As part of that 20 percent, I almost couldn’t believe it. The key word is “almost.” Since I moved to New York, I’ve realized that there are a lot of people who live close to their relatives. Their families have lived in the same town for generations. (Apparently this isn’t a coincidence; families in the Northeast tend to live closer to each other than those in the Midwest). This probably isn’t earth-shattering news to most of you, but that wasn’t my or my parents’ experience. Both of my parents moved a lot growing up. Although I lived in the same house in Minnesota my whole childhood (another thing that makes me very unusual, I know), for most of that time, my closest relative was three hours away. And none of my relatives even lived that close to each other -- they had all scattered away from their hometowns. So you can maybe see why it took me a long time to realize that some people live in the same area as their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Maybe that’s also why I never felt particularly tied to Minnesota. Along with the fact that there were no relatives around, my parents moved there for my Dad’s job, so it’s not like either of them were natives. My mom has told me that she still thinks of herself as a Wisconsonite. Plus, we’re all Packer fans, so feeling too loyal to Minnesota almost feels like betrayal (ridiculous, but true). We were strangers in a strange land. It’s probably not surprising, then, that I went so far away for college (Pennsylvania). All of my siblings who went to college also went far away; the closest one was about six hours away. I did move a lot closer for grad school (3 hours away, in Iowa), but being far away from family never seemed like that big of a deal.
Until now. I’ve learned that being married and living far away from your family is very different from being a student and/or single and living far away. Both of those scenarios offer much more flexibility, not to mention scheduled breaks. I also lived at my parents’ house in the summers during school, so I always knew I would never be away for long.
But now that I’ve established my own family and household, with no summer break in sight, I’m realizing the true sacrifice of being far away from family. What it really amounts to is that I get to spend time with my whole family approximately twice a year, with visits from parents and various siblings interspersed between them. This isn’t any different from my parents’ experience, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised. But it’s still harder than I thought it would be. For one thing, it makes every visit feel pressured because you know that time together is precious, and as someone who struggles to adjust her expectations accordingly, it can be rough. It’s especially hard when you realize that your sisters are your best friends. Sometimes I wish I could just call them and my mom and have them come over and watch Gilmore Girls for the afternoon, but that won’t be the case anytime soon.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot of good things about being here in New York. I really like the area and I know I would miss it if we left. (The pizza, for one thing. Don’t underestimate how good it is out here, you guys.) And having opportunities further away from your immediate family can be very healthy in terms of establishing independence and individuality, especially if you’re used to being one of the pack in a large family. It also makes “leaving and cleaving” easier in a lot of ways, which is really, really important for your marriage. You also get to experience new regional cultures and different kinds of people and ways of doing things, which is good for broadening the ol’ horizons. Plus, I never would have met Dave if I hadn’t gone to college in Pennsylvania. But sometimes I wish I could have done all of that while also being a little closer to my parents and other siblings.
Of course, we can’t have it both ways. Life is like that. And I know that being close to family can have its own issues, too. In my very unofficial research, I’ve noticed that a lot of families who do live closer together don’t seem to get along as well as my family does. (Not that we don’t have our issues -- trust me, we have plenty.) They’re either too into each other’s business (like the family I heard about who freaked out when their daughter moved 10 minutes away) or they hardly get together anyway, despite their proximity. Maybe it can become too easy to take your family for granted when you live close. It’s like how natives never see the tourist sites in their own town; you figure you could go see it anytime, so you’re not that intentional about making it happen.
I guess the point of all of this is that I’m realizing more and more how life has limits, and one of the biggest ones is place and where you are. It may be tempting to think that where we live doesn’t matter because we can just hop on a plane and travel across the country in a matter of hours, but believe me, it does matter, a whole lot. As Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” and who you live close to affects your daily life more than maybe anything else. Take note.