One summer, with student loans, part time jobs, and willing friends, my husband lived in a San Diego suburb for a few glorious months. They could wander to the beach at will, sleep late, and throw each other in the pool whenever the mood happened to strike (did I mention they were college guys?)
Since that summer, the San Diego area is a bit of a unicorn for my husband; his eyes grow nostalgic and just a smidge hopeful when he talks about his firm’s office in the area.
In my alternate reality, we live in a bustling city: a brownstone or high-rise with a park down the street and the ability to find restaurants that deliver after 10:00 p.m.
Our younger, college selves never imagined we would live less than thirty minutes from both sets of parents.
I shop at malls I can walk through with my eyes closed. I remember the thrill of being dropped off to wander the sprawling corridors with my friends; the tiled floors seem narrower now, the possibilities fewer than I remember. The bars we slip into for a glass of wine after dinner are nestled next to coffee shops that once felt so exotic and foreign; the novelty of driving made the change clicked into meters feel almost like an indulgence rather than the annoyance I sometimes feel when paying to park for story time at the local library.
I see my parents once a week, my husband’s at least once a month. They know the approximate value of our home and our worries about the housing market and school districts and leaky roofs. Part of me feels unfinished here, my past brushing too close to my present and blurring the lines between dependence and adulthood.
I worry that by staying so close to the city that watched me make a million and seven youthful mistakes is keeping me from making the risky sort of decisions that sometimes mean the difference between the life we fall into and the one we want to live.
But my children know all of their grandparents as friends and indulgent babysitters. They know where the crayons and books are at my mom’s house as well as our own. We are able to have a night out at least once a month without paying a babysitter, and every couple of months the kids sleep over at Grandma’s with excitement. These moments, those relationships may not have the chance to develop in that way without geographical nearness.
Finding the positive isn’t always easy; there are days I feel younger than I am, too dependent on the familiarity surrounding me. In quiet moments I feel like we’ve missed our opportunity to spread our geographical roots across the country; it feels almost disloyal to separate our small family. I wonder if I am trading relationships with grandparents and an aunt and uncle for adventures and opportunities.
Gratitude for our family seeps into our daily lives, but some part of me will always wonder what it would be like to book a flight home for Christmas, to watch my children barrel towards grandparents they’d chatted with on Skype the night before, to see the awe in their eyes at the crystal blanket of snow.
I may always wonder.