Paradise Traded

Swapping Oz for the way back home

We had it all. At least, we had a good start. In Michigan, we lived in a sprawling rambler on four and a half acres bordered by rows of mature, stately evergreens. Our expansive front yard offered both the comforts of a mown lawn and the rusticity of grasses gone to nature along with the assortment of critters that abide in its cover. We had mowed through this grassland our own path for walking, running, and discovering nature.

The house itself was spacious, perhaps the biggest one-story I've ever walked through. As a homemaker, I adored my substantial country kitchen, complete with its well-stocked larder. The home office was separate from the bedrooms, which was convenient for working after the children had retired for the night. My son's and daughter's rooms were freshly decorated, and we had recently remodeled our main bath. We had made it our home.

Having nosed out our niche in the community, we were established in Michigan. My husband, John, held a well-respected position at work. I involved myself in volunteer work, and we had found a growing, value-based school for our children to attend. Plus, we had friends--good ones.

However, my vision of reality is distorted by nostalgia. In truth, our remote homestead had its drawbacks. John's commute to work was a grizzly hour and a half each way, while driving to town for school or groceries was an expedition for the kids and me. Furthermore, since we lived in Michigan without any extended family, our holidays were tinged with sadness, and we carried with us a sense of being perpetually alone.

In the end, we felt the pull of our homeland, as John and I were both Minnesota born and (at least partially) raised. We made the break. After a whirlwind house sale, the four of us clambered into our covered wagon and headed West.

Starting over is never easy. There were houses to hunt, grocery stores to scout out, people to miss, friends to make. Over the course of the last year, we've been establishing ourselves in the Twin Cities. We bought a place in the suburbs on half an acre. Its row of twenty-year-old evergreens comforts us by providing us with privacy and a share of what we gave up. Our second home is a bigger house with a smaller kitchen. The new neighborhood is quiet and inhabited by friendly, upstanding citizens. Our proximity to work and school is a luxury we did not enjoy in Michigan, and it has added hours of family time to each day. We miss our country lifestyle, but we regularly escape from the city's pace to my in-laws' nearby farm. We made a fair trade.

Family is the reason we moved cross-country, and being near kinfolk has been a boon. For one thing, the kids know their family members from firsthand experience with them, not just from Mommy's adding names to smiling photographs. They've been able to bond with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. My son and his grandpa have become best buddies. They enjoy their ritual tractor rides and walks through the woods. During the past year, Alexander has aspired, at different times, to becoming a farmer, a space scientist, and a deep-sea diver. He currently plans a career in farming and art. My love chuckle is fed by the warmth of the family hearth. And then there are Claire and her aunties. She smothers them with kisses and appreciates having other females to relate to after feeling as though she and Mom were the only two females our side of the Mississippi.

Living close to family has boosted the children's confidence, especially Alexander's. He has grown up tremendously over the last year. He is more sure of himself--less clingy and more talkative. He knows he belongs with a group of people, not just Mom and Dad. This belonging will serve him and his sister in future years. When they grow to adolescence and Mom and Dad are too close for confidences, they can turn to Grandma and Grandpa or aunts and uncles--to his people, to her people. People who love them with fewer strings attached.

Being near the extended family is good for John and I as well. We have an expanded feeling of purpose and of family responsibility as John helps on the farm and as we attend the endless summer succession of family reunions. In June, I visited my sick grandmother in southern Minnesota at a moment's notice, and fulfilling this family duty strengthened me. These are more than just obligations; these are family rites in which we were unable to partake while living so far away.

We are nurtured by sacramental instances such as the thrill of driving by the big stucco house in south Minneapolis that once belonged to my great-grandmother and the curiosity of finding that we purchased a home on the same street where my great-uncle once lived. We know we belong here when we travel on Highway 14, past the country church with the whitewashed steeple where we were married and where the line of deceased Bjorakers are buried. Like the mature evergreens that we so love, we are rooted by knowing that my family has been here for five or six or maybe even more generations. And we will grow more branches on those trees this year as I deliver our third child at the same hospital in which my husband was born.

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