the surreality of our life
November 18, 2010

Malcolm at almost 16 weeks!

Well, hello. It’s been a while. I thought I’d just jump in without any sort of plan for the blog. Just writing.

And here’s what I’ve been wondering lately…

Did it ever really happen?!

Did we really live on an island?

I know we did. I have evidence. So much happened in those ten months. Yet, it all feels like someone else’s life. It feels so far away and untouchable. I try to mentally place myself back in Friday Harbor and everything clouds over like a dream.

We’ve been in Chicago now for almost three months. When we first arrived it all felt strangely normal. Strange because a sudden life change and move cross country with an infant shouldn’t feel so normal. Right? But we know this place. We’ve lived here before. Familiarity welcomed us home.

But the last few days all I’ve been thinking about is how different we are now than when we last lived here. We’re not the same people. We’ve come so far and gone through so much. This thinking leads me down a path of memories and my brain has a hard time sorting them out in a way that it all makes sense. How did we go from Chicago to LA to Chicago to Friday Harbor to Chicago? It’s not the how that matters but that we did. And that where are now is here. Chicago. Live in the now. Yes? This is my challenge.

Yesterday I went for a run through my neighborhood (the first run without the jogging stroller as Grammy Pammie was babysitting Malcolm) and I couldn’t help but contrast the setting with San Juan Island and L.A.

Here I was running through city streets and stoplights. There isn’t even a single stop light on San Juan Island.

Here the terrain is flat. Flat. Flat. Flat. In L.A. and on San Juan Island there are hills. Hills. Hills. Hills. I miss those.

Here I was surrounded by humanity. On SJI, I was surrounded by nature.

Here the architecture is all the same (mostly)… brick. Brick. Brick. Running in I loved seeing the exciting and different architecture of the homes from Spanish casitas to mid-century modern masterpieces.

While running I travel back to L.A. on my memories and then Friday Harbor. And I’m suddenly sad. Missing it. Missing both worlds. Then remembering how when we moved to L.A. we missed Chicago. So much. For three years. It really took three years to love L.A. And then we fell hard.

So what?

Am I doomed to this awkward three-year transition period? Perhaps. But hopefully not.

Will we always miss something about where we used to be? Most likely yes. But isn’t that a good thing? That we have something to miss only tells us that we’ve lived some amazing adventures and have been happy.

I feel so grateful to have lived for those ten months in Friday Harbor. An experience I truly never would have experienced had our lives not taken an unexpected turn. Living there was a gift. Experiencing the place, the community, the people… I can’t say enough.

Yet…

In keeping with the LOST comparisons, I don’t go as far as Jack to say “We never should have left the island!” But I do wonder what life would be like had we stayed. When I mentally place myself there now… as in What would it be like if we were still living there? The answer is that it would be hard. Bob would most likely be commuting every week again. Malcolm would have no relationship with his grandparents. I would be missing my family terribly.

So being in Chicago is the right place to be. For who we are today. The here and now.

And man, we love being here. See? You probably didn’t expect that. This is what we have a hard time reconciling. How can we love being here and be happy here when we also miss there? And then? Both L.A. and Friday Harbor? Two places that couldn’t be more different.

It’s maddening.

Or maybe it’s just life.

Our life. That has always had a surreal bent to it.

Today Malcolm and I went to a mama and yoga baby class in the neighborhood (walking distance). To our right was a mom and her seven-week old son. To our left was a mom and her eight-week old son. I looked at these little babies and started to cry. Because it’s already gone so fast. He’s already 16 weeks. Today. That’s four whole months! Malcolm at that tiny 8-week size seems so long ago. I adore every stage, but miss each one as it inevitably disappears.

Even Malcolm’s birth seems surreal. I think about that and wonder, Did THAT really happen?! I miss it. I miss being pregnant. I miss giving birth (did I really just write that?!) And how is that? Why is that the past seems surreal and I romanticize even the most painful moments?

Looking for a way to reconcile it all. Again, maybe that’s impossible.

Maybe that’s just life.

Thoughts?

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10 months on an island
September 14, 2010

The Walkers at Germanfest in Lincoln Square

Where to begin?

Hi.

It’s me.

Stephanie.

In Chicago now.

