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.