So, we are leaving South Carolina. My experiment in southern housewifery is over, and I have to say it is with a great big sigh of relief.
A sense of relief not unlike the shockingly icy temperature of a Maine ocean on a hot summer day. I’ve been longing for that burst of coolness, refreshment from the stagnant. I’m actually looking forward to the fall and a change of scenery.
I miss my family, and we’ve done enough exploring here. The South is a different country from New England, with a different value system and culture from what we prefer. I want to raise my son in a place where being different is not jeered at, a place that values education and alternative takes on life. I’ve met acquaintances with many new variety of tree, plant and human. I recognize the weather, speech and traffic patterns, and I am okay with eliminating the term “y’all” from my vocabulary. Maybe some day I will curse the snow, but I miss those gray winter landscapes, and we all miss poking around in the woods without fear of lurking alligators and snakes. But, I have no remorse haughtily saying see ya to cockroaches. Its been like a year abroad for us, and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience the regional differences in the country, not just overseas.
I have made a list of things I love about South Carolina.
…in no order of importance:
- Meandering the trails at the James Island County Park
- Easy to one of the top ten beaches in America
- Sitting outside on the patio all year long
- This place. And the view from this bar
- Walking along the battery with iced tea on a Sunday morning, and stopping to let our son splash in the pineapple fountain
- The amazing quality of local fruits and vegetables available all year–and my new love affair with okra
- Hearing the trees rustle outside our bedroom windows (never the dull roar of sirens and traffic)
- The general lack of anything even slightly resembling traffic
- My rediscovery of a genuine yoga practice
- How my plants flourished here–my lavender blossomed this year for the first time in 6 years.
It has been a swell year, but I think if I was really honest with myself I knew we weren’t really going to live here for long. It was a fun temporary change, this sojourn in southern living.
I am confused! I used to love living in Boston, the construction and the sirens were a charming white noise, and the hot stepping industriousness of the masses excited me, even if I was just pretending to be part of the pack on my way to Neimans. I loved living in a 874 square foot apartment stacked neatly above and beside other square living spaces. It was liberating to go to the grocery store and keep my head down, not making eye contact was part of the game (judge people based on their walk and their shoes, not their facial expression, I learned). I rarely got upset by traffic, I began to appreciate public radio and audio books, I walked everywhere I possibly could, and I outsourced all my errands that there was a market for.
Living in the city, we started to hold hands when we crossed the street, not for safety, but to feel a connection among the multitudes of people we were surrounded by all day. I shared tables at the library, knew where all the free dog bags were, sat rubbing elbows with strangers at bars, and discovered the easiest route across Mass Ave during rush hour. I learned to strip my pants off at the gym mere inches away from other women (it is much more efficient to forgo modesty when you’re changing into a bathing suit).
But something about my attitudes towards city dwelling has changed in the last three months. I guess I’ve gone soft in my new state of semi-retirement and stay-at-home motherhood. I have an expectation that people will return phone calls, & emails, especially when one spends 45 minutes composing the latter to a fellow new mother with solicited advice on things already learned. I have little free time, and believe me, I would have preferred to spend it working on my nano project, taking a bath and eating chocolates, bouldering, or playing with my toddler; not recounting my days with the nightmare inducing medela pump, or reliving my first days of returning to work after maternity leave. Sure, we’re all busy, in the city and in the suburbs, but what is it about some people who have such colossal stores of disregard for other people? Boston traffic illuminates this clearly: try driving near the city on I-93 between 3 and 5 in the afternoon, and please, try to find me one example of someone who isn’t entirely offensive and self-interested. The dudes driving the new mercedes or giant SUVs are on the ultimate ego trips, if you ask me.
