Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Home Is Where ... Where Is It Again?

This morning as we pulled the bike out of the garage for the first time in three weeks, Toth looked up at the sky and said, "It's good to be back in Alameda. Even if it is cloudy."

When we returned from the holidays this year, we all felt for the first time since our relocation 18 months ago that coming back to Alameda felt like coming home. Well, sort of.

The Midwest did its best to make that happen, sending us off with a temperature of 12 degrees below zero, which we felt all too keenly as we stood, stuck in a long airport line, in front of automatic doors that continually opened and blasted us with arctic air so frigid that the kids tennis-shoe clad feet began freezing indoors. Thank goodness the weather warmed up for our trip -- the day before the thermometer sat at 15 below for hours. And don't even get me started on the wind chill. When we did venture out -- or more often, watched other less fortunate humans venture out on the news -- it seemed like another planet out there. A planet not suited for human habitation.

Today, I appreciated not only the ability to ride my bike outside -- I gained five pounds in three weeks of sitting around indoors back home* -- but the total lack of puddles of mud and melting slush inside my front door. We did not truly suffer in the snow and cold temperatures back in Wisconsin -- we were lucky enough to have warm homes to host us, warm cars parked just outside the front door or in the garage, and warm coats and mittens. Ironically, as I type this in Alameda I am wearing my warmest sweater and a blanket, more clothes than I ever needed indoors in Wisconsin, because my parents' house is well-insulated and heated, whereas our Alameda house is built more like a sturdy tent. Still, given the choice between walking around with perpetually damp feet (turns out my so-called boots are not exactly weatherproof), limiting outdoor exposure to a few minutes at a time, holding our breath on the road as we try to remember how to steer into a skid, having to constantly cancel and remake plans based on weather conditions, and pre-grinding several days' worth of coffee in case of a power outage** -- I'll take the drafty house.

I was really glad we experienced a taste of the polar vortex, since

a) I didn't really remember what that level of cold felt like from my childhood. Even in February 2007, when it was so cold out that our car would not start when we tried to rush to the hospital to give birth to Pebbles, the lowest temperature was a "balmy" 11 degrees.

b) I hoped the experience would quell the kids' occasional whines that they wanted to move back to Oak Park because they missed snow and

c) We got to throw a cup of hot water outside and watch most of it vaporize before hitting the ground.

The kids were eager to head back to school, where they all missed a few days due to our extended Midwest visit. I was eager to get back to a regular work schedule and to cook the family some meals in my own kitchen.

So we left the Midwest without a single fond farewell to the weather, but with many regretful looks back at the friends and family who live there. My friend Marta recently wrote about realizing that the home where she grew up is not really "home" anymore. I feel that way too, except, the home where we live now is not exactly home yet, either. I love our house, the weather, the culture, and I like the people I know here, but it's just not the same as spending time with people you've known for years, decades or life. I was happy to chat with a few neighbors and fellow parents here in Alameda when I got back, but 18 months is not long enough to forge bonds equivalent to the years-old and even lifetime bonds we maintain with those back "home." My friend Kori recently posted that it takes seven -- seven -- years to feel really established in a new community. And even the mildest weather can't really match the sight of your kids playing with their cousins and hugging their grandparents -- or the freedom of leaving the kids with said grandparents while you head out to the movies. We do have a handful of older friends in the Bay Area, of course, who we get to see from time to time. But on the BART ride in from the airport, Pebbles summed it up nicely when she told me, "I don't want to move back to Illinois anymore. It's too cold there. Except ... Ellerie lives there."

When you live in more than one place, you always leave part of your heart behind. At this point, Erik and I have left pieces of ourselves all over the country, and we fantasize about someday living in a neighborhood with all our favorite people from Wisconsin, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, China, France and ... I could go on and on. But rest assured, if that planned community ever gets built, it won't be built in a location where the temperatures ever dip below zero. Because that shit is madness.

* That MIGHT have had something to do with the many holiday meals and drinks consumed, and the 2-pound box of See's Nuts and Chews I "helped" my parents get rid of. And oh yeah, I totally could have jumped on my mom's stationary bike or braved the cold to exercise outside like truly dedicated Midwesterners do.

** Actually, I am TOTALLY adding this to my earthquake preparedness routine. Fine, I admit it, it will be the only step in my earthquake preparedness routine.