I always feel overly sentimental in December, with another year coming to a close and twelve more months of motherhood under my belt. My firstborn turns four this Christmas Eve. The arrival of his birthday inevitably initiates for me a mental journey back to that night when my life changed immeasurably, and it humbles me, leaving me overwhelmed with wave after wave of gratitude for my role as “mom.”
This year, I’m even more humbled and emotional as I prepare to say goodbye to Missoula and close out another chapter of my life. Leaving behind the familiar comforts of home isn’t new for me, or my husband. In a way, we’re more accustomed to change and the risks that it entails than to stability. We hunger for that next big challenge and the opportunity to test ourselves in the great unknown. It hasn’t always been comfortable. In fact, quite the opposite. With change comes uncertainty and a high degree of fear – can I do this? What if I fail? And with any new undertaking, failure is always a possibility. But, when I think back to all of the risks we’ve taken together, my husband and I, failure seems highly unlikely.
We’ve taken risks from the beginning. Our entire relationship, for one thing, was an enormous risk. How a rambunctious Army vet bent on drinking away the memory of loved ones lost somehow connected with a Southern, high-strung Christian (virgin) goody-goody terrified of never amounting to anything is an eternal mystery. In hindsight, I suppose we felt at home amidst the broken places in each other. Still, if a staunchly religious friend of mine suddenly cohabitated with her boyfriend (whom I barely knew) and became engaged six months later, I’d be skeptical. I’m sure most folks felt that way about us. Marrying Nick was the first truly risky, seemingly reckless, decision I’d made in my whole life, but it was the first thing I’d ever felt 100 percent sure about.
After that, taking risks didn’t feel quite so risky anymore. Maybe our “whirlwind” romance raised our risk threshold to a level such that nothing sounded crazy anymore. Maybe our trust in each other grew strong enough to overpower any doubt about what we could accomplish. Maybe the support system of our combined family and friends presented such a impenetrable safety net that “failure” seemed impossible. Whatever the reason, our life together has been marked by risk. Our move to Oregon and then to Montana. Our decision to have a baby and then another baby.
I like to call them “calculated risks,” as though we knew exactly what we were getting into every time. In reality, we were cliff jumping, plummeting into a dark abyss and praying to get out alive.
When I look at the risk we’re about to take –relocating to a foreign country to which neither of us has travelled – I’m not worried. Not because I think this move will be safe and comfortable. I’m sure it will be quite the opposite. All four of us will be catapulted far outside of our comfort zones in a variety of ways, I imagine. But, I’m not afraid of discomfort. More than anything in the world, I’m afraid of walking in place. I’m afraid of living my life on autopilot – buying the house, raising the kids, working the job, feeling suffocated, stuck and helpless to do anything about it. I thought, when we moved to Montana, that settling down was what I wanted. We saved up, bought a house, had our babies, worked odd jobs and “lived the dream.” After awhile, it felt like a nightmare.
And it’s not Montana. More than anything, I’d hate for anyone to think that our departure from this place is a reflection of its value to us, because this truly is “the last best place,” filled with so many wonderful people. Without living here, I’d never have appreciated Dansko’s as daily footwear, deer as driving obstacles, or the fact that a river can satisfy the soul every bit as much as a wide ocean. Montana is a wonderful place to put down roots. And I tried, I really did. But after all the trying, I again heard the call of the unknown, and I had to go. We have to go.
In some ways, Nick and I don’t feel alive unless we’re shocking our systems. Whether it’s more babies, a new job, or a cross-country move, we need something extreme to quiet the pervasive discontent that flourishes when we spend too long in any one place. Maybe someday we’ll have to reckon with that discontent and make friends with it, in order to settle down and raise our kids in a stable environment. Maybe we’ll be modern-day nomads, persistently resisting the concept that home is a place, rather than a community that you create wherever you go. Maybe our kids will hate us and never speak to us again.
Every parent has the opportunity to build her own version of family. I remember an old friend saying that we outgrow the family that raised us so that we’re hungry to build our own family and create a space in which we truly belong.
That is what Nick and I hope to achieve. The family I want to build is a safe place to take great risks in spite of feeling afraid, a community that values adventure and trying new things as a means to learn, grow, discover yourself and develop greater empathy. This world is an enormous place filled with wondrous things, and I want my kids to feel confident in their ability to make their home anywhere in it. Or, perhaps all of our travels will convince them of nothing else except a strong desire to stay put in one location. That’s okay, too.
Whatever we encounter, wherever we end up, I’ll always feel grateful for our time here in the wilds of Montana.
This place welcomed us and offered us the chance to settle in for awhile, to build our nest and start our family. Although my kids may not end up Montana raised, I’m tremendously proud that they are tough-as-nails Montana bred, our little walking souvenirs from this outdoor wonderland. This place holds a special magic, and while it may not be our home, we’ll undoubtedly carry a part of it with us forever.
#OnToTheNextOne #GoodbyeForNow #MontanaMagic
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