Many people overestimate the impact of change on their lives. Me? I do the opposite. This time, I paid for it.
Not-so-secretly, there’s a part of me that always wants to be moving. I like travel. I like the discomfort. I like living in new places. The other part of me wants to be sitting on the couch watching Star Trek: The Next Generation re-runs on Netflix. It’s a hard balance to maintain.
So five months ago, I embraced the former side. I packed all my shit and moved from rural Eastern Washington to the San Francisco Bay area.
Exciting, right? But wait, things are a little more complicated.
The Pieces Fall Into Place
Fourteen years ago, my then girlfriend (now wife) followed me from Pullman to Portland and Walla Walla. After we married, I followed her back to Portland, then to Seattle and Kennewick. It was my turn to have her follow me, I guess. If it was just us, it would just be another adventure.
Something happened in our stop in Kennewick, though. We sprouted a little one. We bought a house. We had a small community we relied on. We even gained a new cat. Maybe we were there for good? Okay, probably not but it wasn’t a bad spot to be.
Something did change, the most critical was that a job at my company’s San Francisco office was available and seemed like a good fit. Another critical change? My wife was ready for something… different. After a decade of 70+ hour fall weeks of wine harvest, who could blame her?
If only just a year-long hiatus from the craze, the timing couldn’t be better. Our daughter, now four and a combination of outlandish, shy, and adorable, wasn’t getting younger. The pieces were in place for a successful move, a rare one where the person coming behind doesn’t have to worry — at least in the short term.
Logistically, everything came together fine. The timing couldn’t have been better for almost everyone. The relocation went smooth. Even when a tree fell on my car an hour before our movers were showing up with a trailer full of my stuff? My only thought was, “This is as bad as it will get.”
I was right. At least, in theory.
In reality, change was only just beginning. My daughter, used to 8 hours in a full preschool environment, turned into a very small wrecking machine when she stayed at home full time. She frayed my wife’s nerves to exhaustion.
For four years, I was the primary parent for my daughter. I worked from home, 10–20 minutes away from preschool. I shuttled her to appointments. I went to almost all school functions. My wife worked an hour away in a time intensive industry, so there was no real conflict about this arrangement. For however difficult my job can sometimes be, it was the more flexible of the two. If work spilled over to after bedtime, a glass of wine would usually guide me to the end of an extended work day.
My wife stepping into not just being the primary parent, but going from working full-time to watching your daughter full-time at age four? With no ramp up?
Four-year-olds are their own version of insane. My wife is a wonderful parent, but she was shifted into an entirely different role that is nearly impossible to prepare for. I won’t write on her behalf but even taking a temporary break from your career, even without the stress of a move and caring full-time for a kid, is no easy task. She’s handled it remarkably well.
What About Me?
In theory, everything is fine. The job is going great. San Francisco is as advertised. But reality is more complicated.
I miss the people I love, of course. Although we’ve moved a lot, we’ve never been as far away. That’s tough.
The part that surprised me is that I miss a lot of my old, boring daily life.
I didn’t realize how much I personally got out of ferrying my kid back and forth from preschool or just being there for silly little after school moments while cooking dinner. And I was damn good at it. We had such a solid routine and this kid really appreciates that. There were months where I would arrive back at home within about a ten minute window. I would schedule 8am meetings without hesitation. I loved being able to be at almost every dance class and negotiate every side trip to the playground, driving detour over the white cable bridge, or a walking spot on our way home.
All while belting out my favorite Frozen or Moana songs.
I did get lonely and I did miss the in-person camaraderie of an office. I hated traveling so frequently, especially from my crappy airport, which required at least a layover each way. I hated that my wife spent two hours on the road, in addition to the crazy hours. I didn’t like the amount of time our daughter spent in preschool.
It wasn’t perfect but I perfected it. Why did I need to change it?
I don’t know if there is a moral to this story. I’ve always been happy to take risks and not wonder “what if.” I know what life would’ve been like if we had stayed. This has been a more difficult five months than those ones would’ve been.
Working with industries where disruption is often seen as a net positive, I can’t make a call on that with my own life disruption. At least, not yet. But even through some of the lower moments of the last few months, I’ve felt optimistic. I’ve looked up more than down. I’ve felt pain, but some of that pain is growth. It feels good in that way that change always feels good to me.
As I get accustomed to commuting and we prepare for a new preschool and the routines that brings, a new normal approaches.
That will feel good, at least for a little while. Then?
Well, I guess we’ll see.