do doesn’t provide me the sense of roots that I hoped it would at one point. I cling to the notion that someday, I will have a widening circle of friends who are my family. Right now, it is Mike and Joan and Frank..and this is all. We may not have them for much longer either. People grow old so quickly anymore. Perhaps, if you can be still in one spot for a handful of solid years, you will find yourself putting roots down…you will find yourself creating a home with people that you grow to love in a place you love as well. This was always my hope, and I’m not there yet…but perhaps someday I will be. In the meantime, my children are my roots and yours too, yes?

  3. Even after I married and had children, even though I was close to my sister here in Florida, my birthplace of Indiana was “home” to me. That is where my maternal grandmother lived. When she died I realized that it only felt like home because of her – She was home to me. Now, it no longer has that hold on me and I have finally put down some roots where we currently live.

  4. you are spreading roots down right now. Two little ones, as a matter of fact, and right now home to them is wherever YOU are. So your roots are not to a place, at the moment, but very much in those two boys. which is WAY more important.

  5. I understand that you feel you have no physical place where your roots are. In time, that will come. But rest assured, to your boys, you are NOT erasable. At all. Your roots are with them. In time you will “put down roots” some place, but for now that place is in their hearts. That is afterall, the most important place.

  6. I think your boys would agree with Painted Maypole that you are not truly erasable, but still, I get what you’re saying. And how hard it is. Even though I’ve lived in the Chicago area for many years, I still don’t feel like I belong, mostly because I don’t feel “American” and it’s something that is nearly impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t had my life.

  7. You are not even close to “erasable”, my friend. Not even a little.

    I know how exhausting moving is, both physically and emotionally, and especially when you do it so often and in such far-flung jaunts.

    Your family is right with you, in the husband you support by making a warm home and a good life wherever he ends up, in the boys who know there will always be mittens for their babies’ cold hands and homemade chicken nuggets with about a thousand man hours put into each batch, and the little wee peanut who is even now making himself or herself right at home as s/he grows.

    Your chance to put down roots will come. In the meantime, you’re building a lifetime’s worth of wonderful family memories in each place you experience. I suspect that no matter what happens, or where you eventually end up in the future, that for your children, home will always be where YOU are.

    Also, in case you are ever looking for a crony to have walker races with in some distant future, I will be in Montana. You’re welcome anytime. 🙂

  8. I understand this feeling so well. Before Thailand, I lived with the exact same thing. It would be easy to try to be falsely hopeful, too, but you are up against a monolith in so many ways.

    Not to say you can’t do it… but it’s hard. The older you get, the harder it is to get beyond that kind of rootlessness. In my case, I had to travel 7930 miles to find it.. but am glad I did.

    Best to you on this one.

  9. This resonates so strongly. I’ve lost counts of the moves but five states and two countries (and many, many moves) and I find myself living in one of the places I vowed “never again.” I still don’t know where home is; I do know what it is. Right now, feels like there will never be roots again.

  10. I have not moved a lot, but I did move from California to Indiana and it was pretty easy, with a built in in-law family waiting for me. How long will you be in L.A.? I would think that it is the uncertainty of time that makes it hard to create those roots.

    I have wondered, the same thing (I can’t bare to type the words) however…would I stay here, with my in-law family that I have grown to love and where my kids have set up roots? Or would I move back to California where my own family is? I hope I never have to make that choice and I hope that you do not either.

  11. I so get this! My family is from a place I would never dream of moving back to – depressed, no jobs, tired and dirty. Visiting makes me squeamish. And I live in Nashville TN because of my husband and his family.

    Where would I go? In a sense I like thinking that should I need to (God forbid) I could go anywhere I wanted. But what does that say about where I belong? Should I have a place that is “my place”?

    Really good post.

  12. I get it.

    Although I have never moved around much.
    “Home” is such a big part of our identity, no matter where, “home” may be.

    But I really like what Painted Maypole said, “Home,” is about people not place. 🙂

  13. Moving disrupts everything, including our sense of self. And though I doubt very much you are erasable (look at your writing!), I think you are wise to try to ensure that you exist in the world regardless of your husband and your children.

