Happy Spring, everyone! I write this outside, gratefully vaccinated, but my laptop is covered in pollen and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The 17-year cicadas are en route. We are still chugging along with homeschool, and while it’s lost a bit of its sparkle since the fall, I am firmly convinced that it is still the best thing ever for the twins. I definitely have something of a martyr complex that I didn’t have back in October, but whatever. They need me this year, and I need them. However, I also need some kind of adventure. This isn’t pandemic-induced wanderlust; it’s bigger than that.
Ok, here’s something I don’t think I talk about much: when we first decided to move back to my hometown of Baltimore three years ago, I had no idea what I was in for. I thought that being back in Maryland after two decades, with a dashing husband and adorable twins in tow, would be like fitting perfectly back into a jigsaw puzzle. I am here, I am home, I am what my spirit guides would call in alignment.
What I was, in fact, was 100%, unequivocally dead wrong. Moving back was the hardest adjustment I’ve ever had to make. I didn’t appreciate that you could experience culture shock in a place where you spent the first 17 years of your life. The ghost of adolescent Jaime followed me everywhere. Old friendships that I thought would be there suddenly weren’t, and new friends were impossibly, confusingly difficult to come by (though the few I did manage to meet were nuggets of pure angelic gold). Cringey, repressed teenage memories popped up randomly, all day long. Places that I used to love were either gone or not as great as I remembered them. New places felt like they belonged to someone else. I thought that this was just me — like I was a defective weirdo — a one-woman island of misfit toy. Why didn’t I like the Ravens? Why didn’t I care if my kids played lacrosse? Why did I get so annoyed when people asked me where I went to high school…yet why did I then turn around and ask them the same damn question?
I wasn’t totally alone; my husband, Andrew, found it hard to adjust, too. Not being from here, he didn’t have the middle school baggage and being more naturally introverted, he simply didn’t care as much. But he understood, and he helped me feel like I wasn’t completely losing my mind when everyone around me was misdiagnosing me with everything from bipolar disorder to peri-menopause to chronic inflammation to just being a goddamn spoiled brat. There was also a whole lot of stuff going on with the kids and even rippling out into the broader realm of the news and politics and whatnot that made me feel unsafe and generally lost. Guys, I’m still not used to being back. But in homeschooling, ironically, I’ve felt less tethered to “home” as a physical space and more open to any possibility that my gut nudges me towards. I’m not bipolar, I’m just a wild gypsy spirit who also happens to be a suburban mom. In a pandemic. I can work with that.
My first inclination as far as dealing with the future was to keep homeschooling through next year, meaning 2021-22, and jet around the world with the twins. This is what Jared Leto’s mom did, and that’s good enough for me. It would keep the kids happy, curious, and challenged; it would scratch this itch I’ve had since April 2018. And it would conveniently prolong any kind of major life decisions any of us would have to make in terms of careers or schools or houses or whatever going forward.
Better yet, maybe we would never make those decisions and instead live a life that is effectively one long gap year?
There’s just one small problem…traveling with kids alone is totally overwhelming, even if you are a wild gypsy spirit. And then there’s this pesky virus, which seems to get under control, but not really, then spawn a variant or two, then flare again, and really, what does travel honestly look like next year?
Then there’s work. I can take my work anywhere, but does that mean that Andy has to languish at home toiling at a grown-up job while I traipse around the globe spending everything I earn on affogatos and bubble tea? (I mean…maybe…?)
The real answer is, I just don’t know and can’t plan anything too ambitious until I have more information. But not-too-ambitious can still be a-ok, right? So I sat down a little while ago and whittled down my expectations to see what kind of adventure the kids and I could have that would give us a taste of homeschooling on the road, while still being responsible and safe, and that would also provide us with a much-needed change of scenery. Here’s what we did.
The twins are super into American history, and I’m super into cherry blossoms, so we booked an Airbnb in Alexandria, VA for the last half of March. This way, if all hell broke loose, we could abandon ship without worrying about non-refundable airfare and hopping time zones. Our apartment was a third-floor walk-up with high ceilings, glass doorknobs, and loads of historic charm. No dishwasher or laundry. I was on a sofa bed. Perfection. Andy went north to visit his mom and was more than content to spend some child-free time hiking through Connecticut, binging on Grateful Dead bootlegs, and devouring Anthony Beevor’s books.
My son Paul immediately started hauling bags up the narrow flights of stairs like some kind of Herculean sherpa. I had no idea that he was so strong. We took a long, meandering walk in the rain to get sushi, then watched Waffles and Mochi on Netflix and HGTV until well after midnight.
