Our first grandchild! I admit it. I wanted a grandchild. I had young nieces and nephews. I had much younger friends with adorable babies. I could hold a child, babysit, and play with a child anytime I wanted. I still wanted a grandchild, what my father calls “a dividend”. I know it makes no sense but I was jealous of my friends with grandchildren. I drooled over their photos and sighed over their Facebook posts. This is one of those split personality things. On one hand, I wanted a grandchild. On the other hand, I wanted my daughters to have careers and be financially secure before having children. Fueling my desires was that two of my neighbors had announced that they were expecting grandchildren in December. I had known these women for 21 years. On my street, a core group of five families have gotten together almost every Sunday night since the 1994 Northridge earthquake. We always celebrated New Year’s Eve together. Our children used to play rollerblade hockey in the cul de sac in front of my house. Our children had been in marching band together. Our daughters had gone to Girl Scout camp together. And now that our nests were empty, we went camping together every summer and skiing every winter. When the ultrasound pictures came out at our gathering one Sunday night, I wanted my own.
The baby was good news. But my husband and I had the same reaction: the house was too small. Mind you, we had lived in this 1900 square foot house with three children, two dogs, a demon cat, 5 mice, one hamster and a rat. Now it seemed too small for three adults, four dogs, two cats and a newborn. We would not be the first on the street to be sharing our home with an adult child and a grandchild. Our daughter could stay in her current room. The baby could have the room she had as a child. My hobby room could be the guest room. It would work. Maybe.
One sunny Sunday, we got in the convertible and decided to check out other neighborhoods. This wasn’t the first time that we had done this. When youngest daughter was in junior high, we had actually picked out a lot and began negotiations with a developer. Then I started worrying about college tuitions and mortgage payments. How could I manage on a teacher’s salary if something happened to my husband? When my husband began a job in another Los Angeles suburb, we drove over there to look for a home. It was the apex of the housing boom. We had a short list of possibilities; every open house had a steady stream of possible buyers. The house we liked best had a contract on it before the afternoon was over. We decided to wait. How could we leave our neighbors? When I changed jobs, leaving the middle school that I had taught at for nine years for the high school my children had attended, we attended open houses in the neighborhoods close to the high school. Too little yard. Too busy a street. Too many foreclosures. Too many excuses. We wanted a bigger house but were afraid to make the transition.
This time we thought we were ready. We went to some open houses. We eliminated several neighborhoods. We found a realtor we could work with. He began sending us new listings. Prices were dropping; people wanted to move. We seriously began to do the math and develop criteria: schools, bedrooms, privacy, kitchens. We decided on an older neighborhood that was uniquely different from other neighborhoods in our suburb. Instead of perfectly straight streets with little cookie cutter box houses all in a row, it had meandering lanes with a mixture of homes, some large and expensive, others cottage like. Youngest daughter was in her first trimester. We had time to find something.
Then a headhunter called my husband. First, let me say that having a headhunter call at our age is gratifying. Our first reaction was relief. Let’s face it, we had reached the age where changing jobs was difficult. We knew people who had been laid off, whose company had downsized, leaving them searching for a job in their fifties. We knew it wasn’t easy. Even when you are not looking for a job at our age, you think about how old you are and how close to retirement you are. Who is going to hire you? We knew my husband had a highly desirable skill set but he had gone to several interviews in the past year where he didn’t get the job. Age? Personality? Experience? Everybody likes my husband (I’m the problem). He has worked in his area for 30 years. He has a master’s degree. Yet as gratifying as calls from headhunters are, after a series of phone interviews with a recruiter over the summer, he was leery of headhunters. The guy wasted my husband’s time, setting up appointments, cancelling them, finally admitting that they were vetting another candidate first.
The headhunter had called about a job further south, one that would require us to relocate in Orange County. With our first grandchild coming, we felt that we couldn’t leave Los Angeles. And I didn’t see how we could live in California without my salary. Getting a teaching job would be difficult. Many districts were increasing class sizes and laying off staff. I currently had three classes of 38, and two of 30 (and felt fortunate that all five weren’t at 38). That was a total of 174 essays every two to three weeks. People wonder why English teachers don’t require more writing. So we decided he shouldn’t consider any jobs outside of commuting distance from our house (roughly an hour’s drive). He told the headhunter no.
Then a second headhunter called. This headhunter was calling about a dream job, a job my husband thought he might really want, a job in Connecticut. That’s definitely more than an hour from Los Angeles. But he really liked this company. He was really interested in this job. He talked to the recruiter. He had a phone interview. He had another phone interview. They wanted to meet him. Why not?
So we flew to Connecticut in October during the fall foliage. We live in an area of the country that has two seasons: summer and not summer. Summer begins in March and lasts until Halloween. July, August and September could be called extreme summer. Sometimes summer occurs in December. This Christmas, we sat outside in t-shirts and shorts while my nieces and nephews played in the yard. Occasionally, every 20 years of so, we might get snow. Christmas 2010 was white for about five minutes. My husband is a native Californian. Technically I am a transplanted New Englander, but I have been grafted to California. Most of my life has been spent in California, the last twenty years in southern California. We, my husband and I, did not know seasons. The beauty of the leaves falling from the trees was seductive.
We were in love. My husband loved the company and was excited by the job. I loved the large houses on acre lots, the narrow windy roads, and open spaces. What did we know about wells and septic tanks?
The offer didn’t come right away. This is typical in corporate recruiting. We knew that. In the meantime, we drooled over houses online and researched communities. Oh, to be in Connecticut. But what about our youngest daughter?
She wasn’t working. Her contracts had ended. She suffered from severe morning, afternoon and evening sickness. She slept more than she should (there turned out to be a medical reason for that). She was not happy that we would consider leaving her. When another headhunter called about a job in Los Angeles, she grew hopeful. But the company wasn’t a good fit for my husband. Still a third headhunter called about a job in the Bay area, but before my husband could interview, the Connecticut company made an offer.
Reality set in. Could we leave California? Our families are here. Our oldest daughter lives 35 minutes away. Our middle daughter lives in Northern California. My youngest sister and favorite brother were an hour’s drive. My husband’s sister and mother live in Silicon Valley. Shouldn’t we stay? A flight back was six hours. Driving to the Bay area was five. Was it really a difference?
Other considerations presented themselves. Our social lives revolve around our neighbors. We got together once a week. We went to Vegas together. We camped together. We would miss them. What about my job? Connecticut did not have a reciprocal credential agreement. Could I find a job? Would I want a job there? I had worked for a small school district and a large school district. Would I want to work for a small district again? Would I even want to work? I love teaching English, especially writing. Would I miss it if I couldn’t find a job? My husband pointed out that I could just concentrate on my own writing. What if I worked on being a poet and then never published? Would I feel like a failure? A thousand and one possibilities stretched out before us. What was the right decision?
And yet we felt this was a unique opportunity. This was our last chance for an adventure. We could explore new places. We would meet new people. We would find our new largerhouse in Connecticut. Reader, we said yes.