Thursday, April 30, 2009

Putting down roots

"Are you from Chicago?"
I get asked that a lot. If it's just small talk, I usually say that no, I hail from Northern Virginia and leave it at that.

But Arlington isn't really my home. Having spent many of my formative years overseas I don't feel like I have a hometown, a place with roots.

I'm a Foreign Service brat. Like kids in military families, we moved about every 3 years, following my father's assignments from my birth in D.C. to toddlerhood in Bonn, West Germany and preschool in Boston. We moved back to D.C. in time for kindergarten and halfway through fourth grade, we headed back to Germany, this time to Berlin. The summer before 7th grade we moved to Islamabad, Pakistan, where we stayed until the day Gulf War I broke out and dependents and nonessential personnel were evacuated. That was halfway through my freshmen year in high school, a rough time to integrate oneself into American youth culture made rougher by the fact that I was living out of a single suitcase full of woefully out of fashion clothes in cramped temporary housing.

I'm lucky to have lived in foreign countries. To have traveled extensively, exploring Canada, Germany, Switzerland, England, Italy, Poland, Austria, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Albania, Uzbekistan and Belgium before I was 21.

I know my unusual upbringing help shaped me in countless wonderful ways. But it isn't a childhood I want for my own children. For all the cultural and geographical richness, it was emotionally wrenching to be constantly making and losing friends. To be so far from extended family. To lack something so fundamental as roots. It might sound crazy, but I wanted to live in our own house with our own furniture. I dreaded moves because I didn't want to have to give away our pets and pack up or purge my treasures.

I'm consciously putting down roots in Oak Park. Z's lived in our house, on our street, her entire life. It's only been 4 1/2 years, but that's longer than I called any place home growing up.

Flickr photo by Kenzijoy109