Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Place to Call Home

My beloved an I have lived in our current house for just slightly over five years now. Both our house and our community suit us in many ways. Still, lately I've noticed myself getting a case of itchy feet.

I've always said that folks have a choice between two main alternatives in life: Either you can pick WHERE you want to live, and then make your best deal you can find there in terms of what sort of work to do and what your living circumstances will be. OR, you can pick WHAT you want to do and then go where ever that dream happens to take you.

In the early days of my marriage, my man and I chose the latter. In an economy which makes many believe it takes two incomes to support one family, we had the challenge of supporting two families on one income. My husband had four children from his previous marriage that we would be financially responsible for as well as the family we raised together. On top of that, when my boys were young we were determined that I would stay home to raise them rather than have them grow up in day care. So it was important my husband land a well paying job. When he found a position that seemed to suit him that also paid a decent wage, we decided we'd stick with it, where ever it might take us. However, that WHERE kept changing every few years.

My husband's career has been in agricultural chemical research. (ok all you organic Nature Nazi's, I've heard it don't bother.) He is an educated farmer with a master's degree in entomology. He worked developing insecticides for many years. Now he works on chemicals to kill weeds insead of bugs, but it's still similar stuff. Anyway, he took a job with a little company called Zoecon back in 1982, just a few months after we married. That job necessitated a move from Arizona to Ohio. Talk about culture shock! It was a big adjustment that took more than a little getting used to.

However, just when we were feeling pretty settled there, we got sent to Florida. (There's not a lot of farming happening in Ohio in the winter time.) Later we were transferred to Michigan. Every few years the company would go through yet another corporate merger. Each time that happened, he'd get the news that would go something like this: "The good news is you still have a job. Not everybody does. The bad news is, it's not where you live. So start packing buddy!" We never questioned the moves or even looked at other possibilities. We just said our goodbyes and then re-invented ourselves in whatever new place they put us.

We had some tremendous experiences as a direct blessing of that job. They paid all the expenses for my son's foreign exchange to Denmark. The provided a company vehicle with an allowance for personal use so we got to travel all over the USA at a time when otherwise we never could have afforded it. There were many perks that I'll always be grateful for. But we also sacrificed a lot being corporate nomads.

My kids grew up never really knowing grandparents, aunts, uncles or other extended family. Outside of a few sporadic visits, they were strangers to them. Also our hearts got broken each time we had to leave behind neighborhoods where we had built tight social connections. Not to mention we lost our shirts in more than a few real estate deals because we had to sell our homes quick in order to have the money to get a place in the new location, not willing to endure months separation.

But perhaps the biggest cost was a more or less permanent disconnect in my mind with any sense of belonging. I would enjoy every place that we lived (albeit some more than others.) But I always knew that any day the company could pick us up and plunk us down somewhere new. That made me wary of getting too connected. After five or six moves it got to the point that no place ever really felt like "home." They were each just the place where we happened to be living for a while.

After several more corporate restructurings my husband finally became a casualty of the reorganizations. He lost his big buck job in 1998. After that he started working for the university system which was a whole new ballpark. He made about half as much money with none of the fancy perks, but at least he was home more and didn't have all the crazy pressure. Also, by then our kids were raised and I had started working again, so we were able to live on less income from him. Still, after about five years with Washington State University he got cut again when grants went away. That's why we moved to Oregon, so he could take a job at one of the university research stations here.

The whims of fate have tossed us like tumbleweeds. Now we have lived in this place for what seems like our average stay in a community. Out of sheer habit, I'm feeling like it's time to move again.

Except this time there is no reason to. Larry is at his last job. He will be 62 this coming December. He can work at his current position as long as he likes, it seems. But if there were any big shake ups, he'd just retire.

So that means momma bear gets to become primary wage earner. Whether it's next year or the year after, or whenever it will be - he WILL retire eventually. Some days we think sooner, some days later. But we both acknowledge that day is coming, so we are trying to get prepared for it both emotionally and financially.

