We are just a week away from the anniversary of our move to Chicago. Not that we'll have a toast with champagne or anything (although now I must ask myself: Why not?), but I am very aware of the presence of it.
On Wednesday Matt and I finally went back to Fletcher St., the rental house we moved into here last summer, and cleaned out the last of our stuff. It was all headed for donation or to be sold, and we weren't in a big hurry to deal with it. But our lease ends in two weeks, so it was time. Walking into that empty house on a hot summery day with Matt brought back a flood of moving day memories, and it was striking how I could feel so different about a place just a year later. Last June it was full of promise, the beginning of a new life after so many awful good-byes. This week all I saw was a very small space with about a hundred things I would change if it were mine; it was so unattractive to me after being in our new home for a few months. And of course it carries the weighty disappointment of its unexpectedly short-term use. [For the record, that place is still not sold. It's been nearly a year. They've had to rent it out again, irony of all ironies; in other words, we would have been able to stay another year in the end. But how lucky we are that it all worked out the way it did or we never would've been in our own beautiful home right now!]
The closer we got to Baxter's school this morning, the gladder I was that I was wearing sunglasses. I'm sure neither he nor the other first grader I was driving to school would have understood my teary eyes. One year ago I was a blubbering disaster, trying to say good-bye to his kindergarten teacher. I cried an awful lot a year ago, but standing on that playground trying to say some coherent words of thanks while surrounded by all the nice parents and kids? Let's just say it wasn't pretty. Of course we were only a week away from turning our lives upside down and leaving San Francisco. I can still see the look of pure pity on that teacher's face, and when she sent me an email a few months ago I could still hear it in her words. After a performance like that, it's hard to convince someone that we're really all right.
So as we approached school this morning, when I least expected it, that day and those weeks came crashing down on me, and I felt all those raw good-byes all over again. By the time we rounded the corner of Barry Avenue I was in dire need of the squashed tissue box on the floor of the back seat. But the difference this year is that these were simultaneously tears of gratitude - for watching my son go bounding off with his bright red LL Bean backpack alongside a friend onto a playground that I expect him to be playing on for seven more years, where we expect to send Lyle for 9 years. Grateful tears for stability, for choosing the right city for us, for being in a home of our own, and for finding a really good school for our kids. Tears for not having to say good-bye to the ocean, the hills, the eucalyptus trees, and Stow Lake this year. For not leaving behind an entire new set of school friends and all of our old dear friends. For not having to extricate ourselves from family again this year.
This year we can be grateful for just staying put.