Comforts of Home

Image by jthetzel

During our trip, I was reminded once again that I don’t live “at home” anymore.

Four years ago, five months pregnant, Husband and I picked up and moved to a new state.  I’ve thought many times along the way that this new place has become home – that any place that houses my man and my kids would.  But spending more than two weeks on our former home turf made me think about the ways I still feel like a stranger in a strange land.

I was reminded of the way my body relaxes when I first see the George Washington Bridge while speeding down the West Side Highway. I was reminded of the comfort I feel in having a Dunkin’ Donuts (and its magical coffee) on every other corner. And I was reminded of Denise’s and Lindsey’s “Where I’m From” posts from last fall and started to play with those ideas:

I am from quaint.  I am from town greens and tidy white churches.  I am from classic colonials with picket fences.

I am from fall foliage, from prep school bonfires, from L.L. Bean backpacks.  I am from Nantucket red.

I am from the smell of salt water by the shore.  I am from splintery docks. I am from mosquitoes.

I am from Italian food and thin-crust pizza.  I am from Dairy Queen Blizzards and vanilla ice cream cones with chocolate dip.

I am from the Putnam Bridge and the Merritt Parkway.  I am from Zabar’s and Fairway and H&H Bagels.  I am from Walden Pond.

I am from soda.

I am not from pop.

I am not from cornfields. I am not from soybean crops.

I am not from county fairs and deep-fried elephant ears.  I am not from llama farms.

I am not from Bob Evans.

But my kids are.

They are Midwesterners.

I was a New Englander.  Husband was a New Yorker.  But now we’re a mix, a composite.  A typical American family with roots elsewhere, but blossoms here.

And I’m reminded once again of Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, of the charms and comforts of the place I live now.  And I wonder when my body will come to feel at home here in the way it still does in the places I’m from:

Then we were back in Wisconsin, a place that in late summer is thrillingly beautiful.  When I was young, this was knowledge shared by everyone around me; as an adult, I’ve never stopped being surprised by how few of the people with whom I interact have any true sense of the states between Pennsylvania and Colorado…Admittedly, the area possesses a dowdiness I personally have always found comforting, but to think of Wisconsin specifically or the Midwest as a whole as anything other than beautiful is to ignore the extraordinary power of the land.  The lushness of the grass and trees in August, the roll of the hills (far less of the Midwest is flat than outsiders seem to imagine), that rich smell of soil, the evening sunlight over a field of wheat, or the crickets chirping at dusk on a residential street: All of it, it has always made me feel at peace.  There is room to breathe, there is a realness of place.  The seasons are extreme, but they pass and return, pass and return, and the world seems far steadier than it does from the vantage point of a coastal city…It is quietly lovely, not preening with the need to have its attributes remarked on.  It is the place I am calmest and most myself.

Will I someday believe those words?  To be able to write them with conviction?

Where are you from? Where are you most at home?

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49 responses to “Comforts of Home

  1. I’m from splintered docks and Nantucket red and LL Bean bags as well. And I live here again now. But in some ways I’m not sure I was from this until I came back to it, because I was so confused by the Sistine Chapel and double decker London buses and endless transatlantic airplane rides. So while it seems clear now, that I’m from here, I’m not sure it always was. Does that make sense?

    • That makes a lot of sense to me. I tend to be a “the grass is always greener” kind of person so I don’t always appreciate what I have while I’m living it – and it’s only once I’ve lost something that I know what I’ve had. So I can see finding home in a place once you’ve come back to it after having left it.

  2. On some level, I have made these questions so easy to answer. Manhattan. I was born here. I was raised here. Now I am raising my family here. But the amazing thing? There are so many times when I don’t feel at home here even though this is, and has always been, my home. This feeling – along with this exquisite post – makes me realize that home is much bigger and more intangible than any of us might have thought. And yet it is still something we strive for again and again – to be ourselves, to be at home.

    Beautiful.

    • I absolutely agree that home is a large and elusive concept. I’m talking here about home not only as the place where I grew up (Connecticut), but also as the other places I lived (Manhattan and suburban Boston) – so it’s a feeling as much as a place.

      It’s interesting to me that you don’t always feel at home in the place where you were raised and where you’re raising your girls. That makes me realize that the idea of home is even more complicated that I thought.

  3. My husband is from the mountains of New England (with a few ties down south). I was born and bred in the foothills of the Adirondacks, and those small mountains with lakes at the bottom of almost every one are my home. Since we were married, we’ve been nomads, moving from place to place in PA, back to NY, and soon to Chicago. Our plans right now will eventually take us (we hope) to the UK, and then wherever my husband gets a teaching position, whether in this country or another.

