Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life

Where Oh Where Do I Want to Live?



A beautiful mountain vista, New Hampshire, August, 2014

I had an unsettling dream last night. I dreamed that M and I had both gotten jobs back East, him in New York and me in Western Massachusetts, where I went to graduate school. The dream involved lots of logistics–where would we live, could we find a spot in the middle where we could both commute to our jobs, and hadn’t I always wanted to live in New York City? And hadn’t I always wanted to return to Western Mass? And then I woke up, in Berkeley, in our new flat across the street from the old flat. Actually I woke up because my brother, who lives back East, sent a text to my other brother and my mom, who also live back East, and to me, three hours behind, and so at the ungodly hour of 6:15 I rose to silence my phone and then lay there thinking about this dream of moving back East and why it had unsettled me so.

I knew why; it’s because, for the last couple of months, I’ve been feeling decidedly like I don’t know where home is. Last spring, when we were getting kicked out of our house and in a nasty fight with our landlady, M and I pondered–and got close to–buying a house in Berkeley. Unfortunately/fortunately, it didn’t happen. There was disappointment and relief, both, and then we moved into the apartment across the street, and very much landed on our feet. But over the summer, L and M and I went to Maine for three weeks. My brother has a new baby, who I got to hold every day; I hung out with my sister in law as much as I could. I bonded with my niece and nephew, and I recall thinking that it had been the best visit in a long time. Easy, fun, fortifying. And then, we left, and when we got back to California I felt confused, out of sorts, and untethered. And if I’m honest with myself, I still do feel that way.

This feeling–it has been with me on and off since I was 21 and moved to Portland, Oregon, from Boston. I have spent the majority of my adult life on the West coast, far from my tight-knit family. I love them; I love spending time with them; and I also felt and feel a pull to be in the West. Because I make friends easily and well, wherever I go I’m surrounded by community, love, and “chosen family”–I am not lonely, all these miles from where I grew up. The West is in many ways perfect for me. It has everything I need. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss New England; of course I do. Missing it is natural, at times sad, at times conflicting, and at times, just, my lot in life.

What’s hard, what’s truly hard, is my guilt. I am prone to guilt. It’s an emotion I know intimately. And it’s an emotion my parents like to use as a weapon. To wit: for the last week of our visit home, and the five weeks after we got back, I did not have one conversation with my mother that did not involve her pressuring me to come for Christmas this year, even though it is very much M’s mom’s turn to have us. Besides the Christmas pressure, there were the others: If only M could get a job in Vermont, I think you guys would love Vermont and Did you know Pete and Mary are selling their house in Maine, it would be so perfect for you guys…

I think she thinks, if she needles away at us enough, we’ll just do what she wants and move back East.

At first, all I could focus on was that guilt and my anger at my mother for laying that trip on me. At one point, she made a joke about how she wasn’t feeling well (she had a cold at the time) and that we should really try to spend time with her while we could. I didn’t speak to her for a week. Does she think I don’t worry, all the time, about what will happen when she and my dad become unable to take care of themselves anymore and I live 3,000 miles away?

But underneath my anger and guilt, a larger reality looms: California is not home. It can never be home, unless M and I decide, consciously, forcefully, soon, to make it home. To just admit that we will live here permanently. I see around me people whose lives look identical to mine in many ways–their kids are in the public schools here, they work locally, they garden and take trips and pay taxes–but they do so with the knowledge that they’ll be here for twenty, thirty years, that they have no intention of leaving. They settle, they trust, they buy houses and fix them up. And us? We go on, year after year, not knowing where we will be. And it is starting to really wear me down. Not only because I can’t paint my bedroom the color I want or rip out the flower gardens in the back yard–those small things do have a hold on me–but because I honestly don’t know when we will be in a place, a house or a community, that is truly home. And home is important to me. I thought, for a while, Berkeley could be it. This is a great place to live. I could make a home here. But I can’t, because I feel like my family won’t let me, or, more fairly, that I won’t let myself.

I realize that a lot of this comes down to co-dependence. My friend An Honest Mom reminded me that my piece of this is not the same as my parents’ piece. “You can feel sorry that they’re sad you live far away,” she said, “and that can actually not be about you at all.” It was a good reminder. And at the same time, I found myself marveling at her clarity that she lives here in Berkeley (maybe she isn’t so clear, maybe no one is–but from the outside, it seems like they are). I feel so much envy for people who are sure. 

