Diaries Magazine

Rootlessness Versus Roots

Posted on the 23 September 2012 by Maggiecarlise @MaggieCarlise

I actually haven’t abandoned my resolve to blog every day (as laid out here.)  I realize I haven’t actually published a post in a few days, but I have been working on this one.  (A post-in-progress counts as blogging!)

I should note that, despite the four+ days of work, this isn’t some amazing post coming up here!  It’s just that it’s taken me a while to order my thoughts. (I’m not entirely sure I have yet either.)

The post originated when I started trying to figure out what to say to sum up the summer I’ve just spent in the DC area.

The easy stuff first:

I’ve had such a good time this summer!  I wasn’t sure what to expect – and it’s turned out so well.  I knew going in to the summer that I’d have full-time kid-care for the whole period.  I chose to spend the bulk of my time down here in DC (the home of the kids’ dad) rather than in Ohio (where I technically live) so that they’d have lots of access to their dad throughout the summer.

I knew this would test me and my ex just a little bit (that’s a lot of togetherness.)  But it’s really been fine.  We were pretty sure we’d gotten this “friend” thing working pretty well – and we were clearly right, because it held up.  He only has a one-bedroom apartment, so this was mighty close quarters!!  A summer spent camping out on his couch did get a little old for me.  (Privacy!!!!)  But truly, there was so much that made the inconveniences worth it.

Besides how really wonderful it has been to be back with my son on a full-time basis (you can read about the way my ex and I handled physical custody for our son’s Pre-K school year in this post, if you like,) there’s so much about this town that suits me. The metro, for one thing:  a hugely amazing thing for somebody like me, who very much likes to be independent but doesn’t much like to drive.  And the museums!!!  I have a lot more to say about the museums than I’ve yet said.  They’re wonderful – and many are free!  The ability to immerse myself in art again, which I haven’t done to this extent since I was an Art History undergrad, was so great.  And then when you add in the festivals and restaurants and other cultural and urban amenities, this city becomes such a nice place to spend time.

I’m really regretting having to say goodbye to it – but there’s no other way.  The funding for my ex’s job is drying up as of the end of this month, so he’ll be jobless (and so has to move.)  I can’t afford a place here by myself.  So there it is.

My ex likes it here as well.  He’d like to find another job here, but nothing’s panned out yet (though granted he’s only been at it for a little while, so something could possibly still pan out.)  So in a week (a week from today, actually,) I’ll be taking the kids to my parents’ (where I live) full-time.  My ex is going to spend a chunk of his time there too (the month of October at least,) while he’s out of work.

So October’ll be all about being in Ohio.  And after that?

After that, everything is totally up in the air.

I mentioned previously that I’ve had a lot of anxiety lately.  This forthcoming change, with all of its uncertainty, is part of it.  I’m worried about finances, for one thing. Right now, I make only a fraction of what my ex does…and so his looming unemployment is a little daunting in regard to kid-care and such things.  I’ll be able to work more if he’s free to pick up more of the childcare…but still, there’s no possible way I’ll come anywhere close to making up the difference of his lost income.

And then there’s also the fact that wherever he ends up working next, I’ll be moving there.

My tangled feelings about that are what I’ve been trying to sort into a post here.

It’s strange, at this point in our relationship, for my future to be so dictated by his.  We ended things in May 2011.  (Before that, actually, but May is when we split up housekeeping.)  So we haven’t been together in a long time now.  The only reason we aren’t officially divorced yet is due to some legal obnoxiousness regarding how we want to manage childcare monies (I talked about that in this post.)  But the fact remains that it’s our goal to be very fluid in regard to custody stuff.  We want each of the kids to feel that they can be with the parent who can best meet their needs at any given time – without having to wrenchingly and emotionally “choose” between us (hence the Pre-K arrangement.)  We expect this to be a changeable thing (who lives with who) over the years, and want to accommodate such changes easily.  But that kind of fluidity and ease can only function if he and I remain in close physical proximity to each other.