    I worry deeply sometimes that my children will grow up without having roots in any one place. But my parents still own the home where I grew up, and my hope is that their roots will sink into that soil as mine did. Ultimately, of course, I hope that their roots will be in family, in love, and that they (and we) will be able to make home of wherever they are, because they are grounded in something beyond the physical.

    • “Ultimately, of course, I hope that their roots will be in family, in love, and that they (and we) will be able to make home of wherever they are, because they are grounded in something beyond the physical.”

      This idea really resonates with me. My parents also live in the same house that I grew up in and so it’s easy for me to feel like that is still “home.” But your comment makes me wonder about how that feeling would shift if they were ever to move: would my concept of home just follow them?

  4. I was born in Illinois and began with pop and bubblers! Moved to Wisconsin when I was in third grade and it turned into soda and water fountains. Love how even in the midwest things can be so different from one state to another. My parents don’t live in the town I grew up in anymore…and I used to worry that my boys wouldn’t have a sense of home since we live in such a big suburban area where one city flows into the next. But seeing now that I feel HOME when I go to my parents, even though it isn’t where I grew up, makes me relax. Home will be where we make it. The memories we build and keep alive.

  5. Kristen, this post is so beautiful that is has me tongue-tied. As my blog title says, I’m from Pines Lake. I had the perfect childhood… for me. Swimming in the lake, canoeing, fishing, climbing trees and rocks, ice skating in the winter. But I know I’ll never go back there to live. My husband and sons are Florida boys through and through. I feel most at home with them.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Erica.

      I also can’t imagine feeling at home in a place my husband and kids weren’t. But I wonder if the fact that neither my husband nor I am from the place where we now live will end up being like a gravitational pull bringing us back to where we’re from. (I suspect our parents would like that!)

  6. I am from the middle, the juxtaposition. I am from kudzu and waving grass, rocky hills and cattle in wooded areas. I am from Southern hospitality and Midwestern skepticism. I am in the middle of Eastern ideals and Western plans. I am from a place bisected– where all four corners of the continent rush in to meet. I am from thunderstorms and scorching winds, from deep snows and long autumns.

  7. Ahhh – this post made me cry. I am, technically, home. Born and raised here, and returned after a decade away. But I couldn’t feel less at home here now. Somehow, it doesn’t fit anymore. I’ve been back almost six years, and have been waiting for the a-ha, the click that makes it fit again. I don’t think it’s going to happen and it breaks my heart.

    So while my story and yours aren’t exactly the same, I can relate to the feeling. The wondering, when can I say, with conviction, that I’m home?

    • Hi Missy – I read your comment with a heavy heart, both because I’m sad that your move home hasn’t been all that you are looking for and, selfishly, because I worry that I would feel the same way were I ever to move back east.

      Here’s to making houses and hills and hideouts into homes, wherever we might find them.

  8. That is a tough question. I grew up in Southern Brazil. In a lot of ways, I still refer to it as home. Like, “I need to book the plane tickets to go home this year.” But I went to college in Boston and in many ways still feel very much at home in New England. And I have been living in the NYC area for over 10 years. My children were born in Manhattan. I love the energy of the City, as well as all the nature nearby. I love living minutes from the Long Island Sound. One thing is for sure: I cannot imagine living too far away from the water. I thought for sure when I had children here, I would put down forever roots. But I guess I am one of those plants with roots that stretch far and wide.

    • Living near the water! Yes! That is something that is so important to me and that is missing from the place where I live now. Wait: does a man-made pond in my suburban development count? No? I didn’t think so. 🙂

  9. What a beautiful piece, Kristen. And what enormous changes you, especially, have undertaken in only 4 years. From teaching full-time in a very different environment, to that change of state/culture, three children, and full-time parenting with (happily for us) writing.

    That’s a dizzying amount of change for anyone.

    In my own history, over the span of a similar period – 4 years – I moved 1,000 miles, took a new job, married, bought a home, and had two children. Crazy! And yet we adjust, don’t we. We find what is good, though we ache for what we miss.

    Like yours, my children are hybrids. My roots are New England as well; my sons have been raised in the South. Their parentage is two religions, two countries, several languages, and this mix of here-there-everywhere and not quite fitting anywhere. Yet they seem to be fine with it. They do have a sense of home where I created it; And they have already done considerable travel, showing their propensity for taking adaptability with them – one of the positive aspects of “home nowhere and home everywhere.”

    Personally, I long to feel fully at home somewhere. Paris, oddly, holds something where I feel home in a way (or a language?) that I didn’t in New England or any of the other places I’ve lived (there have been many). But what was once home no longer is; for some, we retain an identity from those origins, but as Thomas Wolfe said – you can’t go home again.

