Movement

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There are few things harder to understand as a kid than having to uproot and move. Getting familiar with a new town, fitting in at a new school, making new friends – these things are hard enough when you’re an adult in control of the situation. As a kid who doesn’t quite yet understand how the world works, it erases nearly everything you knew and forces you to start over.

Growing up, I was made to go through this three times. The first time was when I was four, so the loss of friends and classmates was negligible. When we moved again around age seven, it was across state lines; the friends I had made in our little community were largely left behind. And then, at age 9, we picked up once more to go about an hour south.

Where we landed that last time was in the Ithaca area – Trumansburg if we’re being slightly (but not completely) more honest with the geography. I once again found myself having to reset my group of friends, coming in mid-year into a new school system, and having to get used to a new house.

This final house was a huge change from all the previous houses. Gone were the small townhouses or fabricated colonials; this was a 19th century farmhouse, with a sprawling nineteen acre field for a backyard. Barns in various states of disrepair and a small silo dotted the path up the property past the driveway. There were a few small tree lines – near the house, in the backyard, up in the field. A small creek ran down one side of the property line, and the whole plot was split by an odd stone wall that hinted at a previous structure.

We wouldn’t move again – allowing me continuity from 4th grade through high school graduation – and before too long, I would take to calling Trumansburg my hometown just on volume of years compared to previous towns. College gave me about 30 minutes of distance from the house, close enough that trips home were semi-regular. Post-graduation, Katie and I would try to live in Maryland before and shortly after our wedding, but the poor economy eventually forced us to flee up I-81 back to the farmhouse. We quickly found jobs and an apartment in Ithaca, and I moved out for the last time in 2002. A year later, we’d leave the Finger Lakes for NYC.

When you move out of your childhood home, it start to change in pieces each subsequent visit home. Your old bedroom slowly converts into something else – an office or a storage room or an art studio. Rooms get remodeled, furniture gets replaced, walls get repainted. It can be a little jarring, but like the Ship of Theseus, it still feels like your home, even as many of the components change.

And Trumansburg, as weird and funky and tiny as it can be, has remained my hometown. Maintaining a connection with Cornell through work has kept it on my mind for years, and there are other little things – like Gimme! Coffee opening locations in Manhattan, or a team member who laughingly confessed they travel there every year for Grassroots – that kept me connected to the Ithaca area. Ultimately, it’s been the family roots that kept me visiting upstate.

Those roots are starting to pull back; the big news from my parents earlier this month was that they’ve closed on a new house in Maine.

So the clock has started to tick on the old farmhouse, and the fields where I learned to drive and got into trouble after school, and the sleepy little village where I would take piano lessons and play soccer. It will all still exist, but the family connection to the area will be gone within the next few years. Visits will slow and eventually stop. There’s nothing preventing travel there, just less reason to visit.

After so much change in environment when I was young, it’s a little difficult to ponder. The place I finally felt was stable enough to be my hometown will be a place I don’t visit anymore. I don’t expect I’ll ever build that same connection to the area of Maine my parents are in – like when I travel to Maryland, it will feel foreign and just a little off. It won’t be home.

But this is perhaps the best time for a change. This September will mark a complete decade since we moved from Ithaca, heading to NYC on a lark and a chance. Unlike those moves when I was younger, this one was our choice – and we continue to choose year after year to stay here. I can look past the natural disasters and strife and stress to see how wonderful this place is on a daily basis.

Trumansburg was my home as a child. New York is my home as an adult.

I am okay with this – I think.

  • Interesting. I had a very similar situation. I moved a lot as a kid. Finally settled in Kansas City suburbs in 3rd grade. I think of myself as a Kansan, because I went through most of my pre-college schooling there. (A friend of mine once said, “Wherever you went through puberty is your hometown.”) Then, at some point after I had long since graduated college, my parents moved to Florida. By that point my sister no longer livdi in Kansas City either. So I had no ties there but for the few friends still in the area. You might think it’s fun to visit your parents in Maine. Instead of going “home” for familial visits, it’ll be like going on vacation.

    On another note, last year I realized I’ve actually lived in NYC more years than in any one place (13 years this June). And yet I do not know if I consider it my home yet. I feel comfortable here, but I still feel like a carpetbagger at times.

    Anyway, good post.

  • Interesting. I had a very similar situation. I moved a lot as a kid. Finally settled in Kansas City suburbs in 3rd grade. I think of myself as a Kansan, because I went through most of my pre-college schooling there. (A friend of mine once said, “Wherever you went through puberty is your hometown.”) Then, at some point after I had long since graduated college, my parents moved to Florida. By that point my sister no longer livdi in Kansas City either. So I had no ties there but for the few friends still in the area. You might think it’s fun to visit your parents in Maine. Instead of going “home” for familial visits, it’ll be like going on vacation.

    On another note, last year I realized I’ve actually lived in NYC more years than in any one place (13 years this June). And yet I do not know if I consider it my home yet. I feel comfortable here, but I still feel like a carpetbagger at times.

    Anyway, good post.

  • Peter Cohen

    The next step is when (if) you have kids. Moving becomes markedly harder, especially when the kids reach an age where they have to enroll in school and get entrenched in the community.

    Several times over the years Bonnie and I have wanted, planned to and really needed to move, but we haven’t, because uprooting the family becomes such a monumental task, it’s totally overwhelming.