And so, the dream. Waking up, it occurred to me that moving back East would require a Herculean effort–finding jobs, finding a place to live, etc.–but that if we wanted to do it, we could. We could just give in to the guilt, decide to make that choice, and do it. Honestly, we would miss this place, but we would be happy there. We could even give ourselves a time frame, like, we’ll be here until second grade, then go. (In fact, L, who has been telling us that he “hates the drought” and is “worried about the drought” told me the other day that in two years, we should decide where we want to live and go there–odd.)

Or we could muddle on in our uncertainty, and see what happens.

Author: becomingbuddhist

I am a writer, teacher, and mother living in Northern California. Recently I decided to try an experiment in living more mindfully. This blog is my testimonial.

6 thoughts on “Where Oh Where Do I Want to Live?

  1. New England keeps that same hold on me. I don’t know, maybe it will always feel like my real home. But I can say we’ve sunk our roots deep here in Maryland, and we aren’t leaving. That some how steadies me, even though there is nothing particularly wonderful about our house or neighborhood. But after doing a lot of wandering for many years I needed the permanence. This may not work for your family, but I did convince my ‘rents (who’d spent 40 plus years in Rhode Island) to move to be close to me when my dad started to need care this summer. Be well, my friend!

  2. Lise–I didn’t know your folks were now close to you. What a relief. (Not that your dad is needing care, though I know you knew that was coming.) Thanks for the comment, it helps.

  3. I so relate to this, though my parents don’t lay the guilt on as thick as yours. You’re right in your sense of us. We are firmly planted here. But I felt JUST LIKE YOU until 3 years ago–just before Jo turned 2. I pined away for Colorado like a love-sick middle-schooler. I knew I really liked it here and had friends, but I always thought that my life would be just a little more complete if we moved back. Closer to family, to wilderness, big skies…So we started talking seriously about it. What town? What jobs? When? And we went and stayed with some friends in Boulder for 3 weeks, with the intention of living our “regular” lives, AW brought his work along, I brought mine, and we just sussed the whole thing out. It was the best thing I ever did. The trip was somewhat comical in that EVERYTHING possible went terribly wrong. Beyond all of that, just being there for those 3 weeks made it inescapably clear that we had made a home in Berkeley. And that there were many things about living here that still felt not like home to me, but also enough things here that Colorado didn’t have. Flying home from that trip, I also flew away from all that yearning and guilt. It’s still super weird to me that I live in Berkeley. And that its home to me. And that my boys will grow up here. I’m still a Colorado woman through and through, but this, for the conceivable future, is where I want my home to be. I probably already told you that story. But it seems striking given your sitch.

  4. It is a tremendous relief to have them near. Last night we dropped Noah off with my parents so they could go get burgers together, and G and I went out to dinner. Alone. Like normal grown ups. It was wonderful! The past years my mom was guilting me, too, or at least giving me too much wistful “I wish I could see you more,” stuff. And so finally I just started turning it around. “Me, too, Mom. I can’t wait till you and Dad decide to move.” Retired people have choices, too. And just like us parents of young children, they can’t have everything they want all at once. But yes, I am relieved to have my parents close, and relieved that my parents have the support they need to live independently, and that when my dad needs it he’ll get the care he needs without having to leave the community.

    On another note…can I tell you how much I am enjoying being the mom to a now 8 year old boy? This gawky, dirt-encrusted, back-ward ball cap wearing creature still crawls into my lap on occasion, belts out Weird Al lyrics, and is over the moon about his pet hedgehog. I’ve loved this kid from his first breath, but I love motherhood more the older he gets. And on the “is this place really home” front, it is weird to see that as much as I might be a New Englander, and G might be Midwestern, this kid calls Maryland home. He is affronted if we talk about moving, like we are insulting his beloved home. We, the grown ups, might always feel slightly displaced, but the kid will feel that this place is his. Which means when he grows up and moves away he will start the cycle of longing all over again.

  5. Thank you both for such heartfelt comments! It really helps me to hear from you. Though, LC, my parents would never in a hundred years move here. Sigh. But I’m glad yours have gone close to you. XX

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