    • I suppose I already knew all of these similarities between our experiences, but I was grateful and comforted to be reminded of them here in this lovely comment. Thank you, D.

      I especially appreciate this line: “And yet we adjust, don’t we. We find what is good, though we ache for what we miss.” I know I’m not alone when I say that I’ve made it a habit of adjusting in my adult life. (Interesting, indeed, after a childhood spent in one house, in one elementary school and one high school. I even went to college in the state where I grew up.)

  10. I find home in fleeting moments: a party when I’m gathered with friends and I notice how my family works together to host people so easily, preparing for a vacation and we all know our jobs and pitch in to help get the kayaks on top or the truck or the water bottles filled. Sometimes it will be a moment on a Sunday evening when we’re sitting around with bowls of popcorn watching a movie and something inside me will leap up and say, “This is it! This is the home I’ve been longing for!” And one time, when I came home from a trip and turned the corner to walk round into my side door I caught that first glimpse of our view, the home view, and I had the feeling again: “home”.

    But much of life is filled, instead, with that searching feeling. So I breathe when I can remember to do that. Because that helps me.

    And I hang out with little kids who almost always feel they are at home.

  11. Heather of the EO sent me over here! I just posted my Where I’m From, so wild how it is bleeding in many of us right now.

    Beautiful.

    Steph

  12. I am from Connecticut but now am all the way out in CA. I enjoy going back but it seems like the “home” feeling is fading. The area where I grew up is not as country as it used to be. The house I grew up in no longer has my mom there and instead, my father’s wife. But the smell of the green of summer, the buzzing of the June bugs and crickets, there is definitely something peaceful about it and I know it is that sense of home.

    Interesting too – my kids are all California kids – wearing shorts year round, flip flops in the summer, Mexican food lovers. Three cheers to meatball grinders and Dunkin’ Donuts!

  13. Really touching stuff here, Kristen. I’ve also pondered in at least 2 or 3 blog posts what home means to me as someone who has landed elsewhere from her childhood home. I’ve lived in my current city for 10 years now and it does feel like home, although I often struggle with that very feeling. My frustration stems from wishing I were from someplace else. My family is here in the Midwest, and it all feels very comfortable to me. But when I travel to the coasts and see all that they have to offer I wonder, “Why can’t I be from here?” It’s a pointless exercise, really, as I’ll never be able to change where I was raised or where my family lives now. But I think about it nonetheless.

    For those reasons I really appreciated your Sittenfeld passage. It’s easier to appreciate what’s around me when someone else (and someone who has lived someplace else and can make a fair comparison) sings the praises of this part of the country.

    Again, beautiful thoughts from you today, and beautifully expressed. Thank you.

  14. Everytime I approach my childhood home, I get a sense of comfort. I have driven these roads before; I know their twists and turns. I am at ease. I am at home. But I also know that I would never want to move back. For a few days, it feels nice and safe — nostalgic — to be on these same old roads. Yet, I think it would become boring, maybe too safe. It would feel stagnant. It would feel like I had never grown-up and changed and created a life and family of my own. There is something to embrace about change. It seems only natural that the result of bringing two people together with different backgrounds and from different places is a new life, a new home — one that is full of new roads to be driven. One that will eventually become comfortable and easy and safe as I drive the roads more and more, learn the short-cuts, learn the twists and turns. I will have left my childhood behind and forged ahead. And this new place will now feel like my home.

  15. Los Angeles is home. Born and raised here it is one of my favorite places. If I didn’t live here I could be at home in Jerusalem for it soothes my soul in the same way although by different means.

    But I have to believe that to some extent home is based more upon who we are with than where we are.

  16. I grew up in California, where there were only two seasons, and never any snow, except far away. I’d look at picture books of New England, sleigh rides and so on, and it seemed more real to me than where I was. When our son was two, we spent a month in New London, Connecticut, in a beautiful old house, surrounded by woods, a short walk across a meadow from a strip of white beach. It was heaven. I thought of the first verse from “It Was a Very Good Year,” the Frank Sinatra song:

    When I was seventeen
    It was a very good year.
    A very good year for small town girls
    on soft summer nights.
    We’d hide from the lights
    on the village green
    when I was seventeen.

    Somehow, when you grow up in California, you end up spending a lot of time in your imagination.

  17. Every time I drive through my town on the highway, I see the hill I grew up on and feel a deep sense of nostalgia (enter lump in my throat and tears in my eyes). “There’s my house,” I always say. And, even though I sometimes will make a pit stop in my hometown, I can’t drive up the hill. It will always be home, even though someone else lives there now. I’m not particularly attached to things, but cling tightly onto memories.

