In June of 2008, we sold our home in Cleveland, Ohio and moved to an apartment in the suburbs of Chicago. The home we sold was my dream home – it was old and it had built-in cabinets, bay windows, a laundry chute, and a large front porch. It was one block from interesting stores and restaurants. Our neighborhood was full of similarly old houses and tall trees. With mixed feelings, we sold this house where we had returned from our honeymoon and later brought home our first child.
We had loved living in Cleveland, a city where you can have a very rich life for a very cheap price. With tears, we left a great community of friends — treasured colleagues, my tight-knit mom’s group, nice neighbors, and church friends. In faith, we went where we believed God was leading us — to a 2nd floor apartment with a view of the parking lot and one of Chicago’s major highways. A group of kind and energetic friends helped us pack the truck. With hugs and prayers, they sent us off to the seminary where Rick would get his Masters of Divinity. It turned out just as we hoped. Although we lost much, we gained even more. Not only had we moved within one hour of Rick’s parents and 30 minutes of mine, we had stumbled into the perfect place to live through the harrowing early parenting years.
Three months after we moved, our twins were born. And thus began the challenge of raising three kids born within 2.5 years while completing a rigorous masters program (and recovering from lengthy, life threatening illness). These years were our crucible. Our apartment was in a building that contained 27 other apartments that were arranged around a central courtyard. With its three bedrooms and dishwasher, our apartment was the veritable penthouse. The building housed families from all over the world. Our neighbors came from South Korea, China, Slovakia, Albania, Uganda, Nigeria, Canada and all corners of the US. They had children from newborn to teenager and there were also couples without kids.
In this community, we shared life in the fullest way I have ever been blessed to do. Most afternoons found us in the courtyard, the kids playing and squabbling and the moms chatting about everything from potty training to pop culture to theology.
We cooked meals for each other when new babies were born. We prayed each other through times of intense challenge and small daily trials. The children shared all the riding toys in the courtyard in common; every tricycle, bike, and scooter was available for use by whoever needed it. I attended my first Jewish Sukkot and my first Korean spa. One of the other dads taught my kids how to bat during a spontaneous baseball clinic. We gathered for impromptu summer picnics and “pool parties.”
I could not have designed a more perfect place to live out my kids’ early years. Parenting babies and toddlers is not my area of giftedness. My children are adorable, but they are also intense. All three walked and talked on the later side. This meant that we spent years with multiple children who needed to be carried and who squawked and screamed continually to get their needs met. I had a migraine at least once a week. Without our community of fun women and available playmates, I would have had one every day. The picture below perfectly represents my experience of the toddler years: very cute and very, very loud.
It is not that our community of fellow seminary students was perfect. It was real, with fights among the kids, occasional hurt feelings among the adults, and the expected annoyances that arise from cultural differences. Everyone was not everyone else’s best friend. We shared life in the way I imagine a healthy, big extended family who live near each other might – with appropriate boundaries, varying degrees of closeness, and the carrying of each other’s burdens.
Many of these neighbors have returned to their native countries and we have returned to our natural habitat, a neighborhood with old houses and tall trees. Our life here is rich in different ways, but I deeply miss the friends and community we shared in our apartment courtyard. Sure, we have a garage now, but my kids no longer have their best friends ten feet from their front door and I no longer get to chat about my day every afternoon with friends. For a year after Rick graduated and we moved to our new town, one of our twins cried daily for her old friends and life. She shed tears of grief every day for many months. I felt the same way. I still do, in fact.
For the rest of my days, I will likely continue to yearn for that way of life. That was my American dream.
© Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things, 2015.