The summer sun is high, although the afternoon clock inches toward six. The sprinkler water play in my front yard has turned into mud soup creations. I watch my children as they gather ingredients with the neighbor kids. Buckets hold their pulled-up weeds and mud. Garden tools turn into mixing spoons.
I yell towards the dad across the street, “Is it okay if your kids get muddy?”
He looks up from his phone and gives me a thumbs up.
I sip my sun tea and revel. It is the summer of 2021. It feels like a different creature compared to last summer. Last summer, our first in our new home, my kids had no playmates.
“This move might break me,” I tell my husband.
It’s the summer of 2020. With the backdrop of the pandemic, our move cross-country from the coastal South to the Midwest has been bizarre. Although we’ve lived here for several months, the place feels strange. My heart is blistered feet as I look at our mound of unpacked boxes.
The joy of exploring a new city is replaced with mask mandates and social distancing. Playgrounds are closed. Neighbors are cautious.
This move marks the sixth city that my husband and I have lived in since we said, “I do.”
But the timing of this move is hard, along with the move itself. We left a coastal town we loved. And now, uprooted in a way I’ve never felt before, I wonder, will we find where we belong?
My son is excited to meet classmates whom he knows will be fast friends.
I feel the chill in the air as I wait for my son at school pickup. The moms gather into familiar groups. There is no social space for a new face. No conversation starters to break in.
Community takes time, and I just got here. Instead of pasting on my brave face, I find myself lost in memories of after-school play dates in another town. The ease, the familiarity. It’s missing here.
To stay present, I focus on the rainbow of colors that is the Midwest autumn. I capture the golden, swaying hills in my mind’s eye. Breathe in the crisp air. My emotions battle: Can I find beauty here while missing all that we’ve left behind?
Months pass. The weather turns colder. It is my daughter’s first winter of snow. I reach for delight in my children’s squeals as it exudes from their bundled layers.
The cold is unrelenting, yet we start to know people at church, neighbors. We feel the warmth of familiar faces.
I text my friend in the coastal South when it is -36 degrees Fahrenheit. She reminds me of the no-see-ums (the Lowcountry’s nickname for gnats) and the streets lined with yellow pollen.
I had forgotten about those annoyances.
When you love where you live, but then you move, you try to recreate your previous lifestyle. But waving fields of grass is a far cry from the lap of the ocean. Our life in the Midwest will never be like our life in the South.
As the snow melts, pops of green grass appear. Lilacs bloom. The pieces of our new community show themselves. These are the places we go now. These are the people with whom we spend time. This is a Midwest spring; this is our new home.
What holds us to a place?
Roots, memories, community?
Have we found those yet?
It is summer 2021. After the kids are tucked in bed, I stare at my backyard tree line. I memorize the sounds of birds who call across our woods. I hear the familiar sound of the wind through the leaves.
No matter where I go, that sound is universal.
Just this morning my neighbor texted me if I could get the cooler she left on her front porch. In the haste of packing up the kids for their epic holiday, she forgot the lunch. It holds perishables. “Please enjoy,” she says.
I think back to last year before we knew this neighbor.
What would I tell my last-year self who felt so uprooted in this new community?
I would tell her to keep reaching for the next season. The current season will not last. And as she transitions, she’ll feel the lingering effects of the past season. That’s okay.
Embrace the change. The last season is making way for who she will be today. And as she moves forward, I hope she doesn’t forget the mom who stood outside the group at school pickup. I hope she sees her in the face of another. I hope she invites her in.
In this search for where we belong, we move from place to place, season to season. Our stages may be different, but together we can reach for all God has for us next.