About ten years ago, on a weekend visit to New Haven in advance of J starting his post-doc in microbiology at Yale, he took me to Anchor Bar, a classic establishment in a city I didn't know; a city that was going to become my new home, at least for a little while. I ordered white wine, which was served in a stemmed glass filled to the absolute brim. I had to lower my head to take a sip while it sat on the table so it wouldn't spill, a cheerful beginning to our new adventure.
And a new adventure it was. Over the next few months I got a new job - heading into New York City by train a few times a week to write for a start-up - we bought a house and I discovered I was pregnant. Nora was born at Yale-New Haven Hospital in September of 2008 and, suddenly, there in the bright white light of the operating room where they skillfully peformed an unplanned c-section, I became a mother. J and I met our blissfully quiet and inquisitive chubby cheeked infant while Bob Marley played in the background.
The next few months brought new changes when I (like so many that year) lost my job at the start-up and started spending much more time at home with my new baby. I started looking for freelance writing work, but the transition was tough. I'd always envisioned working full time once I had kids, and I struggled. If I could have seen into the future and realized how fleeting infancy is, I would have soaked up every moment with Nora, who was (and is) an unfathomably good child. But the trials of new motherhood aren't something you can explain away and, besides, it got much better.
When Nora was just two weeks old, I met my very first mom friend, Amy, at a breastfeeding support group where I realized with intense joy that, OH MY GOD, there are so many of us! Amy and I had playdates with our tiny babies, which were really dates for us. I continued to make friends at child-centric outings and at music classes where I had to sit on the floor, keep the beat and sing while the toddlers roamed the room, seemingly uninterested, although we were assured by the knowledgable teacher that they were learning. This was very far from my comfort zone and the daydreams I had of meeting with publishers for established writing projects by that point in my life.
But it was ok because I was making new friends and getting out of the house. It was fun, meaningful and memorable. I was building a life in New Haven, a place that, as I explained to nearly everyone we met, we were living temporarily while J completed his post-doc, probably for the next three to five years.
This sentiment colored our world. When the topic of school came up, I explained that there was no way we'd still be living there once Nora was old enough for kindergarten. J would have gotten a job as a professor running his own lab in some other city by then. I waited an exceedingly long time to replace our malfunctioning dishwasher, because we'd be moving soon anyway, right? And I freelanced instead of looking for a full-time job, which fit both the "transient" and "new mom" aspects of my life. I wrote essays about family life and stories about local businesses. Those months, then years, weren't lost, just anticipatory.
When you're building a life, though, knowing what's next isn't mandatory. I found a drycleaner I liked, and, despite us almost never having drycleaning to do, she always remembered me and asked about the family. I found a great hairdresser who, like me, loved to gossip; I was devastated when she moved away. My friends and I planned monthly dinners to catch up, had long chats about parenting filled with lifesaving advice, and got a night off from the bedtime routine. Gabriel was born in April, 2011, and motherhood the second time around was way easier; I fawned over his tiny yawns, let him sleep on my chest whenever we got the chance, and didn't fret so much about the long, restless nights. Nora went to pre-K at the magnet school where she still goes today - a fourth grader! - because that "not living here once Nora was old enough for kindergarten" turned out to be, you know, way off.
But we didn't know. When he was ready, J started looking for jobs, a process that often takes awhile in his field. Sometimes years. He had funding, though, and long-term projects and great health insurance. We had our house and friends and visits from my family that included day trips and long talks and New Haven pizza every time. We had J's parents just a few towns over, and his aunts, uncles and cousins (as well as some of mine) all over the place, providing babysitting and company that made our life infinintely easier - and much more fun. "I didn't know how helpful having family nearby would be, especially with kids," I said to people constantly. "It's amazing."
We attended family Christmas parties, weddings, funerals and baptisms. Many of them ended with late nights in bars, or post-celebration celebrations, like the time we all drank wine on the patio at in my in-laws after one of Nora's birthday parties, then got in the moonbounce. Remember you guys?!
