A few months after arriving in Denver in March of 2009, my friends in other corners of the world started asking me, "And? Are you making friends?" It was kind of hard to answer this question, because, of course, I wanted to say yes. I'd think about the woman I ran into twice at the playground. Was she my friend? I'd think about our next door neighbors with whom we always made small talk AND then they had invited us over for dinner. Were they our friends? Maybe we better hurry up and return that dinner invite, and THEN I could call them friends?
A lot of things were still unsettled about our life, and making new friends always strikes me as, well, quite difficult, to be honest.
I haven't really been ready to make new friends until about a year ago. That might sound terrible - but it's true. If you've ever talked to the therapist Mean Jean, then you know that it takes 18 months after major life changes (Moving. A Marriage. A Birth. A New Job. A Death.) to really process those changes. Eighteen months. Eighteen months sounds like an eternity at the beginning of any major change. And more often than not, it seems like we are in a terrible hurry to get through it. At the park the other day, one of my neighbors confided to me, "It took me almost eight months to get used to this neighborhood!" I thought about Mean Jean and I wondered what kind of effects being in a rush might have.
When you think about how many of us go through ALL of those major life changes in quick succession during our 20s and 30s, it's amazing that we manage to function at all.
Our last major change was buying our house in November 2011. That means, we're only 1 months away from being - well, processed, I suppose. I've posted about how I want to be settled and stop moving and how I want to have roots. Homeownership has does wonders for my sense of place, my sense of wanting to be settled and my actually feelings of being settled. This is all true. But what is also true is that, as we approach 'processed,' I've started to get the moving itch.
Some little fact can throw me a curve ball of desire to hurry up and move. Like the other day, when I heard that the Fritz's old university in Germany has established a fund specifically to financially help young families when one parent is traveling on business. Or the fact that Germany is considering a law that would give grandparents official family leave to help with grandchildren. And just in case you were wondering, the years that a parent spends as a SAHP count towards the equivalent of social security pay-in time in Germany. (I don't think anyone in either country believes social security is a retirement fund anymore; but I do find this gesture to be a significant difference in attitude about the value of parents.) This is information that causes my mind to run for the border. Because I immediately feel frustrated that these support networks and considerations are not an option for us. Then I start feeling a little resentful. Is this response self-centered? ABSOLUTELY.
I start thinking about how last month, Fritz was gone on business for 5 days, and the boys and I flew to Rhode Island where my parents live. This situation was a win-win, because that week happened to be Winter Break for my mother, meaning that she wasn't working. And instead of being the single parent, I sewed some new pants and plucked my eyebrows while grandma stepped into the mommy-role. Still: it's not cheap to fly across the country. It's also not cheap to hire a babysitter and find childcare when it's not something that you normally have. But the benefits of traveling to Rhode Island, should grandparents be available, are significantly greater than any babysitter.
There's something so <sigh> comforting about a government that recognizes the financial value of a parent. And maybe someday, it will come in some form of grandparent assistance. That's so wonderful, I thought, geez, let's move back to Germany.
Then I feel guilty. I think about everything that I have - everything that we are building and growing - slowly over time in Denver. I think how I should be happy and thankful for this opportunity. Optimistic, positive thoughts are not the first thoughts that come to my mind. I'm almost always a skeptic first and a rock of loyalty only with time.
The resulting problem with all the moving throughout my life is that there's always something to be improved - everywhere I've ever lived. The differences are tangible when you've experienced both sides. It's easy to dismiss those experiences that you've never had as insignificant or pie-in-the-sky. And it's not so easy when you have actually lived the difference.
On the other hand, I can finally say that I have friends here in Denver. I hadn't really processed the fact that I have friends until I found myself in Rhode Island. Their absence from my daily life made me sit up and take note. Well, hmm, I thought, I miss people! People who aren't my family! I guess I have friends!
And then Noah got an assignment for Kindergarten in the fall. I felt decidedly grounded when I saw his assignment letter. There it is. An elementary school for 6 years. If we stay in Denver just half of that time, it will be the longest I have ever lived anywhere.
Did I type 'grounded?' Or did I perhaps feel like a ball and chain was just attached to my foot? I folded up the letter and stuck it in the drawer. August is a long time away, I told myself.
Eighteen months. I always think that it takes about eighteen months to establish your traditions, too. The little things with all their particularity that carry momentum and accentuate everyday life: in Portland it was chocolate hazelnut scones at the Daily Cafe. You had to arrive before 7:30 am, or they were likely to be sold out. Unless you got the quarter-sized appetizers, delivered hot to your table with your early brunch. In Munich, it was 6 rolls from the Backspielhaus: thick crusted Sonnenblumesemmel (sunflower seed) and Kurbissemmel (pumpkin), with two chocolate croissants for dessert. After Noah was born, there were always Bretzln (pretzels) which we bought at the Biergarten, dragging the Kinderwagen over the crushed gravel, and carried to the playground with the water chutes and sand tables.
We have our own traditions developed here in Denver now, too. But perhaps I'll save them for another time.