One month ago, we closed on our new house. Its official now, we’re homeowners, we’re leaving the city, we’re moving to the suburbs. We’re not planning on buying a minivan and the kids are way too young to play soccer but I’m aware that in many, many ways, we’ve opened ourselves up to a host of conventions.
That’s okay. We’ve willingly chosen to become (even more?) conventional. It’s too hard to stay hip and relevant when there’s no space to turn around in your kitchen and the dog crowds you out of the hallway. We need more space. Picket fences, here we come.
It might be called a “closing” in legalese, but this closing represents a very big opening-up, indeed. But I’m not going to tell you that this equals unmitigated joy. No, I sat at that conference table and my stomach churned and I wound up signing my name four different ways out of sheer anxiety (a word to the wise: when signing legal docs, use the same signature over and over. Don’t suddenly decide to drop your middle initial. Don’t throw in a hyphen where a hyphen never stood before).
But the proceedings were civilized and even pleasant. The sellers helped ease our angst by presenting us with a list of their favorite joints in our new town. On the list were places for the best margarita and pizza slice, the best place in town to see July 4th fireworks (behind the elementary school) and the best farmers’ market (on the town dock). They mentioned a festival going on down at the town beach that night and as we drove away and headed back to Brooklyn, we caught a glimpse of the New York City skyline from the highway and we reminded ourselves that this was pretty great, after all.
There’s a really nice symmetry to the fact that just as the Jewish New Year rolls around, so too are we renewing our life as a family by moving to a new home, adopting a new town, and introducing the girls to a new life. And the clean crisp air of fall makes the whole process feel even more fresh and open to possibility. And yet, I can’t quite shake off that nervousness I felt at the conference table last month.
When I was a kid and the summer wound down and the first day of school approached, I would decompensate on a very predictable schedule until the night before school, by when I had devolved into a puddle of pediatric anxiety. But my mother, the calmest and most even woman there is (lets just say that I didn’t get my Woody Allen tendencies from her) had an infallible tactic for handling this breakdown. She’d pull out the IJ Morris calendar and tell me to pick a date, a few months out. Didn’t matter the day, didn’t matter the week, just pick any old random day. And so, I’d pick a random Wednesday in November, say, and she’d draw a big red circle on that spot on the calendar. And then she’d look me squarely in the eye and tell me that by that day in November, she could promise I’d feel better.
Did she know this for sure? No. But somehow, the promise of good times ahead was enough to calm me down. I don’t think I ever remembered to check, once that day rolled around, if I was feeling better or not. Inevitably, I had recovered from the anguish of transition, and even if I were in the throes of another childhood crisis, I had weathered that back-to-school shift, and my mother had been right all along. It did turn out okay.
I plan to use the calendar tactic with my own kids if (who are we kidding, when) the time comes that they’re stressing before the first day of school. I will unblinkingly promise them that things will look up, even if I don’t know for sure that they will. I will urge them to hold on until then, I will help them conjure up a fantasy of smooth-sailing ahead. I will buoy them until they can buoy themselves. They need to learn to comfort themselves, yes, but they need me to show them how.
Gratefully, years of therapy and a loving, smart, and solid spouse have mitigated what might otherwise be another bout of crippling transition anxiety for me now. What with our move to the suburbs, the start of a new year, the start of a new chemo drug for my dad, the start of a new childcare situation for my girls, the start of back-to-work, the start of a new life–I could really use a calendar check. But that’s the thing about adulthood. No one can promise me that by some random date in November or December I’ll feel calmer, adjusted, and happy with my post-transition life. No one knows.
And so, as a daughter, as a wife, as a mother, and as an adult woman, I know I have no choice but to move forward. With Jon and the girls at my side, I move forward into that unknowingness. And while things are still murky and the end remains to be seen, I try to create for myself a sweet fantasy of what could be, if I just trust in the promise of big, colorful, scary, hilarious, heartbreaking, wonderful life.
I’ll let you know how it all looks come November.