I moved. About a year ago.
You know, I was a military brat growing up, so this should probably be no big deal. I’ve moved a lot in my life. But the last place I lived, Salina, is the one place I had lived longest in my life. I had been there from 99-2004 for 8th grade through high school. I went to college 20 minutes away and spent a good amount of time in Salina because it was the biggest town around the college. Then, I went back to my high school and taught for 7 years. People know me in Salina, or did. As a military brat I always think you can’t go back and still know anyone.
If I went to Wal Mart in Salina, I’d know 3-4 people on the trip. I might even want to avoid someone. Where I live now, I go to Wal Mart just hoping someone will recognize me and smile. I love where I live, don’t get me wrong. We moved for the right reasons and things are going according to plan. We are financially ahead, still near enough to family, advancing our careers, and in a great neighborhood to raise a family in. These feelings I am about to express are very much 1st world, no more than that, middle class “I have all my needs met” small town problems.
You see, I go to playdates scheduled on this orange sheet of paper I have magneted to my fridge, and I’m the only one there. And my kids want to play, but I don’t know what mom I can call to get them someone to play with. Or it’s 100 degrees out at my boy has been inside all day asking to play Minecraft and I want to socialize him with other children but don’t have the same social network or local indoor play resources to know where to take him to find someone he will feel comfortable playing with.
I miss my women’s Bible study I attended the last four summers that met 10 blocks from my house and was lead by my mentor teacher and department head. I even kind of miss going to the gym and putting my headphones in just so the regulars would stop trying to make conversation. I miss going to McDonald’s and seeing a former student or two there while I eat.
To be honest, this feeling is more prevalent now than other times. With my teacher’s contract, I have summers off. I’m about a month in to summer. I have book events, I taught some Google Workshops, I’ve had things to do. I’m not bored – this feeling isn’t boredom. But, when I’m working 40 hours a week, I don’t notice these things as much. I don’t actively seek desire playdates and coffee chats as much because I have regular adult interaction at work.
What I miss – it’s the sense of belonging to a community, of being known to the people around me, to having a shared history with those I share time with. It’s the relationships that are more meaningful because they believe as an educator I gave them or their family something, or the people who know they gave me something because they were part of my education as a Mustang. I miss the places in my community having a sense of belonging to me because I run into people I know there, people who want to ask me questions, people who know my family.
This sense of community I had in Salina, I have parts of already here in Great Bend. My kid starts kindergarten next year. I’ll make mom friends that way. I’m getting to know more teachers in the district after doing some district wide workshops. I’ve met most of my block of neighbors. I am developing relationships at church and have already been to two different Bible study groups. I’m resilient, well connected with my family and our circles, and generally socially acceptable (generally – I do have some weird quirks, work a tech job, and met my husband playing Magic the Gathering if that gives you any hints to my social graces).
But my mother – after my mother moved from Salina to a small town, she didn’t tell anyone she was affected by a rare, genetic and incurable disease. People didn’t know about her son and the implications for her. They didn’t know her past, and she didn’t want to define herself by something perceived as a weakness.
The sense of community I will inevitably grow back into in my small town, my mom didn’t regrow quite as quickly. She was older, quiet, grown kids, and couldn’t work in the same way she use to. She fatigued in the heat, slurred her words more than she use to, and felt awkward trying to impress new people.
In my books talks, I get to go to a few small towns, and I love it. My mom’s small town is a great place with many caring people, but it is easy for a new comer to a small town to not tell about their past, hide things that in the past have partially defined them, and not open up. I’m sure that’s easy in any town honestly. Sharing a community with people you haven’t shared a past with is a challenge in ways, but it isn’t one that has to isolate people. We can reach out, talk to the people who are quiet, invite people to local events, introduce them to our local connections, and make a community more welcoming.
It isn’t easy or fast to feel at home in a new home community, and I’ll be honest I’ve had a flop or two in my attempts to find deeper friendships in my new area like the friendships I had in a town I’d lived in or near 17… wow… 17 years. But something inside of us needs those human connections, bonds deeper than liking each other’s posts on Facebook, a deep enough set of common experiences that we can anticipate one another’s reactions and preferences.
So… if you live around me and read this, smile at me next time you see me in Wal Mart and come start a conversation. And if you live around someone you know who is quiet, may be socially retreating, or seems a bit lonely, start a conversation, care to be kind, and maybe even offer an invitation to an event that builds community.
I’m not exactly sure how my mother would have responded, but she would have appreciated the gesture, and had she lived longer in Larned I’m sure she would have grown deeper friendships from the people reaching out.
What I feel this week really is a sense of not having a deep network of long lasting relationships. That’s normal; I’ll survive. It probably isn’t that big of a deal, but it was different for my mother. More relationships and interactions would have mattered to her, to anyone really, but to her self-worth, her confidence, and her enjoyment. This feeling, I’m going to hold on to it, because it is a good reminder to be a good friend, a good neighbor, and a smiling face.
Sorry if it sounds whiny. This is what I thought about at the gym after I went to a community event hoping to talk more to people, didn’t find many people I knew, then decided to fight the feeling of missing my hometown by hitting the weights. 🙂
And if I were to psychoanalyze myself again, I bet a good part of this feeling is meeting people who are strangers to me, but have read the book From My Mother and know intimate details about my family but I only see for an hour. I want those deeper connections, and I imagine it is probably awkward to make friendships after someone reads your blog or your life story. I met someone at a presentation at a Library’s Chamber Coffee who went to church with my mother and father. She told me “I had no idea,” gave me a hug, and went on about how she knew my aunt, my grandma and how my dad gave her son Werther’s every Sunday in church. I felt an instant connection to her. But I’ve only been around her once in my life and it might be a long time before I see her again. I miss having friends around me regularly that knew my mother and my brother. Actually, I kind of just miss having people around who knew my mother and brother, whether they were people I actually spent time with or not. In some odd way, it matters that the people around us have shared experiences with loved ones we have lost.