Once he leaves his current employment it will be on me to be the one to be sure there are medical benefits and a paycheck coming in. I have a whole set of issues about that. I have worked full time for about ten years now. I am no stranger to work. Still, I've always known that any time I didn't like what I was doing or if I found a better opportunity I had the freedom to jump ship because the daddy of the house provided a cozy safety net. I never had to worry about losing insurance or the wolf at the door if I just opted out of a job, regardless what the reason. Even though I've seldom been out of work, it's now scary for me to think I'll HAVE to work, stuck in a job whether I like it or not.

This is especially crazy making for me because the grant funding for my current position goes away in one more year. What will I do next? I haven't got a clue. I've applied for several different things in the last year and had a couple of interviews. But so far, no brass ring has made itself available to my grasp. There's no reason to panic. I have plenty of time to keep looking to find something more permanent. But with that search comes some choices that I just don't have the answers to.

Some days I think I should just trust that when the time comes that I really need a new job something will turn up here. There may not be a whole lot of good jobs in this region, but I don't need a job market. I just need one solitary job. So I tell myself to be patient and continue to learn the lessons my current post has to offer me.

But other times I get edgy and nervous, believing I better scramble for a more permanent position as soon as I can find one. Particularly in light of my 50th birthday looming closer and closer, I worry about being considered "too old" for a lot of jobs, or that some window of opportunity will close up tight as a clam shell if I don't grab it now.

So through all this we've talked some about whether or not we will stay here or if we would be willing to move if I found a job I liked someplace far away. We have no family close by and nothing permanent to hold us. Sure, I love my house. But it's just a house. We've got lots of history in leaving houses before. We know the drill.

But what about the people? Are we willing to do that all over again?

Part of me hungers to put down roots, to trust PLACE, to build this into a location of belonging. Yet part of me says my home will be the crook of my man's arm, and where ever we are together, that is where we'll be home. As I cruise through the job posting of various colleges all over the western United States I wonder whether it makes sense to keep blowing from pillar to post or if I want to dig in my heels and find some way to keep this our home.

I was so proud of Mimi and her family recently when they had a choice to make....move to follow a job that is changing locations or stay put in a community they cherish. They chose to stay. It means they don't know right now what they will do in terms of income. But they are trusting it will work out somehow, and they recognize the value of close friends, congregation, and sense of familiarity. Oh, how I envy that.

But then I start to question the loyalty I have for this place. We moved here by happenstance of a job, not willful choice of selecting the area. Sometimes I think this might be the time for us to mindfully pick where we would most like to live and that I could then concentrate my efforts there. But honestly, I haven't a clue where that would be. I've learned there are pros and cons in every location. I know how to bloom where I am planted. I just don't know if it makes sense to stay in my current pot or look for more fertile ground in another field.

So the flip side is to really try to sink in deep and make this a permanent home. What a switch that would be. Oddly, I feel like I could continue to live here another 40 years till they carry me away in a pine box and I'd always feel just one U-haul away from being someplace else.


The Rev. Dr. Kate said...

I can very much idenitify with your post. My sibilings and I grew up being moved every year or so as my Dad moved his way up the corporate ladder. By the time I was 14, I had moved 11 times! I know the feeling of not having roots and feeling itchy to move on when you finally sink some roots down!
And as a widow with two children dependant on me, I also understand the paycheck/health insurance concern. What I have finally discovered after years of worry is that if I am doing what God calls me to do, the next opportunity appears over the horizon at exactly the right time!
Blessings on your journey.

Anne Bradshaw said...

I can relate to this blog. We've moved more times than I care to count. Just hope we didn't give our children a moving complex. I've come to the conclusion that no matter how hard we try to get each house exactly where and what we want, there will always be something that isn't quite right. It's been fun trying though.

Rachel said...

I can really relate to this too. My dad was in the army. We all have the moving itch still. I have been in the same city for five years now. That is my record! And I wonder if I can hold out for one place much longer or if the itch will eventually be scratched.

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