Committing to Kzoo

When I moved to New York thirteen years ago I knew that it was a temporary situation. I moved for my first “real” job after college (well after, with a good bit of waitressing in between), a job that paid $28K, which my parents’ friends told me I couldn’t possibly live on. I’d never dreamed of living in New York, and in fact I’ve still never lived in NYC; I moved to the suburbs north of the city, and found a studio apartment within walking distance of my new office. I moved without Kristin (then my girlfriend and not yet my wife) who took a job in Colorado at the same time, both concerned that we might not find anything else if we didn’t follow these opportunities, such as they were. We agreed that in a year we’d reassess and whoever was in the less desirable situation would pack up and follow the other. Even with that plan, I figured that NY was maybe a two year gig.

But New York has this way of drawing you in. I stayed with that organization (with better pay, thank God) for seven years, went to grad school, got laid off and found a better organization (with a 75 minute commute into Manhattan each way) and have been there for six years. We got married almost ten years ago, decided to start a family and moved to a new town on the Hudson River before our first was born (and wondered why we hadn’t moved years ago). We had three children in this apartment (not actually in this apartment, but you know what I mean), and now there are five of us in a smallish two-bedroom with a balcony that looks over the Hudson, where we watch huge barges and tugboats chug by every day.

Even though I’ve been complaining about the same New York things for thirteen years (the smell! the crowds! the traffic! the subway commute takes years off of your life! the cost of living!) and even though we’ve been talking about where we ought to put down roots for years and years, it’s taken us this long to finally commit to a place. I think it’s taken us this long because, if I’m being honest with myself, there are a lot of things about this life and even about New York that we love. We’ve made some incredible friends, we’ve had the good fortune of working with some of the smartest and most extraordinary people, there was a time when we actually went out and had amazing cocktails (R.I.P Elizabeth Lounge) and food and went to movies and shows. I remember the first time I ever tagged along to the NYC Pride Parade and was blown away by the sheer number of people. The ease of meeting people who share so many of our beliefs about the world, who welcome us as any other family, that’s been a luxury that we ought not take for granted.

We’ve spent years trying to identify the perfect city. At this stage I couldn’t even tell you any of the criteria on our list, and I’m sure that if I could it would make you roll your eyes for either its privilege or its impossibility or both. We visited Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, the suburbs of Chicago, Charleston, Minneapolis, all wondering where we might land. At some point we began to acknowledge that perhaps moving to an entirely new place where we knew no one and had no network might be foolish, so we tried to frame our search with that in mind. I think that it was May of 2015, while in Kalamazoo for my Grammy’s memorial service that I announced to Kristin that I was ready to commit to Michigan. She was shocked, and maybe wasn’t 100% there yet, but we began talking about it more seriously. By that summer, we’d all but committed  and we visited the East side of the state to see if Kristin could sell me on it (I was pretty firmly in camp Kzoo). I didn’t fall in love, and we tentatively decided that Kalamazoo was it by late Fall. I got the green light to take my job with me, and by Christmas we were cautiously looking at Kalamazoo real estate.

There are a lot of things about moving back to my hometown (and Kristin’s college town) that weird me out, but I still know that it’s absolutely right for us right now. Sure, the thought of running into random people from high school in the grocery store gives me anxiety, and Kristin feels a little bit like she’s moving backward rather than forward but guys, the Kalamazoo Promise. Our kids will have free college tuition; that’s huge. Not only that, but my parents are there (half of the year, anyway) and Kristin’s parents are two hours away, we have a small but important network of friends we’ve known for ages, and Kalamazoo is a wonderful place to grow up. When we first started talking about our plans, a number of those friends-we’ve-known-for-ages shared with us in subtle or not-so-subtle ways that they thought this might be a mistake. That we would be giving up SO MUCH in New York to come back to somewhere oh so boring. But here’s the thing: our entire life these days revolves around being the parents of three tiny, crazy people. We don’t go to bars, or even to restaurants that don’t have a kids’ menu, we don’t go to shows, and I can’t remember the last time we saw a movie in the theater. Our weekends are all about the zoo and the children’s museum and playgrounds and the living rooms of other people with kids, and laundry – lots and lots of laundry. We can do all of that in Kalamazoo and we can have a lot more space, a real backyard, and a washer and dryer that don’t require quarters, and it can be ours. It makes me cry to think about the kids finally getting the treehouse that Jonah has been asking Papa Doc to build for months.

We’re moving from Hastings on Hudson to Kalamazoo in twenty five days and we’re on the trite-yet-accurate roller coaster of emotion: some moments I can’t wait to start the life I’ve been talking about for thirteen  years, and the next I’m crying about all we’re leaving behind that I’m sure I’ve taken for granted. Kristin is crushed at having to leave the Bronx where she’s taught for twelve years, despite my attempt at reassurance that my old high school will be cool too (right?). I’m already wondering what my final subway commute to the office I love will feel like. But we’re ready. We’re finally committed to a place, and we can’t wait to start that leg of the journey.