    • I just drove by that hill myself and was overcome by great memories of sitting at the Lady’s kitchen table eating cookies and talking about boys – and, of course, doing our weird dance moves to Barry Manilow in the living room. xo

  18. I’m such an electic mix myself. I was raised by hardcore New Yorkers, but am now more citified than them. I’m readjusting to suburban mom life. It’s hard some days. Part of me is from this, but my heart? My heart is Red Sox baseball, sports bars with beer and everyone cheering, walking through history every day to some of the most amazing restaurants I’ve ever had.

  19. What a great post, Kristen. I read your words and I understand. I have no great wisdom to share except that when your children get older and their roots are deeper in school and the community, I think you feel more at home. It takes time. Where you come from will always be a part of who you are but you feel more at home as time goes by and your children grow.

    • I think this is such an important point, Ayala. I hadn’t really thought about the ways that my kids have helped me figure out who I am, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when they help me figure out where I am most at home.

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  21. I read this post a few times and tried to sink in to it. For me home lies in so many places. Pieces of me scattered everywhere. Home is place, but also deeply rooted in people. I am from the tiny street in Texas, where ya’ll is a part of my daily language. But I am also from the saris and the street food of India. Home, most of all, is where my circle of love surrounds me (my husband, daughter, mother & sister).

    Thanks for sharing this piece Kristen.

  22. This is a great essay you wrote, Kristen, about what constitutes home and that it’s really in the details. This got me thinking that the ability to “own” a new place is what ultimately makes it home, but that it’s nothing you can force. It either happens down deep in your DNA, like you’re supposed to be there, or it doesn’t. We moved to Arizona and it’s like we all just shifted to cacti and desert mountains and burning hot sun. It’s always felt like home, from the second we got here. I’m not saying that I felt like I fit in psychically or psychologically, but it’s never felt like I’m in the wrong place.

    • You introduce such an interesting concept here, Linda – that of ownership. I wonder if feeling at home in a place comes down to whether or not one wants to “own” the place they’re living. I’m not so sure I do. I guess I feel like more of a renter. 🙂

  23. I’ve lived in San Diego, CA since 1998 and I can honestly call it home, especially since we moved into a house we all love almost 2 years ago. I want to retire somewhere greener but for now, this is a great place to live.

    I spent a few years in CT before that, moving from one apartment to the other, but I was born and raised in the suburbs of Paris. It was my home for 23 years and I loved it. Since then my mother has moved further away from Paris and visiting her doesn’t feel like home anymore. It really makes me sad to have lost such a wonderful connection.

  24. Loved this post–and the way you described your family as the “typical American family with roots elsewhere, but blossoms here”. I’ve been in Maine over a week now, and haven’t missed Ohio once, haven’t felt a longing to “get back home”. (I am however, looking forward to getting back so we can meet!)
    The crazy thing is I grew up in Ohio (from age 4 to high school). So technically, it’s home, right? But in my heart–and apparently in my kids’ hearts too–we feel more at home in Maine–a place we lived only 3.5 years–than anywhere else.
    (Sheesh, easy on the double-dashes, Jo!)
    See you soon, friend. We’ll have plenty to talk about. 🙂

  25. Your I’m (not) from list was picturesque. I am also a New Yorker but my mom and dad are from the midwest. I don’t like Dunkin Donuts coffee anymore though.

  26. I am Midwest through and through. I can’t imagine ever leaving here. I admire the courage of others who do. I’m not in the hometown where I grew up – I did grow out of that. But I’m 2 hours away from there in a larger city and it gives me that taste of city life the small town didn’t.

    I am Pop, tornado season, nasty winter snow, Panera and (hopefully) seeing my kids get married in the church they grew up in. But if they choose to move away, I’ll support their choice.

    Nice, thought provoking post.

    • Oh yes, I forgot to mention tornado season as part of my new life – the storms themselves and the ubiquitous sirens. That’s something that I never had to think about growing up in Connecticut (although a tornado did hit southern Massachusetts a few weeks ago!).

  27. As always, so poignantly composed and presented. This is very much how I think of home (Wash DC) and my notions are rooted in the Smithsonian, catching fireflies, parade down Constitution Ave, softball with VP Quayle’s daughter (yes, really!), Swensens and Bowl America. And I loved my childhood and would so much like to give my daughter the equivalent if not better. But here I am traipsing her across the globe where concrete walls surrounding the house are the norm as is a security guard. I love that its a unique life we’re leading, but its not one I can relate to from the perspective of a child. Nevertheless, I LOVE what Louise says about home being rooted in family and love! Yes, that is what I want to!

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