Growing up, I caught frogs and snakes in the pond in the backyard with my brother. We explored the woods behind our house with our cousins and the neighborhood kids and built forts in fallen trees. We lived in a house on two and a half acres on a dirt road, in a town where everyone knew one another and how they were related.
My son, by comparison, lives on a 0.1-acre lot in the ‘burbs, where our yard is limited but the sidewalks extend indefinitely in all directions. There are fewer farms and more restaurants. We couldn’t possibly know everyone in our town (or even on our street), but instead, we have the excitement of continuing to meet new friends. We spend more time at parks and less time in the woods. We might not see deer running through our backyard, but there are plenty of squirrels to watch from our windows, and to a two-year-old, this is equally thrilling.
I adored my childhood, but I have found that different lifestyles have suited me in different chapters of my life. A small town while growing up, a small city for college, a much bigger city for grad school, and for now, the suburbs. We like to go out and try new places and meet new people, and the job opportunities and proximity to a major airport were other factors that influenced our decision.
This is how my husband and I found ourselves raising our son almost two hours from his closest set of grandparents. We’ve had to build our own village, but we did it – and we continue to expand on it – and it’s a blessing to choose the people you want your children to be surrounded by.
There are certainly challenges to living this way (aside from the most salient: we didn’t inherit ready-made babysitters nearby). I don’t have a blueprint to follow. We plan as we go, usually only one step ahead. My parents worked the same jobs that they started in their early twenties until they retired, and they still live in the house on the dirt road that they built before I was born. I don’t know where we will be in two years or five years, professionally or geographically, but I do know our decisions will continue to be different than the decisions my parents were facing at those points in their lives.
Many aspects of my son’s childhood are new to me. He goes to a daycare center one day a week, something I never did. He meets new friends there, and at the park and at playgroups through mutual friends, whereas I knew almost everyone close to my age in my town (and our parents and grandparents grew up together too). There were 75 students in my high school graduating class, which included two small towns, and I had known the majority of my classmates since first grade. He will have options for school, depending on what suburb we decide to live in, which school district we fall into, and whether we opt for public or private. He had been on more flights before age 1 than I had been on when I graduated college.
Here’s the complexity: it’s because of my happy, secure childhood that I feel well-equipped to create a life that fits for me and my husband and son, even though that life is a considerable distance and considerably different from my hometown. My parents raised me to be independent and to think for myself. Some people will find that following their hearts keeps them close to their families; some will venture off to follow a career or a significant other across the globe; and some, like us, will consider all these factors and find a middle ground.
Yes, the life we are creating is different than how I grew up, and at times it’s unfamiliar territory to me . . . but not to my son. This is the only life he knows, and as far as I can tell, he seems to be thriving in it. One day, I hope he can look back on his childhood as I do mine: fondly and with deep appreciation. As Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike,” so in this way, my experience and my son’s have an important commonality after all.