That was fast, right?

Just a few weeks ago we were on the island. Now we’re here. In our new home. A three bedroom apartment in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. Almost completely unpacked. Almost.

Crazy, right? I think so.

How on earth did we get here?

Well…it’s been a wild ride.

Remember how…

Remember how I had this blog called Love in the Time of Foreclosure about how we were trying to be better people and turn a bad situation into an opportunity while facing foreclosure?

And remember how we narrowly avoided foreclosure and sold our house in a short sale along with 90% of our possessions?

Remember how we had nowhere to go so my family said we could live with them while we got back on our feet… so we packed our car with the possessions that remained and drove from L.A. to Chicago… and then how a reader of Love in the Time of Foreclosure offered us an amazing opportunity?

Two years on an island. Yes. This angel reader offered us a caretaking gig of a 1910 farmhouse in the San Juan Islands. And remember how we jumped at that opportunity?

Remember how we packed our car again and drove from Chicago to Friday Harbor, WA?

And remember how when we arrived at the farmhouse in Friday Harbor we thought the house was haunted, I was afraid of the silence and dark and we felt totally isolated?

And then how we got pregnant?

And then made friends and fell in love with the place and people and got used to the quiet and realized it wasn’t haunted?

And remember how I got a job that I loved working the front desk of a hotel in Friday Harbor?

Remember how Bob had to commute from Friday Harbor to San Francisco for the last four months of my pregnancy making us a “commuter couple”?

Remember how we had to take an hour long ferry ride to the mainland?

Remember how we had a baby boy named Malcolm James Walker?

And remember how we were supposed to be on this island for two years. But then Bob got this call to be in Chicago for work and how we didn’t want to be apart anymore so we jumped at this call to move back to Chicago. For job. For family. For Malcolm?

And then how we packed the car up and drove from Friday Harbor to Chicago. This time with a baby.

Well…

All of that. ALL OF THAT happened within the span of 14 months… if you count back from the first move. The move from L.A. to Chicago. That was only 14 months ago. 14 months!

We have dramatically altered our life’s course and moved THREE TIMES zigzagging across the country in the last 14 months.

And now we’re home.

It’s crazy.

It happened so fast.

It’s surreal.

Everything that Bob said in his last post… ditto.

And now we’re home. I already said that, didn’t I? Probably because it really does feel like home. Because it is. And with a new baby it feels good to be exactly there. Home.

When we accepted the caretaking gig, we set some goals for the two years.

GOAL #1: Have a baby

GOAL #2: Eliminate all debt

We fulfilled goal #1.

We’re still working on goal #2.

We were supposed to be there two years. It turned out to be ten months.

The people who are taking over the gig (taking care of the house) are fantastic. The ideal people. A family. I’m so glad for them. I feel so much better knowing that we left our post in good hands.

I feel like I should have more to say. Something that makes sense of our lives. But there isn’t anything. I can’t just “sum it all up.” There’s too much.

Did we plan this?

No.

Do we plan anything?

Well… not really. I mean. We try. We do. It’s just that things don’t usually go the way we plan.

What about Malcolm?

Yes. We planned him. In fact, he’s the one example of perfect planning. We said we wanted to have a child while we were on the island. We arrived to the island at the end of October and by Thanksgiving we knew we had created a child.

Just like that.

It makes me think.

Were we on the island just to have Malcolm? I kind of think we were. Seems that way, doesn’t it? He is this amazing gift in our lives. And I wouldn’t change a single thing that has happened that led us to having him.

Do we miss the island?

Of course!

Are we glad to be here?

Of course!

Will I keep blogging?

Of course! Just… not here, I guess. I mean not on “Two Years on an Island” because… well, we’re not on an island anymore.

So could I just change the name of the blog?

Well, that wouldn’t be right.

So start a new one?

Maybe. I guess that makes the most sense.

But what will it be called? And what will I write about?

Good question.

How about starting a new one with a name that wouldn’t have to change no matter where we are living or what we are doing. Okay. Perhaps that would be wise. Less confusing to readers? Perhaps. I don’t know.

Without foreclosure and without the island would people still want to read?

Good question. What would be the ‘hook’?

Hmmmm….

All good questions.

No answers in this post.

