I haven’t seen Failure to Launch, but I’m going to hazard a guess about how the film portrays Matthew McConaughey, whose character is thirtysomething and still living with his parents. He’s probably unambitious, career-wise and otherwise. He’s probably not interested in carrying on a long-term relationship, or taking care of anything that requires caretaking. He probably plays a lot of video games—am I on the right track?
The fact is, there’s a lot of cultural baggage that comes with moving back in with your parents. (That movie I was just talking about? Look at its title: failure is the first word. Failure!) So when I moved back in with my mom two months ago, I was trying to resist ascribing the adjective to my own situation. I’ve successfully held a full-time job and become financially independent, but I still needed a temporary safety net after moving cross-country. So I stepped back through the doors of my old house, and tried not to wince while doing it.
But you know what? Even though I can’t wait till I get my own place in the city, it’s been really nice here. And I’m not ashamed to admit that.
My mom buys fresh flowers every week to brighten up our white kitchen table. She has coached me through job-search woes and general transition-related malaise, and then celebrated my recent job-search victory as if it were her own. She has oh-so-graciously let Koko into her home, despite a lifelong fear of cats. When she sensed that I couldn’t afford to go out during my spell of unemployment, she treated me to a day out in the city so I could feast on some iconic Chicago foods: Ann Sather cinnamon rolls, Polish sausages, slices of fruit pie from Hoosier Mama, and pierogi and cabbage soup in the Ukranian Village. At home, she makes a roast chicken every week for us to feast on. And she tells everyone she knows how excited she is that I’m here.
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There’s a lot that changes when you move from one part of the country to another: geographical features, regional chain stores, and your neighbors’ accents (though I haven’t run into any of Bill Swerski’s Superfans quite yet). One thing I didn’t expect to change so drastically? The contents of the grocery stores.
Recently, over tea and Girl Scout cookies with a friend, I mentioned that I had been surprised to learn—at age eighteen—that Jews make up less than 2% of the U.S. population. Growing up next to Skokie, Illinois, which held the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel, I always assumed that at least half of America was Jewish. The same proportion of my middle-school classmates had thrown bar or bat mitzvahs, after all. He just laughed at me, but after stepping foot in the Skokie Jewel-Osco last weekend, it was obvious why I’d made that assumption. Huge posters hung from the ceiling near the entrance, wishing shoppers a happy Passover. An entire corner of the store had been set aside for Passover foods, and a permanent section held a kosher deli, bakery and dairy case. Growing up on the North Shore, it seemed as normal to anticipate Chanukah as it was Christmas.
It was a far cry from the grocery stores in the D.C. suburbs, which catered to a Salvadorean population; there was no type of dried chile you couldn’t find there. And there was no short supply of neighborhood Vietnamese markets, either. (On a related note, here’s a little public service announcement: if you’re into pho and you’ve never been to the Eden Center, you haven’t lived.)
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As I began my senior year of college—you know, when the only thought on anybody’s mind is “What’s next?”—I thought I had it all figured out. I’d be swooping myself right back to Chicago as soon as I removed my cap and gown, and that seemed to be that. I told my friends and roommates on every occasion that that the subject came up.
But somewhere between first and second semester, seeds of doubt were planted in my mind. I started tuning my ear to a weird internal dialogue that stemmed from a combination of outside influences and my own strange insecurities: “Isn’t the East Coast more cosmopolitan than the Midwest?” “Am I boring for wanting to return to the place where I was born?” Both statements look ridiculous on paper, of course, but can be strangely powerful when played over and over in the ear of a confused young adult. I may not have loved D.C. after spending four years in the place, but it was easy to second-guess myself, especially since most of my classmates were making post-graduate plans in Washington.
So when I met someone and wanted to see where things went, I convinced myself that Washington would be an okay place to hang tight, for a little while at least. If nothing else, it was neutral ground. And maybe the city with imprint me with its intrinsic D.C.-ness, thus bestowing upon me all those traits I had thought were lacking in myself—somehow, I’d become cosmopolitan, important, and powerful. Interesting. Worthy.
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In conversations with all of you, dear readers, about moving and home-related stress (what can I say? It’s been on my mind since making this cross-country trek!), you all offered a wealth of different perspectives. Dana talked about the breakdown and renovation of her new house, and Stephanie, Shanna, and Jacqui talked about the stress of homes invaded by clutter (whether good clutter, like wedding gifts, or bad clutter, as seen in Hoarders…eek). It was clear to me that there was a thread tying all those experiences together: when we are too busy taking care of our homes, rather than being restored by the experience of just being at home, some crucial balance is thrown off.
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In a recent act of reverence, I visited a synagogue. It was still Hanukkah, and I’d definitely say it was a spiritual event: Andrew Bird was playing at the 6th and I downtown. I’ve always loved the lush, layered qualities of his songs (and, of course, that whistling!) but wasn’t quite sure how he’d be able to recreate them live.
He was completely sans backing band, looking lonely up on stage amidst a sea of instruments and blue light. But apparently that didn’t matter, because he became his own band in a feat of musical and technological wizardry: by recording himself onstage, then looping the track as he layered piece upon piece of percussion, melody and harmony. He only started singing after a few minutes of this strategic work, once he’d created a backing track from his own musical building blocks (see the method for yourself here).
It was humbling, to say the least.
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