Anyways, I recently returned from a ten day trip to New England. We flew in and out of Boston in favor of convenient flight times, and though I had moments of awe as I looked up at the skyscrapers, I was mostly disappointed by what I left behind. I spent six years of my life running in the city rat race, though I didn’t really realize it until going back. I joined in on restaurant week fun, tried not to be appalled when a friend’s husband nonchalantly ordered $100 bottles of wine, shopped for cocktail dresses at overpriced boutiques I’ve only ever worn once, attended various bridal and baby showers at over-hyped trendy cafes. I guess I did a fine job of feigning interest, but I have no desire to take part in those activities anymore. Don’t get me wrong, Boston is beautiful, and I loved my time there, but looking back my attitudes were all wrong and much of the time I was helping to perpetuate the Masshole stereotype. I was pregnant during our last seven months of living in our little apartment on Beacon Street, and in that time my husband and I nested, lived quietly, walked the streets and observed small marvels of life existing there; we grew kinder. It was quaint, and I had as much fun in those months as I had when we were regularly meeting people out on the town.
Living in the South, I think I am starting to understand what the Dutch (and Europeans in general) meant when they said that people get colder the further north you go, and friendlier as you travel south. I don’t know if it is the cold weather in Boston that gets people going on the rude train, but it is a lifestyle I am so glad I am no longer perpetuating. I wish I could go back and apologize to all the friends I cancelled on last minute, all the times I snagged a taxi when someone else five feet away was looking at it hopefully. I want to take back the crappy tips I gave to delivery food drivers for being half an hour late with our dinner because of traffic, and I forgive the pedestrians who walked out in front of me when my stoplight changed before they could halt their stride.
I’m not saying that people in the South are superior. I am sure I’ll find their (our?) faults soon enough, but the common sense of decency, gentility, and genuine kindness here is downright intoxicating. Definitely a pay-it-forward kind of society, whereas in Boston, I look back and see all the times kindness stopped because it was more convenient for someone (myself included) to hang on to it to get a leg up.
Whatever happened to a quick chat over tea? Or shows of thankfulness and appreciation? This is the season for gratitude, and I definitely saw very little of it in Boston. It was barely discernible in Maine which was disappointing to me, Massholes be Massholes, but I expected more from my home state. I had a wonderful trip, all the family and friends I did get to see were amazingly kind and generous, and spoiled my son with more love and attention than I ever thought existed.
But I’m not eager to go back. Family and friends have promised visits here over their cold winter, and this way I can avoid the rude stewardesses who gawk at me shuffling down a narrow airplane aisle with 3 bags and 26 pounds of dead weight. I miss the birch trees, but I think palm trees are a great holdover until we go back.
your ever loyal bloggess
P.S. In case you wondered, I’m taking a little social media (read: twitter and facebook) hiatus for the rest of the year. Time to focus on the family I have here, my projects I want to finish, and the new goals I want to get started on.
The above encompass three cities and six weeks of busy life and change. I have hardly even had a chance to upload the pictures from my camera, so thank god for instagram and phone cameras!
Looks like I’ve got some traveling to do.
visited 62 states (27.5%)
Living out of a suitcase isn’t so bad. With some practiced and regimented packing, one learns to bring the essentials plus a few luxuries that make life away from home comfortable and familiar. We’re in Charleston for an extra long weekend. Three days, four nights to be exact. Packing for an eight month old, no matter the length of time, almost always justifies bringing his own container of stuff. Packing for his clothes horse mother has always necessitated a bigger than seems warranted suitcase. Add in Father’s Day gifts, a breast pump, and a few extras for the husband, it feels like I needed to commission a caravan of camels to trek us south for the weekend.
But no! We made it here with 1 (very reasonably sized!) suitcase. 1 diaper bag/purse. 1 stroller. 1 car seat. My hands were full, but I managed. Honestly, sometimes changing a diaper is harder than finessing all that stuff through the airport.
That I could fit the required amount of stuff into 1 package (for 3 people, for 4 nights) astounds me. It would have bewildered the me of 6 years ago. When I packed up to study abroad in Holland for 5 months (it later turned into a year) I brought 2 MASSIVE duffle bags, a train case, a carry on back pack, and a computer case. Then I had a box of winter clothes and a box of books shipped to me. What’s laughable is not that I insisted on bringing a tome of poetry to study at a school with a world class library, no. Its that it didn’t even occur to me to think about the logistics of moving all this stuff from Schiphol to Nijmegen. Naw, my thought process back then was just “what if the day calls for moody French poetry and I’m Rimbaud-less?” “I will definitely need three pairs of ballet flats–black, neutral, and colorful.” “This silk scarf will make a great wall hanging.” “I definitely need a portable printer for my room.” And so on.
