Defining home

When I was in college, a “worldlier” friend used to enjoy making digs at me because I’d never left Boston. Indeed, I went to both college and graduate school right outside of Boston and I started my career 15 minutes from where I grew up.

So when a young attendee at one of the work events I was hosting read my palm (she just happened to be psychic – I wasn’t working with the paranormal ;-)), I soon learned that a foreign country was in my future. I balked at her prediction, because I was every bit as domestic as my college friend accused me of. I’d just gotten promoted at work and moved into a new apartment (10 minutes from where I grew up) and I had no interest in going anywhere.

Then, sure enough, one fluke event led to another, and two years to the month that I’d met the palm reading woman, I was standing at Narita International Airport with the two suitcases from which the next eight years of my life would grow. I would end up changing my career, meeting my husband, and becoming a mother in Japan.

Nearly a decade later, we – Max, Fred and I – relocated to the States, to the south. We wanted warmth and affordability and we wanted out of the city. Our son gets to now grow up with the kind of life I used to only dream about and see on television: a neighborhood filled with the laughter of children, an American-sized house, trees, yards, elementary schools with campuses, neighbors who smile and lend you eggs and butter if you need them. While there are larger, serious problems with our state, I do love the idyllic, international, intellectual, liberal-minded and friendly town we live in.

But I started to have second thoughts this year, when the bombings in Boston pulled me back to a familiarity and security that I’d long resisted. Mourning in the shared pain back in April, I realized that I have roots, however ambivalent I may be about my actual experiences. Boston, with its harsh climate and harsh personalities, was not an easy place to live or grow up in. But it was home – the place that I will always associate my family and childhood with, and the security that family and the past bring.

That I felt rooted is significant, as someone who for a good part of her life didn’t feel like she belonged anywhere; I was too American for my Asian friends yet not quite western enough to be seen as American. Coming back after almost 10 years overseas, I have an affinity for other expatriates and international people.

I found myself wanting to move back to Boston – for my parents, for Fred (there are better educational opportunities in Massachusetts (read: feeder schools)), for myself. I’d even managed to convince Max to seriously consider the possibility, which was no small feat given that he’d left one home behind for me already.

After some gut wrenching ruminating, I told Max I’d changed my mind. I couldn’t make the possibility work without throwing a grenade into our family. Our time line would mean sending Fred to 3 different schools in 3 years. We would need to downgrade our living space to a small apartment. Finances would be tight. And I’d need to pull both my husband and son from the only home in America they know, a home and community that they absolutely adore.

The whole process made me rethink the meaning of home. Is it where I have my roots, my childhood memories, my parents? Is it a place that is defined by history, or is it a starting point for history? Is it the place brimming with opportunity and stimulation, or the place where you feel most serene? Can home be a home if one has chosen out of duty – for filial piety, for a better shot at Harvard for your kid? Can it be a home if one half of your partnership doesn’t feel the same way you do about it? Can you love your home and yet still long for another place? Questions like these made my head spin.

In the end I understood that home is where all three of us are happy, and eventually the place where my parents are better off retiring to. I decided that home for me needs to be about peace and comfort and space and freedom, a place without resentment or constant anxiety…and it is what we already have.  But the decision is also a compromise because we don’t have the luxury of having it all, and no matter what we choose we do end up sacrificing.

11 thoughts on “Defining home

      • I have found, over and over, that ‘things’ can be replaced but love and ‘home’ are in you heart. It was a very good read. Interesting to follow the track your thoughts and heart took to settle on an answer.

        • That is a wonderful sentiment and one I’ll have to remember: “‘things’ can be replaced but love and ‘home’ are in your heart.’ It is reassuring in that we really can have our home be anywhere. Thanks so much for your kind words too. I actually felt a bit self conscious about having written so much, and didn’t know if I would be boring my readers with too much personal detail!

          Cecilia

          • I think most people love the details. Without the emotion, what is the point of writing. Without soul you may as well be writing a textbook.

            Think of your favorite blogs. Are they humorous? Perky? Informative? Do they make you feel like you’re a part of the family? Perhaps they, too, are nervous about exposing too much of their soul, but they are the ones you like the most. Do you leave them comments to show your appreciation?

            I think showing our feelings is what makes us more real and interesting to the others who visit our blogs.

            • Funny, I say the same thing to fellow bloggers whenever they express doubt about “exposing” themselves. I definitely prefer the more personal. I think that feeling of vulnerability can never quite go away though, and it really helps when others are encouraging. Thanks for all your comments and support!

              Cecilia

  1. Oh wow. That is tough. I feel your pain! I’ve always thought home would be wherever my husband is, but it turns out that’s not always true. Right after we got married, my husband and I moved to Portland, OR. I was terribly homesick for California and a little over a year later, we moved back. But my husband still wishes we were in Portland, and I have to admit that I miss it too sometimes. It’s hard to know what’s right for both of you when you want different things. I hope we are both able to find peace and homes!

    • Hi Ariel,

      The compromises become a part of life when you share it with someone, don’t they? It’s hard…but your husband sounds like a sweetheart in being willing to move back to CA. I think resentment really builds if one partner doesn’t feel heard.

      Yes, peace and home to us! Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Cecilia

  2. Cecilia,

    Several parts of your post resonated with me. I am continually redefining what home means to me. I never moved outside of Texas until 4 years ago. Everything associated with home centered around my childhood home that my mom sold a few years ago. After she gave up the house (a very necessary move), I started really thinking about geography, the emotions and sentiments regarding place, and the people who occupy your space. I’ve decided, much like you, that connections with family and friends give texture to the word home. Without those elements, it is just a one-syllable word that has a very hollow echo.

    • Hi Rudri,

      I remember your post about your home, about returning to see the house where you had grown up in with your parents, the tree that your father used to care for. It must be hard to re-establish a home after all of that. I hope that you and your husband and daughter are now enjoying creating a new shared history and home. I can definitely relate.

      Cecilia

  3. I think defining home is difficult, especially when a family is involved. I think now that I have children, I’ve had to accept a broader understanding of home and figure out, again and again, why it matters, or what matters. As usual, I enjoyed this post and am happy that you’ve found peace in your home space.

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