There was this Rick Moody article in the Times that made me think about the place my kids are growing up. Since the birth of his daughter, Hazel, a year and a half ago, the word “home” has taken on new meaning for him, especially as he watches her learn, engage with, and map the little world she lives in. Abby and Penny’s home isn’t mine. What does that mean for our family?
I moved to San Francisco quite by accident, landing here in a snit as I extricated myself from a long and annoying relationship. I thought six months on the west coast would be refreshing, but then I fell in love with a guy who couldn’t move away from his kids, and then I married and had my own kids with him. Meanwhile, my sister and I had our kids in what I call “lego order” – her first, then me, then her, then me, so that our children fit together in a neat foursome that I would be an idiot to break up.
Nonetheless, I define myself by my role as an unmoored New Yorker. God help me, I complain about the bagels. I ogle pictures of changing leaves. I cannot read “Knuffle Bunny” to Penny without pointing out that “Mommy used to live right here! See? Up the street on this page!”
So it’s been startling to watch myself soften on the subject of “home.”
First of all, I’ve completely demolished the definition I grew up with. My parents bought a gorgeous, rambling, clapboard house at the top of a hill overlooking a park. It has a fireplace on which I remember knocking those canisters of pre-made biscuits (that was how we opened them). It has a backyard where we could sled, garden, swing, and picnic, that led into a deep and mysterious, raspberry-filled forest. It has a central vacuum cleaner and a laundry chute that goes from the top floor to the basement (like in the first “Good Dog, Carl” book). I lived in that house for my first 18 years, and much as I’m defined by the next 24 spent in and around New York City, I’m also defined by that house and its familiar crannies and mothball scent.
My kids have spent their lives in tiny apartments, and have already moved once and (god willing) will do so at least once more, when our ship comes in. So that rootedness of place doesn’t seem like it’ll be theirs. On the other hand, I’ve put down emotional roots that their little roots are entwining with, and ripping us all out to move back East when the youngest stepkid goes to college (in 8 years) suddenly seems a lot less possible.
There’s our synagogue. There’s my sister and her family. There’s the rec center we go to, where I can email the director and she’ll switch me to a different class even though she’s not supposed to. There’s the MUNI system, which is frustratingly bad but which also responds to emailed complaints. (Imagine emailing someone because the R train was late? Which would be louder, the thundering silence or the laughter of everyone you told?)
And there’s winter. Lordy, McShmordy. As much as I hate the freezing summers here, I have to tell you that the first year I realized it was March, and I hadn’t had to deal with an itchy scalp, freezing eyelashes, scaly skin, and a puffy upper lip from the constant snot assault, I thought, “I could live with this.”
And for Penelope and Abby, there’s this: The friends we’re making now. The not having to wear hats, gloves, or those infernal snow suits. Penny’s little feet have climbed the wooden play-structure behind the library a hundred times already. Both girls cry if the weather goes below 60 or above 80 degrees – the true mark of a San Franciscan. And while Penny doesn’t recognize the Mets logo on my favorite sweatshirt, she hollers “BALL GUYS! GAME!” when she sees the orange and black Giants logo.
The local natural-history museum has this brass tortoise statue, and I’ve taken a picture of Penny on it every few months since she could sit up. There’s this family Easter celebration hosted by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a posse of drag queens who wear nuns’ habits and roller skates. There are singalong movies at a restored beaux-arts theater. I’m not saying home – my home – doesn’t have great stuff, but this is what the kids know. They’re from here. My kids are from somewhere else.
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t bitch about something, so I’ll keep moaning about snowfalls so quiet you can actually hear the flakes drop, subways that run all night, and museums that take days to explore. But this is shaping up to be my kids’ home – where they are from! – so I’d better make my peace with it.
Are you from the same place your kids are from? Do you worry about a culture gap?