    I hated LA for the first 15 years I lived here – in part because I was always longing for home. I think your temporary rootlessness will serve you well here – you can quickly begin the process of setting them down for yourself and your family. And there is much that is very good about this vibrant, diverse city – not the least of which is that from many spots in it you can hike for five minutes and be in the mountains with a view across the deep blue Pacific.

  14. I understand the eagerness of wanting to grow roots somewhere and I’m sure it will happen but there really is an upside to be independable from location – you can be at home in any place of the world. How many people can truly say that?

  15. Ahh, Emily, I hear you well & wish you much luck with this newest move.

    I, too, have found myself in a new place where my only frame of reference to other people is ‘wife of–‘ and ‘mother to–‘ & it’s been hard. Parenting is humbling as is, but this pushed me to another level. I think of my mom & how she moved numerous times with my six siblings & me due to my dad’s job, often staying ‘behind’ with us so we could finish the school term while he got started in the new place. She died while I was pregnant with S & C, before I truly became a mom, & oh, how I wish I could tell her how much courage & chutzpah I now understand she had.

    I know this move will be exhausting on many levels, but I hope you keep writing. Eight months into our new place, I finally feel like I am making some community, but there is a loneliness still there. I read your readers’ comments & it is clear that you are not alone, regardless where your physical home is…

  16. After my mother died, I longed for a place with roots–any place. I could even imagine tendrils growing down from my feet eager to fix me to the ground. I quit my job and flew across country to join my partner (now husband). I still don’t belong here necessarily but I know my roots are with my child wherever she is, whatever may happen to my career or my husband. That’s enough while the rest builds up around me.

  17. My sister landed in LA for the same reason, pulled there by her husband’s job, and like you, is seeking a place where they can put down roots and flourish upwards and outwards. For her, for them, that place is not LA.

    I read somewhere, once, that it takes 3 years to fully call a place home. I agree with this.

    And, where you are is defined by your husband’s work. You, are not. As I do so much of my work in cyberspace and also work in a job that I can do from anywhere, it dawns on me that people are increasingly being asked to exist and define themselves in this world with no walls. It’s both liberating and frightening at the same time.

  18. The last thing you could ever be is erasable. If there is one thing about you about which I am certain, it is that. 🙂

    I do empathize though. I feel the same way after move after move after move. Rootless. And my devoted husband has made virtually all of those moves for my career, at the expense of his own. For that I feel completely blessed (yet also guilty).

    Living in the modern age seems so complicated and disconnecting sometimes. But I’ve found that while roots take time, connections can be made or revived very quickly when you need them.

  19. You know, from my post two days ago, that I feel as unmoored as you’ve described. It’s why we’re so ambivalent about where to go, because no place has a strong emotional hold on us.

    I ask myself the same question, if something happened to my husband, what place would draw me to it? I don’t have an answer.

    You may be a woman led from place to place by your husband’s work, but that’s the end of that definition. We’ve got your back on that one.

  20. this is us. my mom and sister are scattered. i have no childhood home. yet i don’t feel defined by my husband’s work. yes i followed him here, but i am defined by so much more that the ring on my finger and his career. but that is a problem iguess–my overconfidence. my dad went and died on us and my mom floundered with no life experience and no plan. as morbid as this sounds i have a plan if my husband were to die. i haven’t made plans for him leaving me–i guess i just have to hope that our love keeps on keeping on. . .

    and you are NOT erasable. your roots are there–just nurture and care for yourself and they will spread and anchor you and those boys.

  21. i can’t really relate, but that’s not to say i don’t care. you really are a trooper!

  22. I’ve been longing for those downward roots for DECADES now. And now that I’m about to get them – really get them, in the sense of moving into the house I expect to retire in, moving into a small community where my children will grow up, I’m happy, grateful – and feeling just the tiniest bit stifled. It’s almost as if it’s happened too late – I’ve gotten used to the disposability of my job, my house – not myself, though. Never that.

