The Best Move Ever, Minus the Swingset
All things considered, our move from New Jersey to Silicon Valley went as smoothly as it could have gone. Our vehicles, piano, pets, and stuff survived the cross-country journey intact. Within a week of moving into our new home and before even starting school or making a friend, our oldest child, Petunia, then almost-8, decided she would live here forever. (Never underestimate the value of a kid’s first walk down Stanford’s Palm Drive on a typical Palo Alto 70-and-sunny day!) Petunia began third grade uneventfully and made several friends and playdates before the first week of school ended. Our son Dash, then 3.5, began attending a local co-op preschool that we dubbed Boy Heaven: all outdoors, all the time, with rope and tire swings, zip lines, tricycles, sand pits galore… And, as parents, we found it super-easy to make friends, especially since so many people have come here from elsewhere and remember their own transition well enough to reach out to newbies like us. We still pinch ourselves most days when we wake up: do we really get to live here?
Of course, our move involved a fair amount of tradeoffs. We lived in Jersey for seven years and were sad to leave behind some great friends and neighbors. I found it hard to leave behind a colonial home that we had renovated according to our own plans; the home we purchased here in Silicon Valley, though lovely, is nearly-new with little room (and certainly no money left over!) for our own touches. While my daughter came home from the hospital to an apartment that we knew we’d leave someday, my son came home to that very house in NJ, and the memories of the sweetness and the challenges of his infancy seemed tucked into every corner.
But while memories can be made anywhere and houses can become ours over time, there’s one thing that we can’t change no matter how hard we try, and that’s our physical space constraints here in California. While our house is not much smaller, our yard is a fraction of the space. In NJ, the kids ran and played in a whole lot of grass in both back and front yards, and they rode bikes and scooters in our safe cul-de-sac. And, best of all, they had a swingset. When Dash was newborn, we picked out the top-of-the-line, vinyl-wrapped lumber, best swingset ever. It had an assortment of swings, including a two-seater, a slide, and an attached fort with an upstairs and a downstairs, complete with periscopes and binoculars; the neighborhood kids lived on that swingset and in its fort. Surrounded by recycled tire mulch, it was safe, and it represented our family finally having “made it”: we were complete with our two kids, we were comfortable in our town and in our home, and we were there to stay. Or so we thought…
These days, if the kids want to swing, run wild, or bike, we have to head to a park. Considering our local park remains closed due to some dangerous trees, we have to head farther from home than usual, even. The parks are top-notch, certainly, but I lost the option to send them outside to run off some energy without my presence being required. And it’s a big loss, most especially to my little Dash, now 5. He remembers that swingset and mourns its loss more than anything. Over the weekend, we visited a friend in Palo Alto who has one of those rare, huge yards with a swingset smack-dab in the center. Dash took one look at it and started crying, and I have to confess that I choked up a little, too. The schools are better, the weather is better, we have a million more friends, and we are generally happier and healthier… but we can’t make room for a swingset in our postage-stamp backyard no matter how much we miss having one. Not even a new puppy made up for that missing piece. Since the loss of the swingset remains the only downside of the move a year and a half later, though, I’ll still pinch myself every morning when I wake up. Being Californian is a dream come true, and it’s more clear than ever to us that the best stuff of life isn’t stuff at all (not even a swingset). Now, we just have to get Pardee Park back open, and we’ll be all set.