I don’t really mind following him around (or, more accurately, following his job around.)  I think it’s important.  Even if it was something that was very hard for me, I would do it for my kids.  I’m highly against the idea of staying in a relationship that isn’t a good one “for the kids.”  For me, that’s dishonest (among other problems.)  I can’t live in a superficial, inauthentic manner; I can’t fake feelings and emotions that aren’t there – and I don’t believe that’s ultimately a good model under which to raise kids.  But when it comes to living somewhere “cool” versus somewhere where my kids can have easy access to their very hands-on and involved dad??  That’s a sacrifice I’m not only willing to make…it’s one I feel I should make for them.  So long as he and I can maintain a positive and friendly rapport, there’s no reason for the kids to have to do without him (or do without me.)  I want that for them.  They deserve that, I feel – deserve to have both of us or either of us whenever they want us.

Of course, with that said, the reality is that he’ll never have the flexibility to his employment that I have with freelancing and other writing – and he can’t help that.  So I have to be the one to bend in that area.

But truthfully?  It’s not really that hard for me:  ceding the ultimate control over where I geographically base myself.  I think, honestly, that I’m a gypsy at heart – and that really helps me to reconcile losing some control over where I live.  Even if I LOVE the town I live in, I know I won’t be spending all of my time in it.  I can’t.  I have trouble with the stagnation that comes from sitting still too long.  I like my changes of scene.

I’ve always known this about myself.  I used to think it was something I needed to outgrow. Now I think it’s an essential part of who I am – and I want to nurture it.  And I can do that from the place (wherever it turns out to be) that my ex gets a new job.

But I’m regretting the loss of Washington, D.C., from my life to a degree that surprises me a bit!  And I don’t know if it’s the utter transience of living on somebody’s couch for the better part of four months or what, but I’m also realizing that I’m really starting to crave, really deeply crave, home.  Not the room I officially live in in my parents’ house.  Not any of the places I lived when I was still 100% married.  But home as in a place that’s really mine.  A place where I feel like I fit, where I feel alive, where I feel like I belong.

I feel that a little bit here in DC.  The  town suits me.  But I’m not sure this is a perfect spot, really.  The cost of living stresses me out, for one thing.  I love the museums though.  I love the train.  I love the urban energy.  I haven’t been to New York in several years now, but this is why I used to like New York enough to think I wanted to live there someday (the cultural life, the energy, etc.)  I like feeling like I’m in a place where things happen, where exploration and adventure are just steps away.  And living in a place where art (visual art, music, books and learning, creativity) is really valued…this really sort of feeds my soul (sorry I can’t think of a way of saying that that doesn’t sound cliche.  It’s true though.)

I’m not sure how happy I’d be navigating New York with kids, though; kids change things.  DC is very navigable because so much of it is park-like (the National Mall to give the most obvious example.)  Kids also limit your ability to get out and about.  I don’t just mean for nightlife (though that’s for sure.)  I mean they change the way you experience things – sometimes to the good (see this post).  Sometimes not so much!  The awesome thing about the museums in DC being mostly free is that, though I can’t visit them very thoughtfully when I have two pint-sized companions, I do (thanks to the no-admission) get to go often.  Quantity of visits has helped a lot to get over any lack of quality.

But the fact is, with little ones around, I probably don’t need to fret about not living in a very cultural environment.  What I need perhaps is the ability to travel – and a schedule that accommodates traveling on a semi-regular basis.  A few weeks of kid-centric quiet offset by a long weekend immersed in big-city-living??  I could be pretty happy with that, I think.

And there are so many places I want to see, so much I want to experience!  That’s been the best thing about this DC summer, really:  the fact that I was a little intimidated to get out and about (especially as I’d be shepherding the kids everywhere I went.)  But I did it, and I got good at it…and it was empowering.  And feeling that here in this city really made me feel a part of the city, I think.  I think you bond with the places where you “grow.”

