When You Change Everything Changes
It was my first visit back home in over a year. I’d been in Minnesota for college,
and returned home just long enough to marry and move to North Carolina.
I returned with a year old baby, the wife of a medical student, struggling to put
food on the table, though at that time in life materials things don’t matter much.
This town I returned to, I had hated. Why? Because we had moved every 3 years, and
it had been fine until this time, but it was 3 weeks before high school, and what
kid would want to start a new high school of 4,000 not knowing a soul? My Dad infuriated
me by acting like he’d done me a favor, and I made it clear to him he had ruined
my life. We dug into our positions.
“Why did you do this to me?” I bellowed.
“You ought to appreciate it,” he said, and told me why, but I didn’t listen. “You’ll
appreciate it some day,” he said, finding me beyond reason.
What did I hate? The size of the school, having to compete with Ann-Margret (the
movie star) if I wanted to sing in the musical, their Chicago accents, and the crowning
blow – my advisor dubbed me “Sue” the first day and I never got rid of it. In fact
my favorite thing about going off to college was being able to reclaim my name.
If I hadn’t sunk into the victim position, I might have been able to reclaim it
I hated the gray skies and the freezing winter wind, but I hated spring worse. They
released us at spring break to wander the streets in wretched weather with dirty
snow everywhere. My family never got to go on a cruise like everyone else’s. But
I hated the summers worse because it was never hot enough to get a tan. Not a happy
camper, I gathered evidence to substantiate my feelings.
Fast forward to my return to this "horrible" place. Winnetka is one of
the affluent suburbs on the North Shore of Chicago. A planned community nestled
on the shores of Lake Michigan, with more Frank Lloyd Wright houses than anywhere
else in the nation, it is astoundingly beautiful, a place you dream of living.
With my blinders off and my attitude corrected, I saw it from my Dad’s point of
view. He worked hard to give us the best he could, and how proud he must’ve been
to move us there. In fact I remember the pride in his walk as he showed me around
the first week there.
“It’s the best public high school in the nation,” he told me, and the education
I received got me into one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation.
The crime rate was so low we never locked our doors. Everything was a short drive
away, and there was always parking. There was everything Chicago has to offer –
the art museum where I spent many a Saturday, recently voted best in the nation.
Parks within walking distance which they froze in the winter for skating.
As I drove through the village, the sun slanted through the trees on either side
of the wide road that arched overhead.
“You can’t tell me people don’t think about future generations,” my Dad often said.
“Someone planted all those trees who never lived to see them.”
“This is the most beautiful place on earth,” I mused to myself, astounded at my
earlier perceptions and attitude. Could this really be that “horrible place”? As
a parent, I could only dream of providing such for my own child some day. Most of
all I was stunned at what I had missed, in my retelling of this terrible place.
Once I had closed my mind, I hadn’t let any fact intrude. I had had plenty of good
times there – how could you not – but in the retelling, you wouldn’t have known
I went over in my mind what I had then that I had no more – I had taken for granted
and devalued a lake in the back yard with boating as well as beauty, nationally
acclaimed museums and cultural events, convenience, service people who knew you
by name, the best public education possible at the time, nice people, and safety.
I had the inklings of a lesson … how your attitude effects your perceptions and
your thoughts affect your emotions. But it took a few more rounds because moving
is difficult. You wonder if there will be friends, and worry about the unknowns.
My husband and I continued the family tradition of moving every 3 years. By the
2nd move it had finally sunk in that there’s beauty everywhere, something to appreciate
that you’ll miss like hell when you leave and may never see again in your life,
and nice people everywhere. If they call you something you don’t like, you “just
say no,” and you get used to the weird accents.
When we left Durham and moved to Cincinnati, I missed the cozy town, the ocean,
and the lovely parks, but I gained a cul-de-sac that was like a kibbutz for my only
child, great restaurants, and the entertainment opportunities of a big city. It
was the gloomy snow belt again, but there wasn’t mold in the back of the closets.
It’s always a tradeoff.
Back we went to Durham, then on to San Antonio, Texas. When we got to San Antonio,
I missed the colorful four seasons, and getting anywhere in 5 minutes, but rejoiced
in the sunshine, the plethora of restaurants, and the multicultural influence. The
first tornado warning scared me, and the rattlesnakes, scorpions and tarantulas
were unnerving, but I remembered how I’d adjusted to the mold on the back of closets
in Durham and the slugs on the back porch, no less unnerving. I was learning to
cope with change, and handle transitions.
I realized the things I’d missed, and so learned to approach the next move with
optimism, to seek and find and appreciate the good in it, and to enjoy it every
day. In fact I’d immediately start a mental list of “things I’m gonna miss a lot
one day” to stay focused on the positive, enhance my enjoyment, and bloom where
I should add that my mother complained the entire time she lived in Winnetka, which
is no doubt where I learned that attitude. I was lucky to get the lesson in my face
so young. Right now I’d love to have had the life she had then, as far as the location
was concerned, but of course it wasn’t the place that pained her, it was the pain
inside her that made the place unbearable. It was just easier to blame it on the
place than to do the work on the pain inside.
You see, moving doesn’t really solve anything if you’re miserable, because you take
you with you. It’s cleaning up the place inside you that allows you to find the
best wherever you are and find the good wherever you are – and that, of course,
it figurative as well as literal.
P.S. I appreciate it, Dad.
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