Just thoughts.

Fragments.

Bits.

Pieces.

All right. Enough, already.

Time to wrap this up. Malcolm could wake up any second.

Speaking of Malcolm… he did so well on the road trip. As did Pablo.

Pablo enjoys a Wyoming sunset along I80

They are both so adaptable. Which is incredibly useful in this family. Adaptability. Given how much we tend to like change.

My mom said something like this: “The only constant with you guys is change.” Was that how you said it, Mom? Close, right? True.

So…. uh, well, if you have any ideas or suggestions for the blog I’d love to hear it. I’ll have a couple more posts here before making any decisions as to the future. If you’re someone who reads this blog to hear about life on San Juan Island, may I recommend another blog by a wonderful writer and lady, Jennifer Furber: Baby by the Sea

And if you’d like to see how big Malcolm has gotten (and watch him smile), here is a link to a video:

Steph reads Oh the Thinks You Can Think to Malcolm

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we can always come back…
August 21, 2010

Today’s juicy blog post was written by Bob Walker. Take it away, honey…

“We can always come back.”  That’s what she said.  “If we don’t like it, we can always come back.”

Those were Stephanie’s words.  When we were discussing the possible move from Chicago to Los Angeles these very words dropped from her mouth and landed and made a clear and loud ringing in my ear.  It was as if a bell of reckoning had just been struck, sentencing me to Los Angeles for life.  I was terrified.

“We’re actually going to do this.  We are going to move to Los Angeles.  California.  The one place I said I would never live in my life,” was the thought that immediately filled my head like a helium balloon.

That choice was made in 2001.  In the winter of 2001, December 27th, we packed an ABF semi trailer with all of our meager belongings, loaded the rest of what we had into my red 1995 Honda Civic, and the two of us trudged across the Midwest and West, landing in Los Angeles, CA on January 3rd, 2002.

A similarly eerie event is about to happen.

On Friday August 27th, 2010, we are going to wrap up packing an ABF semi trailer with our meager belongings, load the rest of what we have into our green 1995 Volvo 850 Wagon, and the four of us are going to trudge across the West and Midwest to Chicago where we will land around September 3rd, 2010.

I am terrified.

Just two weeks ago I swore up and down to my mother-in-law that I would NEVER live in Chicago ever again.  EVER!

The winters are awful.  February sub zero temperatures, the frigid wind whipping my chapped face, snow swirling about me as I shuffle my way to the car door that’s frozen shut; ice frozen to all windows on the car, clinging like barnacles to a ship.  Snow drifts as high as houses.  I hate it.  I hate it all.

So what the hell happened?

Reality – a major dose of reality – ringing in my ears.  The bell of reckoning has been struck again.

When we moved to Los Angeles we had months to plan for the move.  Steph was accepted to USC in the summer.  We didn’t have to move for at least 5 or 6 months.

How about this time?  Less than two weeks.

What could be driving us back to Chicago?

Work

When we moved to the island, I had been working from home for the previous year.  It seemed like the streak would be easy to continue.  I’ve gotten small things here and there to tide us over for a while.  Then I got a big one.  But I had to travel – To San Francisco – 4 months, back and forth each week.  It felt like I was in a game of ping pong.  Not the sloppy ping pong you and your sibling played as kids.  More like the ping pong you see world champions play – slapping that ball back and forth at lightning speed.

It was rough on Steph and me at first, and then we grew accustomed to it for the most part.  As the baby’s due date came closer, it got harder for both of us again.  Luckily, I rolled off of the project early when Malcolm was born and someone took over my role.

I enjoyed two weeks of vacation before heading back to work.  Immediately there were talks of other projects on the horizon.  Another Northern California project had been whispered.  It would only be two months.  “Maybe I could do a week or two in CA and the rest at home,” I rationalized to myself.  But I know the deal.  That doesn’t happen that way.  That short of a project, they want you on the whole time.  It’s never that easy.

There have been so many projects showing up in Chicago over the last year.  Not so many in LA or San Fran.  These days, companies are not so inclined to pay for travel.  My last project was an exception.  A lot of companies want to be able to peer over your shoulder.  There’s a comfort to that.  It’s what they know.  This working remote stuff really only works usually when the client is in Silicon Valley, or the client knows and trusts you.  New clients usually don’t even trust the software you’re implementing, let alone the consultant doing the work.  Change is scary.