The places where you grow positively, anyway.  I certainly grew while I was living in Lawrence (Kansas) – where my marriage crumbled.  But though I can say that I sort of reclaimed myself there, I can’t say that bonded me to the place at all.  On the contrary, I have no desire to ever set foot in that town again.  And it’s not the town’s fault so much as that it’s the place of such painful memories.

The last place I felt as much at home in as I have in DC this summer was Columbus, Ohio, where I went to college.  And I think it was for a lot of the same reasons that I feel bonded now to DC.  I explored Columbus in similar ways, explored myself in similar ways while I was in it – and felt similarly empowered by the process.  Columbus is also a fairly arty city too – and it was the place I studied Art History intensively, so that course of study made it seem even artier than it was!  That suits me.

But I don’t know what that says about the sort of place I need to live in.  I think maybe what it says is that I need to go to museums more often, and big cities.  There’s something I need, like a soul thing, from those places.  I think I need to respect that need in myself.  But I’m not sure my need wouldn’t be at least somewhat met by just traveling to do them regularly.  I’m not sure they HAVE to be right on my doorstep.

I think it might be the exploration that’s even more important to me than what’s right outside my windows.  I read these travel blogs here on WordPress…and some of them are just so amazing.  I haven’t been anywhere.

I mean, I suppose being all over the US (the continental US) isn’t “nowhere”; the US is a big place.  But I’ve only been out of the country once (to Paris.)  I want to venture beyond that!  I want to see what’s out there…put myself in it and explore.  And the idea of doing that, especially on my own, intimidates me about as much as it excites me…and I think there’s a lot to be said for going with the excitement and facing down the intimidation.  I want to do more of that!  I like the way it makes me feel.

So if I have the ability to travel, I really do think I could live pretty quietly for a few weeks at a time.  I would just need to know that I have a regular period of time that I can count on where I would be able to immerse myself in the not-mundane.

In that scenario, though, the actual space I inhabit becomes somewhat monumental, as I wouldn’t be leaving it much.

So I started thinking of what that space would look like.  What would “home” look like if I could make it anything? What do I require in my personal space?  What do I really need?

When I feel anxiety, where do I want to sit and light candles and listen to music and replenish?  In what kind of environment could I just be??

Ideally:  I think there’d be plenty of natural elements:  wood floors and lots of light.  Brick and stone and ironwork all around.  A fireplace.  A little patio, or at least a balcony, with flowers.

It’d have to be big enough to have a bedroom for me and at least one for my kids (preferably one for each of them. )  A little backyard for them to play in while they’re still young, and also for me to entertain in a little.  With some big trees.  A big wide front porch perhaps.

I picture lots of candles and bookshelves and big comfy pieces of furniture (with some sort of aesthetically interesting character to them.)  I want a record player with a really nice collection of albums (I’m kind of fascinated by album artwork.)  And I want art on the walls – real art, not just prints.

That would be nice.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the reason I don’t care that much about following my ex to whatever town his job takes him to is that I don’t need to put down roots – not deep and lasting ones.  Not right now.  There’s a huge amount of appeal to being rootless and just sort of letting the winds take me a bit.

It’s just that I need to land sometimes.

I have to address that somehow.  A huge issue for me in the last months is that when stress happens, I don’t have a place to just step away for a little bit and recharge.  I don’t have a space that feels like its mine.  Going back to my parents’ will be an improvement over my ex’s couch to be sure…but it’s a room in my parents’ house.  It’s not mine.

I need to have a place in my life where I can go to just rest.  To just be.

I seem to be at a place in my life where I have a very strong wanderlust:  I want to put myself in new and stimulating situations, where I can’t fully anticipate what’s going to happen.  And then simultaneously I have a very strong and deep desire for my own space:  a place that I can create and make my own, where I can feel at peace.

I don’t quite know where that dichotomy is going to take me.

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