The next few weeks unfolded in a similarly laid-back and carefree way. Stuff that would make me flip my lid at home simply did not matter in Alexandria. We made daily pilgrimages to Jeni’s ice cream. We visited all the monuments, hugged all the cherry blossom trees, and had impromptu homeschool lessons on topics I never dreamed we’d cover in first grade, like Brutalist architecture and the assassination of Ronald Reagan (“Wait, so Mommy, was Jodie Foster impressed?” “Ummm, no?”).
On our second night, we popped into CVS for band-aids and dish soap. A song from the late 90s was playing – Key West Intermezzo by John Mellencamp. We were running around CVS, and the twins were outrageously whiny. Then they started pulling diapers off the shelf and cracking themselves up, then someone was saying that they were going to throw up and someone else was complaining that they were hungry. And I was so annoyed, but Key West Intermezzo is a really pretty tune. It’s romantic, kind of tropical sounding, but also maybe a little bluesy, and I don’t know. I was anxious and flustered and wanting to hurry up and get out of CVS already, but at the same time, I also wanted to sit down in the middle of that aisle and pull the twins onto my lap and cry with gratitude and happiness.
I wanted to stay in CVS forever, listening to John Mellencamp and squeezing my babies.
We spent the next days riding the Metro, trying new cuisines like Cyprian and Ethiopian, and hanging out at the dining table with all the windows open, painting with watercolors. One early evening we saw an extraordinary rainbow. We had 30-degree mornings and 80-degree afternoons. The twins are obsessed with opera, so every time we got into the car we were required to listen to 111 Opera Masterpieces. I have this vivid memory of driving towards DC, with the Washington Monument off in the distance, and daffodils and periwinkle and all the blooming trees along the side of the highway, windows down, sun sparkling, and the overture of Ruslan and Ludmilla on full blast. This will kick me in the gut, in a good way, for the rest of my life. I swear you guys. John Mellencamp and Mikhail Glinka. Who knew?
Was everything totally perfect? Of course not. Paul hates roots – as in, tree roots. Those are hard to avoid. Paul also hates the wind, so we left Mount Vernon after 15 minutes (and after spending $150 between the tickets, gift shop, and food court). He is also terrified of dogs – ALL dogs, from the fluffiest Pomeranian to the friendliest lab. So walking was…challenging. We finally compromised that if the dog was small enough to fit into my purse, we would smile, hold our breath, and keep walking. If the dog was bigger than a handbag, however, I’d indulge him and we could cross the street. Some people might say I’m spoiling him. Whatever. I don’t think it’s a big deal and it’s more important to me that he not be freaked out, no matter how insignificant or annoying this particular fear may seem. It’s not like he’ll be doing this forever, and even if he is? Not going to worry about this one.
My daughter Marea, for her part, is lower maintenance overall BUT she wanders. She just disappears. Even at home, she disappears. Once she fell asleep burrowed under a pile of laundry, and we had every neighbor within a 5-mile radius out searching for her. Terrifying. Is Marea just looking for four-leaf clovers, or did she meander onto a subway? Did she see a cool bird over in that tree? Or did she fall into the Potomac? Minor but real waves of panic and dread, daily. But more joy than drama, and like so many things with parenthood, even the drama loses its trauma with time.
This little adventure taught me many things, but mainly, that I don’t need as many breaks from my children as I once thought. What I need, really, is to simply feel ok being me. To not let life steamroll over me, to not get caught up in what everyone else is into. To not feel that every wonderful possibility has already passed me by, or that my whole identity is wrapped up in where I live or where I grew up. To feel free no matter where I am in my career, or in my body, or in my geography. There were certainly things I would’ve done differently had I been alone. I could’ve stopped at the boutique tattoo studio on the ground floor of our building to get the botched stars on my lower back sorted out (that’s a WHOLE other blog post). I could’ve hit up the blowdry bar across the street, or doodled around in Sephora, or sat at an outdoor cafe and pondered life’s great questions. I could’ve spent hours antiquing and taking photos of historic houses. I would’ve had less ice cream and more alcohol. But feeling like yourself doesn’t always mean doing exactly what you want to do, whenever you want to do it.
Sephora will always be there. But my twins won’t always be 7.
And home is more than a place.
Editor’s Note: Welcome to our new perspectives series — where were publish essays written by Baltimore area parents! Want to be featured? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.