A lot of people leave their hometowns, build a life, and only return home for the holidays. Hubby and I left, built a life, returned home for the holidays but then, all of a sudden, we sold our house, packed up our belongings and moved back to the region where we grew up. Someone once told me that’s not what people should do – that once they leave, they should stay gone. That’s life, I was told.
Hubby and I were gone for six years, enough time for things to change immensely and yet stay exactly the same. This past year, our first year “back,” stirred up a lot of feelings for me – which was surprising, because I’ve always wanted to live on the lake. Finishing my PhD and actually getting my dream lakehouse should have made me the happiest person in the world. People would have been well within their rights to kick me for uttering any complaints. And I have been happy, really happy, at home. But I felt unsettled when we drove into the city, like I was just visiting and should be heading to the airport soon to return home to Ottawa, where we lived before. It felt like we had taken a step back, in some ways, like we’d stepped in a time machine and were teenagers again. It was so nice to be closer to family, but we missed our friends. It’s been difficult making new friends, and yet everyone knows everyone in this small city – we missed the anonymity of a bigger city. We missed the shopping (I couldn’t even find a decent curtain rod here). I was also a little bummed by my employment situation: my job prospects have been disappointing and I’m currently cobbling together an income, while Hubby works full time. Even though I was happy this past year, I also kind of missed our old life.
While I waited for the right time to write a post about moving back home, trying to make sense of what I was thinking and feeling, what I was thinking and feeling changed. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed that I was recently in Ottawa for a short visit. I stayed with a friend who lived only a few minutes from our former townhouse. She was able to take a couple of days off from work so we could spend a long weekend together, and graciously lent me her car on the days she had to work so I could venture out on my own. It was a funny feeling driving around Ottawa again. I visited my favorite antique shops, checked out some furniture stores, stocked up at Costco with whatever I could fit in my luggage, and went to the townhouse.
That’s right, I went back to the townhouse. I walked the grounds behind the townhouse and while I scuttled by, casually sneaked a glance toward my former abode. The curtains were thrown open (did they get rid of my beautiful layered sheers?) and it was dusk, so I saw a little: aside from the addition of their decor, the kitchen looked identical. All of the walls still looked white, and the dining room light was the same too. That’s all I saw. It felt intrusive to loiter, so I hurried back to the car. And I felt great! Like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I’m a sentimental person and was sure that with my mixed feelings about moving back to Northwestern Ontario, I’d crumple on the townhouse property, weeping, but instead I phoned Hubby immediately and told him how good I felt about the trajectory of our lives. He sounded relieved.
After my trip, I was able to think about Ottawa, our current place, the move – everything – with more perspective. It’s like my thoughts were previously clouded by feelings of “awwwww Ottawa, awwwwww, the townhouse,” and that made me think a little irrationally. With my new found clarity, I realized that it was just the change that had me feeling a little off kilter. It was a lot of change, all at once. In a period of only a few months, I successfully defended my PhD, we sold the townhouse (our first house!), bought the lakehouse (our dream house), added Szuka to the mix, packed up and moved 1600km. Overnight I was no longer a grad student. I think I craved the comfort of our old routine more than I realized. Being plunged into a new, but eerily familiar routine, made me pine for Ottawa. I forgot what a privilege it is to be able to make such huge life choices – and to actually see our dreams realized! – and I lost sight of what is important. Diving right into home improvements made it seem like having a variety of furniture, home decor and renovation stores is the most important thing, and I forgot that life is about more than updating a home.
The last year went by in a blur, and I spent some of it in a bit of a funk, but I’ve decided to savor this upcoming year. I finally feel settled and I no longer pine for what we had. I’m also going to see my underemployment as something great: this is going to be the winter I indulge my creative side. Embroidery, painting, sewing – I’m going to make things. Time-consuming, beautiful things. And to make up for the months we spent apart while I was doing research, Hubby and I are going to go cross-country skiing, have snowball fights and enjoy the crisp, cold air. Oh, and buy a stand up paddle board for next summer. And do a million other things. Yes, the city we now call home still looks a lot like the city we grew up in, but there’s also a lot of new restaurants, art galleries and shops to explore.
I feel good. Hubby, who is always on a far more even keel than me, feels good. I’m already excited for 2015 because I know it’s going to be an awesome year. I think our breakfast guests are proof positive:
Have you moved around a lot? Had to start fresh? Ever moved back home? Was a year too long to realize how good I have it?
For what it's worth, I think that first year after finishing grad school is rough. It's kind of like "what now?" At least it was for me. I had constantly had this huge goal of finishing ahead of me and then BAM. Nothing. And then you find the 1 trillion hobbies you've been missing out on and gain some peace! 🙂
Yeah, I always knew what was next (more research and writing!) and now I'm running around, wild-eyed, saying "I can do anything?! But I should be researching!". In hindsight, I wish I had just said I'm going to take X amount of time off but I kept busy. So this winter I'm taking some time off. I need to enjoy this new place, a year later, lol. It's so nice to know that the first year was a bit funky for you too. I feel better!
Tanya, this sounds very familiar. The transition from PhD to whatever comes next isn't an easy one, I think especially for those of us who decide not to pursue tenure-track jobs. It definitely took me awhile to settle into the new normal after I started into my first post-PhD job, and I didn't have a new home and city to contend with! So glad you're feeling better, and excited to see what you create over the winter!
The transition is so weird!! And it's been doubly weird making that transition in my hometown, where I felt 12 again. Like the PhD never happened, lol.
We've moved around Ottawa 4 times in the last 6ish years. We have some regrets (buying a big house) and some high points (becoming landlords). Overall every move is stressful because there's always that questions of :"did we make the right choice". So far we have been able to make the best of our choices, keeping an eye on the future. One thing that I know now is how much easier it is to move before kids are in school. Moves are pretty tough on the little ones.
