At the end of this month, my husband and I will be celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary. As a treat, we decided to take a trip back to Rhode Island, where our story as a couple began almost twenty years ago. When we first met at a wedding, I had just graduated college and had started my first job in Ohio while my husband was working towards his MBA at the University of Rhode Island. We maintained a long-distance relationship for six months. In a time before texting and FaceTime, we exchanged long, hand-written letters, swapped Polaroid photos, and spoke on the phone for hours getting to know each other. We spent our first holiday season together in his small apartment on URI's campus, and it was then that I fell in love with Rhode Island. Eventually, I moved to join my husband (then fiancé), and we found a small apartment in the coastal town of Narragansett, right across from the beach. Having grown up in land-locked Cincinnati (if you don't count the Ohio River), I was enamored with my new home and the natural beauty of New England.
For about two years, we lived in a sheltered cocoon, having to answer only to ourselves. The future seemed limitless and exciting. Although the miles separated us from our families, we enjoyed our independence, discovering more about each other with each passing day.
However, as the date of our wedding drew nearer, we began to discuss the future in more realistic terms. Where would we live when my fiancé graduated? Would we stay in Rhode Island? Would we move somewhere closer to family? I still loved the novelty of living somewhere so "unlike" where I had grown up. Every summer afternoon felt like a vacation since we could easily walk across the street to the beach. I loved our regular trips into Newport to shop, to Providence on Fridays for their WaterFire events, and our boat rides to Block Island for fresh seafood. I didn't even mind the cold of winter when we would sit on the Narragansett Pier wall, staring at the deserted beach and watching steel-gray waves break on the sand while seagulls circled overhead. I truly felt New England was my home, . . . where I was meant to be.
Then one day I had to take my car into the shop. I waited with a young mother for the car service that would drop me off at work and her back to her home. A small, piggy-tailed girl of about three ran circles around the harried mother while she shuffled a small, crying baby in her arms. When the van pulled up next to us, I watched as she bent to gather all her belongings: a diaper bag, car seat, infant carrier, grocery bags, and her daughter’s small purse filled with crayons and stuffed animals. All while trying to balance her infant in her arms. “Can I help you?” I asked, reaching for a couple of bags while she attempted to secure the car seats into the van. The young mother blew a strand of hair out of her eyes as she buckled in her children then turned to me. “Thank you,” she said gratefully, taking the bags from me. “Had to get the grocery shopping done before taking my car in. I’m house-bound until my husband gets home from work.”
As we rode, her daughter entertained us with games of Peek-a-Boo while we talked. I learned that her husband had been transferred to Rhode Island the year before, and they were making their way as a young family on their own. When we reached her destination, I watched as she struggled once again to juggle all her belongings, while I had to worry only about myself. Since my fiancé and I both wanted children, I knew that wouldn’t always be the case.
That evening, I broached the subject with my fiancé at dinner.
“How would you feel about moving back to Ohio?” I asked.
“Really?” He said, somewhat surprised. “I thought you liked it here.”
“I do,” I admitted, “but what happens when we have a family? I grew up with my family close by. I want the same for our children.”
So we moved back to Cincinnati just a few months shy of our wedding. My husband jokes to this day that he thought we’d end up somewhere exciting, like New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, or even overseas. But I never once regretted our decision. We may have given up the beach for tree-lined suburbia, but I’ve come to truly appreciate the safety of our community, where neighbors wave when you drive by and we look out for each other’s families. Most importantly, we live near family. We are able to celebrate birthdays and holidays together. We are able to share in major life milestones and events without having to travel to be together.
In those first days after my daughter was born, when the well-wishers to our home had tapered off and it was just me and my daughter, I struggled. Living on little sleep and feeling guilty over being unable to breastfeed, I remember excusing myself when my mother stopped by to drop off some food. She found me sitting in the bathroom, crying into my hands. She put her arm around me and said, “Rest, honey. I’ve got the baby. Take a shower and a nap. Take some time for yourself.” Those were the kindest words I’d ever heard, and I was so thankful for her in that moment.
Along with the "lows" are the "highs" that come with raising a family near to those you love. On the day my daughter was born, my entire family was present to welcome her into the world. My parents, brother and sister-in-law, grandmother, aunts and uncles and cousins all surrounded the hospital bed where I held my newborn, and we sang Happy Birthday for the first time. This is one of my happiest memories, a moment I will never forget. This is why moving back home was the best decision I ever made.