It has been ten months since we sold out house and moved to Wisconsin. We love it here, and are glad we made the move. But as I sit inside today, aware that a storm is barreling down on us that will likely keep us inside for a few days, I am feeling a bit closed-in and secluded. Specifically, I am missing my children, and I am thinking about the effect that our move may have had on them, and us.
Some people stay close to home. They don’t go far away, but if they do, they come back. I know children who left for college or worked out-of-state for a few years, but now they are back only a few miles from where they grew up. Now their children join the very same soccer leagues that their parents played on twenty-five years before; the parks, the schools, the favorite restaurants are the same in childhood as in adulthood. An advantage of course, is that those kids and parents and grandparents hang out.
There are other ways of staying close to home. I know young women in their late 20s or early 30s who talk, by phone or skype, with their mothers every single day. They are grown, they have married, so they talk recipes and home decorating; they give play-by-plays of the details of their ordinary lives. I have opinions whether this is healthy, but there is also something I envy in those mother/daughter relationships that have turned to fast friendships.
My sons, however, did not “stay close.” We allowed for it, expecting nothing else. We paid for out-of-state colleges and congratulated them on out-of-state job offers. We asked for the once-a-week call on Sundays, but did not whine if they missed a week. We expected that, as young men finding their way in the world, they would learn for themselves how to pay rents on time, when to change the oil in their cars. We were there to offer advice and help when they wanted it, but we did not want to hover, interfere. We were proud as they grew increasingly independent.
But of course, this independence meant that they became self-sufficient. In the process, we developed habits with them that have not involved daily phone calls or weekly dinners. But my children are great people, and I love them. When we are together, there is nothing better, so I find myself wishing they were nearer. I find myself wondering if we had tried to keep them closer, would they be closer?
I have noticed and listened to a similar wistfulness among other retirees who, like us, have moved away from the places we raised our children. That’s a lot of past to leave behind us- a past that can’t be packed up and put into boxes. In moving, we left the sidelines of those Saturday soccer fields, the libraries, the elementary schools and favorite pizza cafes: all those places where our children laughed and played and grew up.
The fact is that our children will come to visit us here, but they will never live here. And today, I am pining the fact that our move means, in a very final way, we will never have the closeness of children who live in the same town.
I thought this post was about moving, and the losses we incurred by making the choice to relocate. However, as I write, I am thinking more about parenting. It is right to let our children grow up, but this does not mean they must necessarily grow away from us. I’m realizing that we might make new habits that keep ties strong between phone calls and across states. We must let our children be who they need to be apart from us, but we should remind them, too, how much they are a part of us. That’s true whether our kids live across the street or across the country.