Distance

Today, while I was tidying up our bedroom, my 20 month old reached into a bathroom drawer and pulled out a bag my mom keeps at our house filled with essential toiletries. My parents (and in-laws) live across the country, but my mom used to (pre-COVID) visit frequently. To avoid buying new toiletries whenever she arrived, we started keeping a bag for her so that it would always be ready for the next trip.

My heart was heavy when I saw that bag. Who knows when the next trip will be? We canceled our trip last month as well as the upcoming one in July. She canceled her trip in June. The big unknown is August. Will she come out for this baby’s birth? She has been such an integral part of each child’s early days that I have no idea how we will handle it alone. And if school doesn’t open in the fall, how will we handle a newborn and a 2 year old while homeschooling a preschooler and kindergartener?

There are so many things to worry about. If she travels, are we putting her at risk for getting COVID? Would she need to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival? Would she be stuck here for the second surge of this pandemic? What if my father gets sick and she is unable to be there right away (and would she need to quarantine upon arrival)? Is she at higher risk of getting COVID around my kids than she would be at home?

Of course I want her to be here, but I also feel that it would be a selfish request. We’ll talk more about it as the date draws closer, but I’m going to prepare for the newborn days without her.

This pandemic has highlighted the distance between us. My husband and I have lived away from our families throughout the entirety of our 13 year relationship. We moved to California a decade ago. There have been times when it felt farther than others, but we always knew we were a (relatively) short flight away from home and our families. COVID-19 has changed everything. Flying feels so risky and it seems silly to endeavor it when we are so carefully sheltering in place in every other respect. I don’t see this changing any time soon, and the prediction is that this is going to last months to years. My hope is that our families stay healthy during this time, but I also recognize that we don’t have limitless years left with our parents and it is such a shame to missing out on time when they are well and able to enjoy their grandchildren.

So much to be sad about during this unprecedented time. For now, I’m going to keep my mom’s toiletry bag tucked in the bathroom drawer, hoping that her next trip is not too far away.

Toddler tears

Tonight is our last night visiting our families, who live on the opposite coast. We fly out here often (and vice versa) so that our children can still be close to their grandparents, even though we live far apart.

I tucked my kids into bed tonight and reminded them that I would wake them up early in the morning (“tomorrow”) to fly back home. My oldest seemed to process this information quickly, but then called me back into the room a minute later. “What does tomorrow mean?”

“Tomorrow will be when you wake up,” I said. His eyes welled up with tears and his lower lip quivered. “But I don’t want to go home!” he said. “I like being at grandma and grandpa’s house. I don’t like our house and I don’t like my school!” For reference, he is 3.5 years old and has never expressed a dislike of our home nor his preschool.

His words broke my heart. The back-story here is that I myself often wonder if we’re doing the right thing living far away from family. I have discussed moving back home countless times with my husband (ad nauseam really) but he’s adamant that we are building a better life for our kids by staying where we are, and in many ways I think he’s right.

I didn’t feel a desire to flock back home until after I had kids. My husband and I both left home at 18. We come from involved and attentive families who sacrificed their own quality of life to provide us with everything we needed, and we subsequently both attended the same Ivy League college. After college we went our separate ways but found ourselves living in the same city (not near our parents) a few years later. 9 years after college, we moved together to the opposite coast because it’s what we wanted to do. We had both flirted with the idea and thought it would be a great time to try it. We ultimately stayed because my husband achieved some career success locally, even though, had I been single, I would have likely left the state. After our first was born, we stayed because we had a house and great jobs, and we have stayed since for similar reasons: it’s comfortable, we have short commutes, we have great careers, we love the area.

I grapple with staying a lot (my husband, who is very rational and pragmatic – as I have mentioned – does not). I often wish we had extra sets of hands to help out with the kids. We are on our own in terms of childcare, with the exception of that which we pay for. I also think the kids would grow to be more well-rounded if they had different caregivers intimately involved in their care. We have a lovely nanny, and she has been around since my first was born, but as much as we trust her, it’s just not the same as family. My closest friends are also here, and I find it so time-consuming to make adult friendships, especially with kids and working full-time. I also think about the fact that our parents are getting older. These are the years they will enjoy with their grandkids – when the grandparents are young enough to spend quality time with them and the grandkids are young enough to love spending this time with them, before they become self-absorbed teenagers. If anything happens to our parents, will I regret not living closer when it mattered the most?

More and more of our friends and acquaintances are moving out of state, for one reason or another. Some days I yearn to be one of them as well – packing up the house, putting it on the market, starting our lives elsewhere. But really I would only move back home, which is funny because I didn’t particularly love growing up here. As I’ve mentioned, my parents were great, but I moved when I was about to start high school, and this put a bit of a damper on everything. Adolescence is tough! I actually disliked my house for the longest time, but now that I’m an adult who has purchased a home in a high cost-of-living area, I can’t help but think: it’s so large! Look at all of this space and land! What a steal!

I am sure my oldest will wake up feeling fine tomorrow morning, but I don’t think my own feelings will be forgotten so quickly. I don’t know what the right answer is, and I don’t want to pressure my husband into making a decision until I am certain it is the right choice. And so I’m stuck in limbo, flying back and forth, feeling not-quite in each place, trying to put a positive spin on the situation for my kids. It reminds me of a few lines I read in the book “This Is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel:

‚ÄúThis is how it always is. You have to make these huge decision on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands. Who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don’t get to see the future. And if you screw up – if with your incomplete contradictory information you make the wrong call – nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake. It’s impossible. It’s heartbreaking. It’s maddening. But there’s no alternative.”