We’re standing in a house somewhere in Minnesota. It has two more bedrooms than our condo in the Chicago area. It has an extra bathroom (and a half), a yard with a built-in barbecue, basketball hoop, two-car garage and property taxes so laughably low that it’s hard to believe this all comes for about the same price as where we live now.
My third- and first-graders are running around claiming bedrooms for themselves and, for a brief second, it’s hard to think of any of the reasons keeping us where we are in suburban Illinois. A casual curiosity to see what we could get on budget during a long weekend getaway visiting family has turned into a serious examination of our lifestyle and how we want to live in the future.
From the moment my oldest was born, we’ve known our 100-year-old apartment couldn’t be home forever. Four people, a dog and a frog can only live in a tiny two-bedroom space in one of the most expensive areas of the United States for so long. Yes, we love the community and take pride in its history, diversity, values and activism but it has slowly become something we’re less sure about.
Our village has fallen short in several ways that leave us wondering if this is a pattern to expect going forward. We’ve not given up on it completely, but we occasionally browse the local real estate ads hoping to find the rare, affordable three-bedroom home. Maybe it’s partly because we can then tell ourselves that we tried to find another home here. Maybe it’s to make it easier to tell our friends that we’re not moving away and never looking back.
Having the hard conversation about moving
Over the past few months, our family has had a few of those “car conversations” that parents know too well where a deep, complicated topic comes up on the way to somewhere and you find yourself sitting in a parking lot talking about it because now seems like as good a time as any. We’ve tried to begin the mental preparations of asking our kids to leave the only home they’ve ever known. It’s especially hard on my son who never wants to go anywhere or do anything. My daughter, on the other hand, told me after we returned home from our Minnesota trip that she wants a porch swing — something impossible in our current circumstances.
My daughter was in a unique Spanish immersion program for kindergarten that has a waitlist. My son has a laundry list of ethnic food establishments that cater to his finicky tastes. We can have Indian on Tuesday, authentic tacos on Wednesday, Thai on Friday, and gourmet pasta at a kids-eat-free place on Mondays. We can walk to multiple transit stations, the local food co-op, and the free weekly festival just a few blocks up our street.
But the world is a big place. How do you teach a child that there is both positive and negative in the comfortable and familiar? How do you, as an adult, weigh your love of wide-open, natural spaces with a love of busy, compact city life?
And, in an especially tricky conversation in the Trump Era: how to factor in the political consequences? How do you raise children to be multicultural and global citizens in a red state? What does raising a feminist daughter look like away from an urban area where she may not see the same examples of equality? What if the population where you want to go is mostly white? Is being close to extended family really important? If moving to a new location involves the purchase of a second car, how do you create the spreadsheet of pros/cons to figure all of this out? There are finances and existential questions.
And then comes the ever-present, comforting weight of staying exactly where you are.
Leaving offers exploration and discovery
So far, our tactic has been to emphasize moving as exploration and discovery. There are billions of people in the world, thousands of cities, hundreds of countries: why not try to encounter some of them? Yes, the job market has to be OK and we’d probably appreciate less harsh winters or a less flat landscape than Minnesota offers. But, ultimately, the people who keep saying the same thing to us over and over and over again are probably right: moving is not going to get easier when they’re older. Indeed, the longer we stay, the more enmeshed we are. If we’ve ever had visions of living abroad or in the mountains or on a beach then the time is probably now.
Even if that means saying goodbye to our local custard shop. We’ll probably find another and have new memories of stepping up to a new window and ordering our new “usual.”
As a dad, it’s tough for me to imagine finding a new group of fathers to hang out with, a new group of cyclists to ride with, a new group of people so active in a different community. But the internet helps. For as much as we like to bash the way social media and screens affect our lives, I know that 2018 promises many more connective opportunities than in the past no matter where we go. Whether it’s finding an expat network abroad or a group of trail runners who like to hit the woods on weekends, I can’t imagine how difficult, isolating and daunting a move would have been pre-internet. People did it, but now you can have a reply within 10 minutes to a “hey we’re new please meet us at the playground” post.
I’m thankful to belong to a group like City Dads. We’re in, what, 30 cities now? If I need to find a good beer almost anywhere in the nation, there’s a waiting network of friendly guys online or in real life who can help our family navigate new waters. And City Dads Group is one of many such organizations. We’re blessed to live in an era where finding people with common interests and common experiences is … common. Maybe I’ll see some of you soon.