25 February 2010

Hierarchies of needs

Here's a piece I just wrote for my writing group's February assignment, on "moving."

You say “write about moving” and I try hard to skirt the obvious and think about writing about dancing and discovering more about my physical presence on the earth every day, an aspect of my life I have come to treasure in my middling age.

Yet I can't help circling back to the fact that we moved a lot. Much more than most other people I knew. Even my daughter who was born halfway around the world has only moved twice, once to the orphanage when she was a newborn, and once to the house where we all live now. When I was a child, we moved, and moved again and moved some more, leaving one behind, forever it turned out, just like everyone said. We had so many addresses I couldn't remember them all, but my mother kept track, and wrote them down for me before we could both forget them, bless her soul. The longest we had an address during my childhood was three years. When I started going to kindergarten, I was amazed that most of my friends had lived in their houses for their entire lives. We hadn't even had a house some of the time.

Looking at the list of addresses where I've lived can be painful. I didn't have a special doll or stuffy to tote everywhere I went. I had my sister and my mother, but after a while I didn't even have my sister anymore. We dressed in clothes we found in free boxes, bought secondhand, or even found on the street. I was proud of my ability to sleep anywhere. Was it any wonder that, when my grandfather came to town and dazzled me with visions of debutantes dancing across the ballroom floor at the Brown Palace Hotel, I begged him to buy me a special doll, a brand-new one, even though my parents had explicitly instructed me not to ask for anything for Christmas?

Now I think about moving sometimes, but we chose well when we bought our first house 15 years ago. and I like its modest size; I can clean all the floors at once if I want to. I feel so fortunate to be where we are that I don't want to upset our happy apple cart -- I'm far more risk-averse than my parents were, I notice, as a parent and homeowner and free agent. I'm not as likely as I thought I would be as an adult to want to pull up roots and relocate. My husband and I did it once, for six months in Germany, and it was one of the most difficult periods of my life. Without the ability to translate, I was without my sense of humor and verbal agility, and often felt I didn't have much to offer. The heavy gray weather didn't help matters. The phrase “Out of sight, out of mind” would ricochet around my brain, making me wonder whether my friends were all forgetting about me.

A couple of years ago, I was seized with the idea that I should move with my family to India, we should get tech jobs, and write a book about the experience. I'm fairly certain more than one person or family have since gone and done this, and have written books or are making documentaries about it, which I'm a little surprised to find brings me relief. Ahhh, I don't have to do that!

The fact that my daughter has had some special needs has made me feel very fortunate to be able to get some help sorting through them and working with her. She would be a different person today if we hadn't been able to do that. What gets to me is: We didn't know enough to help my sister the way she needed help when I was a child. And what an opportunity this has been for my daughter; learning about her needs has helped every last one of us in some way. I didn't know enough when my little girl was tiny to know what she needed, although people tried to help me see it. I just did what I could, loving her and sticking close by, and trying (if not always succeeding) to find nonviolent ways to respond, counter to some of my initial instincts, which I knew were wrong but didn't have as much modeling to fill in for them as one might wish when one is suddenly spending many hours a day with one's little baby. When she started getting independent, e.g., walking, I started trying to push her away, too early for her abilities I now know. It turned out she couldn't see well. Now that she can, she is far less fearful about the world at large than she was when she was small. I was worried that she was so clingy; now I see how she couldn't always see faces, probably not enough to recognize whether people were friendly or hostile. Of course she clung to me; I always sorted such things out for her. Now she has more skills and we can support her better, instead of getting mad that she isn't like we were when we were smaller. Being able to provide her not only with love but also with stability and consistency closes some circuit within me and her and allows energy to flow where it hadn't been flowing before.

Will we move again? Hard to say, but living on a block with great neighbors, kids around my daughter's age, and great transportation options to just about anywhere, I have a hard time summoning any motivation to relocate. What a relief, another thing I don't have to do.

Oh, the places I've lived!

S. Columbine St., Denver, CO

S. Federal Blvd., Denver

Berthoud, CO

Gough St., San Francisco, CA

Julian St., The Rectory, San Francisco

Noe St., San Francisco

Pierce St., San Francisco

Cole St., San Francisco

Olompali Ranch, Novato, CA

Nederland, CO

37th St. & Baseline Rd., Boulder, CO

High St., Boulder

Canyon Blvd., Boulder-Mother and father separate, divorce

South St., Boulder-with father and stepmother

Mapleton Ave., Boulder-with father and stepmother

18th & Spruce St., Boulder-Mother

28th St., Boulder-Mother

15th & Spruce St., Boulder-Mother and stepfather

Bluff St., Boulder-Mother and stepfather

Broadway, Boulder-with father and stepmother

S. Boulder Rd., Boulder-with mother and stepfather

Vienna Way, Venice, CA-with mother and stepfather

UC Davis off-campus student housing, Davis, CA

Blake St., Berkeley, CA

Walnut St., Berkeley

Pilkington Ave., Santa Cruz, CA

Fair Oaks Ave., San Francisco, CA

Laidley St., San Francisco

Friends' apartment, Dortmund, Germany

Our apartment, Dortmund

Don & Joyce & Steve's house, Mapleton Ave., Boulder, CO

8th St., Boulder

Catalpa Way, Boulder

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