One day this fall, I took the girls for a walk. It was the kind of October day that actually sparkled. I don’t really know what makes that happen. The clarity of the light? The constant movement of a thousand leaves? Whatever it was, it was breathtaking. When I got close to the building where she works, I called my sister to see if she wanted to meet us in the courtyard. She popped out for a few minutes to say hi to the girls and get some fresh air.
We continued on our walk and turned down Main Street. My dad’s red pick-up truck was parked outside a building where he was doing some painting. He works for a small construction company. I maneuvered our bus of a stroller onto the lawn and he came over to chat for a few minutes. Afterward, as we headed home, I said something to the girls like, “Wasn’t that cool? We got to see Auntie and Grampy on our walk today!” They didn’t seem all that impressed. The Enforcer asked what we were going to have for lunch (it was probably tune-it) and I think The Baby was asleep.
The next morning, my mom brought me some of my favorite candy because it was my birthday. My dad stopped by in the afternoon with a bouquet of flowers. He usually forgets exactly how old I am, but he always remembers my birthday and tells me I’m beautiful.
Now it’s December. Tis the season for homecomings. Families are crisscrossing the country to make their way to each other for the holidays, but me? I’m already home.
A couple of years ago, as my husband loaded our furniture onto a U-Haul truck, I packed my two-week-old twin girls into my Honda Civic and pointed the car north. It was a trip that took me both backward and forward. Forward, because we were moving into our new home, the home that would be ours as a freshly minted family, not just ours as a couple. It was a huge, old-house kind of home, one that needed work, but it had the character – in the woodwork, in the ceilings, in the steam radiators, and in the weird art-deco light fixtures – that I had always wanted. It was the perfect place to begin the next chapter of our lives.
That trip took me backward too, though, because in every sense, I was going home. We were moving back to the small town that both my husband and I had grown up in, and that’s not something I really thought I would ever do.
Moving back to a small town in a rural area probably wouldn’t work for everyone. We all make choices for our families that we hope will work best for us. We were fortunate that it worked out with my husband’s job and that we found a house that we fell in love with, because when I found out I was having twins, one thing I knew for sure was that I was going to need help. Like, a lot of help. And what’s the best kind of help? Free, family help.
I realized the other day that in the midst of the chaos of finding shoes and refilling milk cups and changing diapers and loading the dishwasher, I am, every moment of my life as a stay-at-home mom, making a home for my children. I want more than anything to make this house, this town, this community filled with family a home for my girls. And part of that, for me, is having extended family close enough that they are an essential part of our everyday lives.
We don’t have huge concert venues here. We don’t even have a Starbucks. I have to drive 45 minutes to get to Target, TJMaxx, or a Mexican restaurant. When I was getting ready to go to college, I couldn’t wait to get out of this town. I wanted someplace bigger, louder, faster, cooler. I didn’t end up living anywhere all that big or cool, but almost every place out there is all of those things compared to my town. Now that I’m back here as an adult though, I appreciate everything about it that is smaller, quieter, slower, and more cozy than cool. It’s a place I’ve grown to love, and as I take my kids to the same library where I spent so much of my childhood, the same outdoor bandstand concerts on summer evenings where I would collect acorns until it got too dark to see, the same park from whose stone bridges I dropped countless rocks to make ripples in the stream, I hope they will love it too.
It’s not perfect here. There are deeper problems in rural, small town life than just the lack of expensive cups of coffee or hipsters. We have too much poverty, and its accompanying drugs and crime, just like everywhere else. Also the winters are like something out of a Jack London story, and they drag on into months the rest of the world calls “spring.” But we have two independent bookstores. We have a small college. We are surrounded by mountains, lakes, and rivers. And on my birthday, I can see my mom in the morning and my dad in the afternoon without even leaving my house. I don’t know if moving back here is going to end up being the best choice we could have made for our family. How can you ever know something like that? But I do know that we’re making a home together and doing it the best we can.
Often when I look at my children, I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility, the love, the unknowns. As I make a life for them in this town I know so well, I am traveling down a road that is both familiar and unfamiliar. I’ve been here before, but not as a parent. I never had to lead the way, but now I do. And I can’t imagine doing it without my family here to help me.
You know that song, “Home” by Phillip Phillips? I love it because it really gets at the heart of what I’m trying to do here:
Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home