Way back in January, I told you all that my word for 2016 was going to be home. I’d actually been considering “forward” as a possible word for the year, because I was hoping it would give me some momentum. I was miserable at work, feeling as though I didn’t fit in with my colleagues and missing Nugget horrendously through the day. I was facing the prospect of another endless Buffalo winter spent slogging through slush and picking my way over ice patches into May. I was moving houses (again) and – while I didn’t want to keep the house I was in – I was dreading the prospect of packing, unpacking, and living in limbo for the next six months or longer. “Forward” seemed like a good word to focus on, a word that would remind me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, until another word jumped out at me. I remember exactly when it happened. It was December, I’d parked my car in the Main Place parking garage (in my favorite wide pull-through spot that I had to leave early to get – sometimes my one smile of the workday) and I was crossing the driving lane to get to the elevator when a word popped into my head, completely unbidden. HOME.
Just a couple of months before, Steve and I had had a “where are we going with this family?” conversation. I’d been unhappy in Buffalo for more than a year, but had been trying to make it work for Steve and the kids. It helped that much of that time, I was either distracted by pregnancy or was enjoying a sun-drenched maternity leave with Nugget. But even on the good days, I was weighed down by a sense of wrongness. Meanwhile, Steve was coming to his own conclusions, and in November, he told me he agreed with me – it was time to go. The question was, where? Since before Nugget’s birth, we had been talking – at first casually, and then increasingly more seriously – about destinations. Sometimes one of us would throw out a truly crazy proposition. “Let’s buy an old house in Provence and renovate it like Peter Mayle,” I would suggest as we drifted off to sleep. Or, “Let’s live in a cottage in the Cotwsolds like Stephen and Geri,” Steve would half-joke (referring to a pair of DC friends of ours who have since moved and are splitting their time between the Pacific Northwest and England – livin’ the dream). Ultimately, we narrowed the options down to three: staying in Buffalo and changing the things that weren’t working for us in the area; moving out to Denver to be closer to my brother and sister-in-law; and going HOME. Which meant DC.
As you likely already know, we ultimately decided to move back to the DC area, and here we are in northern Virginia feeling in many ways as if we’d never left, and in other ways as if we’d been gone for ages. Some of the changes – mostly our changes – are good. Steve is in a better place, career-wise, than he was when we left the area three years ago, and since a career move was the entire purpose of our relocation, it feels good to know that we made the right decision back then. And of course, the main thing that is different is that there’s a fourth member of our family now.
Back when we lived in Buffalo, people were often confused when I’d refer to DC as “home.” I fielded many questions about how I came to consider DC my real home, when I wasn’t born there and didn’t grow up there. Most of the time, I answered those questions simply: DC is where I grew up, I’d say. It’s where I became who I am today. When I was (rarely) feeling like expanding on that, I’d add: I moved to DC when I was twenty-one. Just about every major adult thing happened to me when I lived in DC. I graduated from law school, passed the Bar, became a lawyer, got married, bought houses and became a mother in DC and northern Virginia. I’m who I am today because I lived there. I think people understood that. Either they understood or they decided it wasn’t worth asking more questions.
But the truth goes even further than that. To me, home isn’t just where you grow into yourself or where grown-up stuff happens to you. Home has a meaning far beyond that, and one I’m not sure I will be able to put into words – although I’m going to try. To me, a home is a place where you’re completely safe and free to be who you are or become who you hope to be. It’s a place where you feel a deep belonging. It’s not just about being around people who knew you when – I’ve had that and not felt at home. It’s about the feeling of rightness you get when you’re in your place. It’s a deep knowing. And perhaps the deepest truth is the simplest at all. How is DC my home when I wasn’t born there? Because in DC, I am me.
That’s not to say there haven’t been other places that were close to my heart, or where I felt at home even if I wasn’t home. I have a place in my heart reserved for the Adirondack Mountains, especially the lake where my parents have a cabin. And then there’s Ithaca, which will always be an important place for me – the first place I lived on my own, the location of my beloved Cornell, and the place where I first started dating Steve, where we started a journey of love and friendship that has lasted sixteen years now and will go on for many more beyond that. And there were pockets of space in Buffalo that felt almost home-like. My office, when I was working with one partner in particular with whom I was well-matched – I remembered what it felt like to love my job and feel like I was in the right place during those projects. East Aurora, where I would take Nugget for long walks during my maternity leave and where Steve and I talked about moving if we decided to stay in New York. And perhaps most of all, the kids’ preschool. There were days when I’d walk through that gate three times – in the morning for drop-off, at lunch to nurse Nugget, and in the afternoon for pick-up – and each time, the vise around my heart would loosen and I would smile a genuine smile when greeting the receptionist, the school directors, the kids’ teachers and the other parents. The school was one of our places, where we knew we were family. Steve was on the parent advisory board, our kids were beloved, and I knew everyone. It was a home.
At the beginning of the year, I didn’t quite know what my word, home, was going to end up doing in my life – but I knew I needed whatever it was. I thought to myself, “I want to go home to DC. But if that doesn’t happen, I have to find a way to be at home wherever I am.” As it turned out, I made it home. I’m back in DC, back in my old stomping grounds – eating at my favorite restaurants, walking streets I know like the back of my hand, and resuming local friendships that had been painfully long distance for three years too many. (Just in time to welcome two new babies to our friendship circle! And this time, I’ll get to hold them and kiss their little cheeks and tell them that Aunt Jaclyn loves them.) Life isn’t perfect and never will be. But it feels good to be home, finally, after three years adrift.
Where’s home for you?