Wednesday, August 20, 2014

california girl

i think i have a midwestern soul. how else can i explain my love of trees and lakes and wide-open spaces and porch sitting and back doors? my penchant for boxed wine and mayonnaise and casseroles? i mean, i'm not nice enough to actually be a midwesterner, but it's in my blood.

my mom's family lives in kalamazoo, michigan. we used to go back a couple of weeks every summer until i went to college, but it had been five years since the last time we went. that's pre-little-people. my grandma hadn't even met my kids! my littlest cousins are practically grown. it had been too long.

anyway. something about going to michigan will always feel a little bit like coming home. there are 24 of us cousins (i think?), and god knows how many offspring. a lot of them still live in the area. going back just feels like a big hug. a big sweaty, sandy hug. it's just different there. it has the niceness of the south, without the pretense. nobody has fences between their yards, but it's like they lack emotional fences, too. the family bonds are so tight, it seems. people went out of their way to make time for us, to feed us and entertain us. seeing the next generation of cousins thick as thieves like we all were twenty-thirty years ago was priceless. it also helps that we are now old enough to drink, and no one has any problem cracking open a bud light on the beach at noon.

(my mom would probably actually be flabbergasted that this is now the case. i don't think any family gatherings involved alcohol while she was alive. her upbringing was very "footloose." no dancing, no movies, no cards, no nylons, definitely no alcohol. (well, she had alcohol. but shhhh. don't tell grandma.) i remember she was blown away when my grandma got her ears pierced because that was just so totally verboten when she was growing up. and beer at a cookout? not a chance. my aunt and her husband actually own a bar and i don't think my grandma accepted that fact for a decade. but she's come a long way ;))

anyway. hanging out with the Michigan contingent really made me realize how... sort of... isolated we are in san diego. my sister lives 20 minutes away. my dad and my brother and an aunt and uncle and a couple of cousins are a short plane flight north. i have a few really good friends in san diego and a large helping of besties strewn about the state. but i don't know. it's different. the fiber of that fabric is strong, but loosely woven, if that makes any sense? i know if i really need someone, i have a long list of people who would be willing to drop what they were doing to be there for me. but it's not the same as having an enormous clan of family and friends as your default setting - people that will call before they go to the market to ask if you need anything, people who will pick your kids up from school without thinking twice, people who hang out on "school nights," who will be at your house to watch football every sunday whether you like it or not.

and hey. we had a fun-filled-family week and i'm still riding high off that. and who knows. maybe they only do it when we're in town! but there's an ease, a familiarity, that really gave voice to the notion of "it takes a village." my cousins and aunts and uncles traded kids and grandkids like they were their own. we ate and drank and planned and played like one giant, tardy organism :) it just felt very.... comforting.

DM would take this opportunity to point out that I've actively avoided this sense of community and belonging for most of my life. and he would be right. i like my space. my quiet. my solitude. i'm not really cut out for unexpected guests or standing plans on Friday nights. i stress out for weeks beforehand whenever i entertain. and i am reeling from exhaustion and overstimulation after a stint of family-time, all-the-time like the week we just had. but still. it's nice. it's nice to know it still exists and that, if we wanted, we could pretty seamlessly become a part of it. at least for a week every summer :)

and of course, i'm sure a large part of it is because this is one of the last real connections i have to my mom.

i still think it's interesting though, the different "feel" of the place. geography certainly plays a part. most of my mom's family lives within 30 miles of where she grew up. and that takes a kind of familial commitment that i wasn't willing to make. i couldn't WAIT to get out of dodge after high school, and i had (and still have) no intention of returning to my "home town." at this point, i've spent almost as much time away as i spent there, and honestly, there isn't much left that feels like "home" anymore.

and California is different than Michigan. at least, the parts i know. we have fences. i have more of a relationship with the UPS guy than i do with any of my neighbors. we don't sit on the front porch and watch life go by. we stay in our little bubbles. our garages suck us in and spit us out morning and night - from the house to the car to the office and back again, sometimes without even seeing the light of day. we use the front door. (and when someone knocks on it, i hide.) kids don't "go outside and play," they have scheduled play dates at Gymboree. schools don't allow PB&J or super heroes. we talk about farm shares and recipes for quinoa. meanwhile, Michiganders are out on the actual farm detassling (sweet) corn.

i don't mean to sound like i'm down on California, by the way. it's my home. i love it here. it is, in my humble opinion, far and away the best state. i have no intention of leaving, ever. and Michigan isn't all corn rows and kumbayah, i'm sure. (for example, during a 6-month polar vortex.) but i would be lying if i couldn't admit that certain aspects of California are a little... inauthentic. (maybe that is partly because California consists primarily of transplants - people who left "home" in search of something, including but not limited to, themselves?)

anyway, it's not just the midwest, per se. DM is always agitating to move somewhere like Michigan, Delaware, north Carolina, or fresno. somewhere that, in his mind, involves block parties and barbecues, poker night, wiring the baby monitors between your house and your neighbors on either side. but i think it's less about where you are, and more about who you're with. i think maybe you just have to make your own community wherever you end up.

who wants to come over for some casserooooollllle?! extra-gluten-y! ;)

p.s. - i should really stop talking shit about gluten- and dairy-free. it is coming home to roost. my doctor just told me that foregoing dairy may alleviate many of my health woes. "is there cheese in it?" "NO. no there is NOT, A-hole. thanks for reminding me!!!" i just know they're coming after my bread next. hold me.

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