  23. Being married to the military, so to speak, I’ve had to convince myself that home is about people, not about place. My home is with my husband and now my son, and also with my family in Michigan and my best friend in Kansas.

    (and oh my, it is so much easier when someone else comes in to pack up your stuff, isn’t it??!) 🙂

  24. Oh Emily – you are not erasable! I hope you get your chance to plant your roots soon.

  25. oh, it sounds discouraging now – but where you are going, well who knows what will happen next?! But, I do hear you – it is the parents job to make the next place home for the kids- who makes it home for you?

  26. I’ve been here so long that it feels like home. But most likely anywhere will feel that way if you ever get a chance to stay put for a while. Will this be the last move for some time, or will you be re-rooting (and, I suppose, re-routing) yourself in a few years?

  27. This is the first blog post of yours that I have read so I won’t presume to offer thoughts or advice, but wanted you to know I’ve been feeling quite lonely and bereft lately and I think it’s okay so long as we allow ourselves to feel the emotions and move through them. And you are not erasable. That I promise!

  28. nearlynormalized

    Sounds like a good life to me. You are loved and apparently have the afforability to move about and see the world; consider the adventures you have been able to undertake. I feel joy.

  29. Oh, my dear Emily, this is fatigue talking.

  30. You do have a career! Your writing career happens to be a great one for you, one that does not tie you to any particular location and allows you to be flexible. I totally understand your concern and also understand the feeling of not being “from” anywhere, but don’t sell yourself short lady!

  31. I understand these feelings well.
    They lurk in my darker corners most of the time.
    until they come rushing out to take center stage.
    I guess I just take comfort in the cycles and circles of everything back unto itself.
    if that makes any sense….

  32. If you were to suddenly disappear, I would notice. I wouldn’t have much to go on in my quest to find you, but I would notice.

    I know what you mean about being tied to a city, though. We have no family here in Pittsburgh. We live here because of jobs (which are dispensable and easily replaced in the grand scheme of things) and because we like it. But who is to say we wouldn’t like somewhere else equally?

  33. you aren’t erasable. you’ve made marks all over.

    good luck with the roots though. i’ve spent the lion’s share of my life within 30 miles of manhattan – except for four years of college. once in a while i wonder what it would be like to go elsewhere, and i have a hard time imagining how to actually go about that.

  34. In the little time I’ve been reading here, I can say for sure you’re not rootless. Rather, you are adaptable, and can grow and thrive anywhere, in good soil or poor. Think of yourself like Queen Anne’s Lace, which grows on gorgeous hillsides and in the cracks of cement roadside barriers.

  35. This is an interesting perspective for me. I’m not defined by my husband’s career, though I chose to abandon my own two years ago. I have a good relationship with my family, but I long to be a little less available (we’re within driving distance). I have sought a certain amount of anonymity in my adult life. I suspect it’s an attempt to lower other’s expectations of me.

    When you make up your mind, you have the power to put down roots wherever you choose.. Don’t think of it as the absence of identity, but the excitement of possibility.

    If I sound unnecessarily cheery, feel free to issue a virtual slap. I’m on the verge of relocating, and for the first time in a long time, I’m ecstatic about starting over.

    Even optimism needs a pause to recover.

  36. I think there’s something about mothering small children that makes one long for the beauty of a large, abstract ideal. It’s such a material, up to your wrists in dirt kind of job, it seems (it always seemed to me) balanced out by the longing for something pure and spiritual. Like a calling or a vocation. In fact those very children are now going to be the most voracious root-makers for you. In a couple of years they really will not want to move again. They will have friends they need to keep and schools they need to find stability in. I think that’s good. It sounds like you need a bit of a base you can depend on yourself and that’s very reasonable – the best experiences come out of routine and persistence sometimes. What I like most in this post (amongst many things I like) is that you articulate your feelings here. It’s fine to feel fed up and oppressed sometimes. Who doesn’t when you’re bringing up small children, pregnant and obliged to move halfway across the world??? Your feelings have something really important to tell you about how you move into the next stage of your life.

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