When Nate called me at 2:23pm on Wednesday afternoon and mentioned a 5 month engagement in Chicago.  I knew what I had to do.  I had to take it – against my wants and wishes to stay on the island; this peaceful, wonderful island.  Poof, it’s all over.  Time to wake up.  A 14 minute phone call brings us back to reality.

I got off the phone and without saying a word, I could see in Stephanie’s beautiful green eyes that she knew.  She looks at me and says,

“What?  What is it?”

“We have to move to Chicago,” I said somberly.  I felt like Jack from Lost saying, “We have to go back, Kate.  We have to go back to the island.”

The difference is we are leaving an island instead of going to one.

Steph and I talked through it all afternoon and night.  We knew it in our hearts that we had to do it throughout the whole series of conversations.  It didn’t change the fact that we were completely in shock. And navigating a world of mixed emotions.

Thursday morning I called Nate to confirm things.  6 minutes later it was done.  The wheels were set in motion.  No turning back.  We are officially “coming about.”  The ship is now on a different course.  Back to the port from which we originally set sail.

Family

The thought of Stephanie possibly having to go through winter on the island alone has concerned me ever since Malcolm was born. Living here on the island means that it is almost inevitable that I would be sent off on another project. Which would mean that Stephanie would be at home taking care of Malcolm, Pablo and the house all by herself. In the winter. In the dark and rainy days of winter on the island. The thought of this has concerned me on a daily basis. Not to mention the fact that I would be torn up being away from my wife and newborn baby.

Stephanie has been missing family so much since Malcolm’s birth.  Missing our house in LA.  Missing our friends.  The idea of family not seeing Malcolm grow up has been tearing at her.  Over the last three weeks Stephanie has mentioned moving back to Chicago several times. Those mentions had fallen on my very deaf ears.  She may as well had been talking to a killer whale, trying to convince it to fly instead of swim.

I heard the words, and it hurt me to see her pining for the familiar, but I just wasn’t willing to consider it.

Reality

What is reality?  I’m not going to into a philosophical discussion here.  It’s not the point.  The point I’m making is that my reality was very rigid.  Chicago was not an option.  Going back was not an option.  Going back to the place I was so afraid to leave 9 years ago because I was comfortable was not an option?  Interesting how things can change.

But just as a woman’s cervix effaces during birth, my reality had effaced in a matter of hours.  Minutes really.

A new reality was born.  A reality of living in Chicago.  One where Malcolm gets to grow up surrounded by family.  Where Stephanie and I have the familial support to help Malcolm grow and learn.  Where I can work on a consistent basis and develop myself as an integral part of my company.

The reality is – my life is not just about what I want.  It’s about us as a family and what is best for all of us.  What we need.  A life in Chicago is that reality.

Coming About

I’m not sure I can find the words to describe the adventure we’ve been on for the last 9 years.  I cannot thank the people that have supported us throughout this period of our lives enough – the friends we’ve gained and the experiences we’ve had.

I work for an amazing company.  Most companies would have never put up with my jaunting all over the country like I have for the past two years.

Our families have been there to catch us when we’ve fallen and cheered us on during our great runs.

The friends we have provide wisdom, compassion and understanding without limits.

The people of the San Juan Islands have taken us under their wings, invited us into their families and lives so openly and freely, it’s unbelievable.  I still don’t believe this place exists.

Our friends here who have taken care of Pablo, brought us meals after Malcolm was born and provided us with baby essentials.

The owners of this house that risked themselves and sent an email the day we left our LA home last year.  And have been so generous and gracious.

The women who helped bring our baby into this world.

Thank you.

Thank all of you.

You’ve given us more than we can ever repay.  We are humbled by your kindness and your humanity.

We didn’t expect this. To be leaving so soon. But life, as the owner of the house said to us, is full of surprises.

Here’s a quote that continues to be our mantra for our lives:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in our sails.  Explore. Dream. Discover” – Mark Twain

We are coming home – with the wind in our sails.

I challenge you to take this on in your own life.  Go do that thing you’ve been waiting for or scared to do.

You can always come back.