Our kitchen table holds our secret conversations like a trusted friend. It faithfully offers us a place to sit down and try to decode the many muddled messages we are each receiving at this point in our lives.
Where do we go from here? From this house my husband despised the first night we nestled beneath the covers of our bed after a full day of unloading the U-haul last August. The question joins us at the table nearly every morning. We convene with tired, gleaming eyes ready to talk about another new scenario we’ve been mulling over.
What if we move to Maui? My husband imagines he could finally grow fins and snorkel and scuba every day after work with brightly painted fish friends. We would be forced to slow down, live simpler and smarter, jettison much of our possessions in favor of the island life, and oddly enough, we like the sound of all of that. We think we could do it or at least give it a try.
Without any reservation, we could also live in Europe again. The place where our paths unexpectedly collided in an empty church sanctuary 18 years ago. He, sent by his university, and me, a missions organization. We would gladly exchange mini-van commuting for pedaling around on bike paths and taking public transport. The immigration lawyer is positive we could live there without much difficulty, but so far, we haven’t taken a single next step. We loiter around the thought of packing up our four children and their blankies and prized rocks, art supplies, and books. Could we do it now that we are older, now that our kids’ memories are working, now that we’re more aware of our lack of savings, and responsibilities weigh heavy on our backs?
Plagued with dreams and desires to experience the world and show our children other cultures, cities, and ways of life, we go back and forth every day about our next inevitable move. On the good days, our conversations are hopeful and energetic, almost like we’re 20 somethings again. I can feel a few buds beginning to push up from these stripped branches of midlife. The other days though, we are bummed and brittle, broken and barely making it. Our finances can’t take another transition we grumble.
We’re crazy and stupid and should probably settle down and find a forever home fast, we mutter to each other.
Are we just adventure addicts in need of another hit? Maybe we don’t need to call our real estate agent to figure out the best time to sell, when an appointment with a therapist might get to the heart of the matter.
They can fix us, set us straight, look us in the eyes and tell us to stop the nonsense, root out the desire, and tell ourselves the hard truth: you’re just trying to escape reality, happiness is found within, be grateful for where you are, and all that sort of stuff.
I would probably have to agree with them. After all, seeking to flourish and hopefully add more fun to our family and marriage by expanding our options and looking beyond the towering pine trees of Washington State sounds frivolous and foolish at this stage in life. Staying put would be better for all of us. Our kids are close to their grandparents, we’re still in a pandemic, best to keep big changes to a minimum. Besides, we do love it here. It’s wild and rugged, and the weather isn’t that bad when compared to other places, and it might be the safest area to hunker down in during this global climate crisis.
But we’re not about to exclude any place quite yet.
We’ve turned in applications for schools here and there. We’re waiting for responses about placement for at least one of our kids into a school this coming fall. We’re still exploring a few areas we’ve never been before. And we’re still sitting at the kitchen table, hot drinks in hand, discussing the loopy path of life and underneath it all, the question remains lodged in our chests,
How will we know where to go from here?
Over the last many years, we’ve stepped into the fitting room and tried on a few different places to see how they feel. We’ve flown to cities like we’re going on a romantic getaway, leaving the kids with the grandparents, but we both know there’s another story we’re listening for, another question we’re holding- Could we live here? Or here? Or maybe here?
What would it feel like to drive this road every day? Shop at this grocery store? Drop our kids at this school? How would it look for us to be here as a family? What new traditions would we form? What routines would we cultivate? Would our children enjoy it?
We landed in Maui last week and asked those very questions just like we had a few times before. After a day of swimming and snorkeling my left ear clogged. No amount of shaking my head would open the ear canal. Communication became frustrating. I felt wedged in a tunnel for days. Voices sounded distant, even my own.
I could only think about one thing- I can’t hear!
We packed snacks for full days at the beach, got pummeled by big waves, bought fruit and souvenirs, looked at houses, and stared up at an unfamiliar night sky, until finally five days into our eight-day trip I knew I needed to go to the doctor. The audiology office directed me to the Urgent Care Clinic and I checked myself in, waited with people who needed their COVID vaccines, while my husband explored a nearby beach.
I was hopeful I was going to find relief and hear clearly again, but also embarrassed because I had a hunch I knew what they would say-Ear wax, lady, you’ve got a lot of ear wax.
And sure enough, it took two seconds for a tiny camera to confirm my fears. My eardrum was totally hidden, locked up behind mounds of sticky goo. How much she couldn’t tell. But after 30 minutes of high-powered hot water being streamed into my ear like a needle, the issue was finally resolved. I nearly threw up at the sight of what the nurse pulled from my ear canal and turned away with a gasp. The nurse, who I now called by her first name, laughed, both of us equally ecstatic about my returned hearing and also disturbed by the strangeness of the human body to produce such an unnecessary substance.
My husband and I flew home a few days later, a little disappointed, lacking the clarity we actually wanted, with only a suitcase full of more questions. We had high hopes for a sense of knowing to sweep over us the minute we stepped onto Maui soil. Instead, we got glowing skin, time together, sand between our toes, and the gift of an unclogged ear. But with that a renewed gratefulness for the ability to hear, to listen, to communicate freely without frustration.
How will we know where to go from here? The answer, I think, is this: we won’t.
All we can do is make sure we’re listening, to the questions, to the conversations, our ears opened wide to life and tuned into the music humming softly all around us as it allures us to keep dancing on the ground we’re on and sometimes to try out a few new moves.