There were scientist get-togethers that incuded classic rock singalongs, trips to Maine and saying sad goodbyes to Yale friends who were moving on (with the promise of future visits in cities all over the world). Adriana was born in the summer of 2014 - my third time heading into labor and delivery at Yale, knowing the drill by then - and then we were a family of five, besotted with the newest member of our crew. Friends thoughtfully brought us meals and life with three children carried on in a less harried way than I'd imagined while pregant (at least until she started walking...).
We constantly complained about the Connecticut winter and booked sunny February getaways, hosted houseguests in our by that point cramped quarters. Gabe was in the preschool at Neighborhood Music School, a local non-profit, and I had long, philosophical talks with the program's director about our always-temporary arrangement, calling them my "therapy sessions" (thank you, Christine!) I took a job there, writing marketing materials and grants. "Well," I figured, "someday we will move somewhere else, but for now we are here."
We spent sunsets by the Long Island Sound with neighbors, sharing wine and beer while our children pulled each other in a green wagon. I met regularly with some of J's female colleagues who'd started a professional support group of sorts, and we worked through problems big and small, becoming very close friends, there for each other at a moment's notice. We drank coffee in bed and made weekend plans and rearranged the house to create more space; we decluttered and painted and fenced in the backyard when our wonderful, old dogs died just a month apart and we ended up with a new puppy.
One night we were out at a place we love called Ordinary, a refurbished space that had previously housed one of New Haven's most well-known bars. It's right around the corner from Anchor, which at that point had been shut down and reopened as a classier establishment, too. It probably doesn't serve such full glasses of wine anymore, which is a shame.
We were chatting with the bartender, who just so happened to have gone to high school with J, and was telling us how he'd recently moved into our neighborhood. He was making us a special cocktail before we left to see a band we liked at a nearby venue. Just then a couple we are friends with walked in and there were hugs and hellos. The kids were home with a sitter we trusted, and the bar was full of happy people. For the very first time I thought, "Wait, what if we don't leave?"
I know. Funny that I hadn't thought that a million times before. But it seemed such an unlikely possibility, considering J's prospects were so much better if we looked all over, and the possibilities in Connecticut so sparse. I'd never considered New Haven my forever-home. Doing so would have made it a million times harder to say goodbye, especially considering it was going to be so hard to say goodbye no matter what.
And then the best news came: we don't have to.
This summer J accepted an exciting position at a lab in Connecticut! It's about 40 minutes from our house, a not-bad commute that could be remedied by us moving a bit closer, a possibility we're exploring. Because now we can explore all the possibilities. Because we know what's next.
The refrain has changed. WE ARE STAYING, and all the things I always imagined would be part of our past tense New Haven years can continue to be part of our present. Plus who knows what else? A new house? Getting involved in the PTO? A new baby? Oh my god, I am kidding.
It is a tangible shift. I've found myself more eager to explore the city, plan daytrips to unknown parts of the state, stop hating winter and - although our life will probably remain at least base level insane - make our daily schedule less frantic, more relaxing.
The other day I was having coffee with someone I'd just met for work, and as it happens sometimes, ended up saying the truest thing to a complete stranger: "I was afraid to fall in love with it here before, because I knew we'd have to leave. But now I can."
Last weekend, being home after lots of time spent out of town this summer, we decided to go for a drive to check out New Haven neighborhoods and after awhile, the inevitable occurred: everybody wanted a snack. In search of lemondade and iced coffee and some kind of baked good we ended up at a bookshop and cafe downtown.
J parked the minivan and we got out of the car to late afternoon sun and the kind of perfect summer weather that happens only about four days a year.
I looked at my family there on the sidewalk, and said, "This is where we live!"
And Nora, my always practical, now expertly-sarcastic Nora - who will, in the blink of an eye be a freshman at college asking her hallmates ubiquitous question, "Where are you from?" and answering in turn - replied, "Um, this sidewalk is not where we live - "
"Ok Nora," I said. "This is not where we live, but you get it. This is where we live now!"
"I mean, we actually live in a house - "
"Stop it! You know what I mean! This is home!"
She smiled. She knew what I meant. We walked down the street, in no hurry at all.