When I retrieved my baggage and loaded it onto a porters cart, I was intent on starting off on the right Dutch foot, so determined to take the train like the natives. Upon discovering that the platforms were underneath the airport, I stubbornly tried to balance both duffels, the train case, and the back pack down the escalator. The next thing I knew, the first duffel slipped out of my hand and rocketed down the moving steps like a buttered bullet. THANKFULLY no one was in the way. It was well over 60lbs, and had reached a high velocity by the time it shot out of the bottom. In typical Dutch fashion, I got mostly head shakes and neck craning stares, but the dangerous situation forced one of the quiet natives to speak up and give me a brief but stern lecture: someone could have been hurt. At the time I was too flustered to think about anyone’s safety, (I had an Hermes in there!) and moved on.
Karma definitely had it in for me that day. Little did I know getting to Nijmegen from Schiphol required a train change. If only I had focused my energies when I was preparing to depart for Holland on the landscape, the cities, the way of life. I would have known that ballet flats were not even in the Dutch vocabulary (way too much rain), and all I really needed to be stylish was a good raincoat, some GAP (Dutch are infatuated with American brands), and a mind open to the differences of living in a foreign country. If I had focused less on my stuff and more on my impending adventure, I might have realized what a colossal waste it was to haul all that crap between continents.
Packing is an art form I feel I have perfected well. I have gone from needing it all when I leave home to wanting as little as possible. Today without my usual pool coverup and flip flops, without my deep conditioner post chlorine swim, without my full sized laptop keyboard, without my bedside trove of chocolate, I feel liberated. Going away for a weekend and staying in a hotel is kind of like camping, (but here you get a chocolate on your pillow before bed). It’s fun living with just the essential stuffand learning what’s dead weight (didn’t need to bring the baby shampoo) and realizing that you don’t need to schlep all your usual stuff to be happy.
I joined another website today. Its so me though.
Out of all the errands I ever have to do, getting to the post office is by far the hardest. I stock up on stamps whenever I can (I’m a sucker for those cute endangered species stamps, kind of like stickers for adults, right?), but even though there is a mail box in my building, I’m guilty of going through my week and continually passing by the box. My internal dialogue:
It would be so nice to surprise our friends who made us dinner last night with a prompt note in their mailbox, so I’ll just hold on to this and drop it at the post office, it’ll definitely get there way faster that way!
Then inevitably I’m too engrossed in my drive to recall the thin envelope buried at the bottom of my bag.
This is the website: Post Crossing. Basically, you register, and then send postcards to random strangers around the world (and receive random post cards from other random strangers). I wrote in my profile that I’m an “ex-world traveler seeking to fulfill my zeal for international adventure.” I’m sure I won’t discover another culture’s way of taking their tea, or how to say “thank you” in Icelandic, but at least I won’t be dealing with jet lag and living out of a suitcase–though I’m even romanticizing those two negative aspects of travel right now in my mind– because it’ll be a while, years even, before we’re ready to embark on any grand travels again. So through this endeavor I’ll be attempting to placate my need to explore the macro. We”ll explore our micro locale, share it with Hildy, from Germany and save the big adventures for when our family is a little more aware of the great wonders the world has to see.
Because tonight we played with a plastic spoon and a buckle for 20 minutes. I know this stage of wonder at the mundane is not going to last very long, so we need to fully focus on it right now.
I mentioned I’m horrible at making it to the post office. This Post Crossing exercise will hopefully train me to realize how simple it is to integrate it into a weekly routine. And, since the post office is the main place for passport applications, I think its safe to say it’ll definitely be a while until we can make that happen–parents have to apply together in person to get a child’s first passport. That’ll be some interesting coordination! Until then, I’m content to discover some local Massachusetts color and share it via post card.