That is a lot of moves (we've chatted about them, yes?, or am I making this up…). I think you're right: every move comes with some questions. I can't even imagine having had to move with a little one. I'd have had a hard time keeping a stiff upper lip if he/she started to cry about missing friends. I'd crumple and join in, "me too" sniff sniff.
We took early, really early retirement because we wanted to be young enough to enjoy it and in the process began looking for a home to retire to. We'd lived in the South a number of years ago and because it was closer to our daughter we chose it. Moving from California to the coast of Georgia was an adventure and like you it took a year or so for it to all sink it. We're happier than we've ever been with time to do exactly what we want. What a gift.
Awww, that sounds amazing!! When people pressure me about my immediate plans, I often tell them I'm doing retirement first, lol. It's nice to hear that it took about a year to settle into your new life. I feel more normal 🙂 Your daughter must be so thrilled to have you closer!
I've moved so many times…I'm in my ninth place of residence since leaving home for university! I totally snoop on the places I used to live when I pass by. I like to see what the new owners/tenants are up to and see how things have changed over the years
Do you hum the Barenaked Ladies song "The Old Apartment"? I totally was. Nine places is a lot of places to check in on, and a lot of change! Does it get easier to get settled after so many moves?
I feel like any time a person moves, a little piece stays behind in the former home. Even moving from place to place in town has a similar feeling! Part of the nice thing about blogging is that you have an amazing record of your time in the Townhouse! As you wrote, visiting helps, especially after you've been away for a while. I never doubt our decision to move to CA from Kansas, but there are times when I miss our friends and our local haunts. The small town life was not for me, but there are aspects of it that I really liked. I cannot wait to visit at the end of the month for Christmas!
That's a nice way to put it: a little piece stays behind! Blogging has created this neat record. But I think it also made it more difficult to move forward, because every day I see reminders. Visiting was so cathartic. I feel like I immediately moved on. I thought it would have the opposite effect but it was such a good decision to see the old place again. Now all I miss are our friends!! But I think there will be more visits in our future.
Interesting post. I've never left my hometown (which is actually a big city) except to live abroad for a year. More and more I'm craving the slower pace (and less traffic) of a smaller city. I hope to try a new city at some point if even for just a few years.
A smaller city is more peaceful. I was so used to the Ottawa pace (almost a million) that moving back to a city of 100,000 felt super slow at first. But now Ottawa seemed packed! So much traffic! I'm will never tire of finding a perfect parking spot every time I leave home, lol. But I do miss the bigger art galleries and museums, but that's what travel is for 🙂
Yes I emphasize with your pain with so many changes at one time. I have had several myself and it is difficult.
Sometimes I find I don't even realize I'm impacted by change, because I'm happy but then there's this underlying current of emotion…
Everyone's journey is going to be different. Just because you moved away doesn't mean you need to stay gone, that's actually quite ridiculous sounding to me. I'm not great with change…..a remodeling of a favorite website, moving, a new job, etc are frustrating and sometimes tough for me. I get comfortable and like to know what to expect. I have lived in pretty much the same area all my life….the furthest away I have move from the houses I grew up in was about 20-25 mins. The area has changed a lot in those years so it's not boring but stayed the same enough that it will always feel like home. I do feel sometimes though that a huge change would be good for me to get me out of my rut. I was actually thinking about moving to Ontario about 6 years ago but I know no one there and all my family is here, and being a single mom you rely heavily on family. Do you think that because they house looked pretty much the same from what you could see that that was part of the relief? That they hadn't made it better, making you know you weren't missing out on anything?
I thought that life lesson sounded ridiculous to me too, but I think that with small cities there is this idea among SOME folks that leaving, especially to a bigger city, is a sign of success. But like you said, family is a big deal. I like being closer to mine and Hubby's, and I can totally see how you'd want to be close to family as well.Oh man, when websites change it bugs me too! I wanted to switch to wordpress but all that newness will totally throw me.I don't know how I would have felt if the house had looked totally renovated. That's a good question. I would have thought, "damn, I should have painted the kitchen cupboards if they were going to rip them out anyway". LOL. I think that just seeing it, no matter what shape, made me feel happy. It seemed smaller. And the road behind seemed busy. And the driveway was so short!! I saw all it's flaws, coupled with the city being great but just no longer homey. I realized here's my home, and it's better!
Just found your blog and you are Canadian! Yay! I also moved back to where I grew up and it's taken a long time to come to terms with it but in the end it was the best thing we've done! 2015 will be amazing, love your house!
Hi Jill, I'm so glad that you found your way here and left a comment. It's really comforting to know that you also took awhile to readjust to moving back to where you grew up too. And it's really great to hear that the decision was the right choice for you!!
Oh, this resonated with me on many levels (and articulated feelings and thoughts that I've had and contribute to have, but didn't know how to express). So, thank you. I think part of this relates to epectations , and even great outcomes are not always what we expected, so there's that. I also moved from our first home several years ago, and really pined for that life. Just like you, when I drove my our old house, I realized how many of neighbors, who I adored, had also moved and had that feeling of, "moving on is ok!" The feeling was both cathartic and surprising.
It's always so comforting to find people who have experienced or felt something similar. So I'm so thankful that you left a comment sharing your story! I forgot all about the neighbours! One of our favorite neighbours left shortly before we sold and their departure was really felt. Had they still been there, would I have felt differently? Not sure, but people really do contribute to whether a place feels like home or not. I'm so happy to hear that you felt good seeing your first home again, like it was time to move on. I know that's a really good feeling!