My own mini "Eat, Pray, Love" experience
California: Breathe In, Breathe Out
Southern California has to put up with a lot of stereotypes, but some of them are rooted in wonderful reality. Last week my family traveled to San Diego for my cousin's wedding. We had some free time to explore, and after spending half a day playing in the surf by the little town of Del Mar, I was dreaming of renting a beach house for a month.
I have been wound up pretty tightly lately, and the hypnotic rhythm of the surf broke through my chattering mind and gave me a few hours of real peace and relaxation. My daughter was happy to play in the sand, without any toys or tools, just exploring with her hands. She made friends with another girl and they dug all kinds of canals as they tried to build pools that would capture the sea.
The morning at the beach, plus a meal of fish tacos, fresh avocados, artichokes, and Mexican beer reminded me of some of what I love about California.
New York: Mind Your Own Business
On the opposite pole of existence, I've been spending time in Manhattan. My mother-in-law lives there, and it's the center of the publishing and media universe, so between family and business ties I've been up twice this spring. I've lived most of my life in a small town or suburbs, so Manhattan has always been rather intimidating. It's probably taken me a dozen trips to feel really comfortable there, but I have broken through. I can now plug into the energy of the city and enjoy myself.
I have come to respect the way that New Yorkers protect their personal space. When you travel in an extremely crowded environment, you need to be able to emotionally keep your distance even when jammed up close to other strangers. You don't want or need to acknowledge every person you pass on the street. I remember that when I was in college, I'd pass the same people on the way to class every day, and wonder how many times in one day I had to say hello to someone when our paths crossed on campus. Two times, three, or every time I saw them? And if I said hi to one person I knew, did that mean I had to say hi to every single one?
In New York, those obligations are minimized. It's really okay to "mind your own business." This is a useful exercise for me, because I tend to lean forward, reach out, and connect, even when it's not necessary or useful to do so. Living in a small town like Chapel Hill reinforces this tendency. This can pull me off center and causes problems when I take on other people's responsibilities or requests when I don't really have time to do so. This is a classic issue for many mothers, wanting to be helpful and people-pleasing to the point that we neglect our own priorities. I encourage you to get in touch with your own "inner New Yorker" and learn what it feels like to set clear boundaries when necessary.
And here's a secret I have learned about New York: most people are actually pretty nice, and are willing to help you, or at least point you in the right direction, if you have a specific question or problem.
North Carolina: Home
Finally, coming back to North Carolina does feel like home. We've been here for seven years, the longest I've ever lived in one house. My daughter is growing up here, and we are putting down strong roots. For the first time in my life, I feel like if we moved away, the community as a whole would actually miss us. You'd have to be a pretty "big fish" to feel like that in New York or San Francisco, but in Chapel Hill, we actually have the chance to get to know each other.
If travel has taught you important lessons, especially relating to life as a Mom, I'd love to hear your comments.