Return to Austin
If I am honest, I think I have wanted to return to Austin since we moved to Michigan. The last four years have been so complex, so full of complicated feelings. Even before we moved from Austin to Michigan I knew something was off. Certain conversations with the family we moved to be near struck me as odd. But I dismissed them as out of the ordinary. But once we arrived there was more of the same. I was convinced that I was the one who was the problem, it must be me. When I descended into anxiety, depression, and insomnia I was told by a family member, "but you have everything you wanted, why are you anxious?" As if a cross country move, buying a house from a distance and selling the one we were living in, and leaving the life we loved in Austin and moving to a place where I knew virtually no one but my family because I had not lived there in 12 years as I began my journey as a stay at home mom was just... everything I wanted. And for sure not a combination of some of the most stressful events humans go through. God no wonder I felt so confused and misunderstood.
I spent years trying to figure this out, feeling so full of shame and self loathing, not even knowing who I was. But I pressed in and worked my ass off to build a community of real and authentic people. I felt like I was constantly criticized by family and made to question my every decision because it was not what they would have chosen. The people I felt safe with were the ones not related to me. All of the cognitive dissonance finally made sense when the puppet show was unveiled in December. The events that transpired December of 2019 finally brought all of my confusion into clarity. For the first time in my life, I saw clearly. And what I saw was a completely different interpretation of the events of my entire life relating to my parents. Not just in the last four years, but in all 34 of my years.
I look back over events of my life and I remember how it felt every time I knew something did not sit right with me. I remember the inner conflict. I remember my confusion, my sadness. My deep desire to please, to make everyone happy. And my uncanny ability to, in the process of trying to be all things to all people, disappoint everyone. All the times I was afraid to say no. All of the times I said no and then caved because of emotional abuse. I did not know that was what it was, emotional abuse. I do now. And the abuse stops now. Right now that means I have severed contact with most of my family that resides in Michigan. The ones that were previously labeled the black sheep are actually the only safe ones. And now I am in the camp of the black sheep. In all of this as I look back I have so much compassion for myself. There were others outside the situation throughout my life who saw what was going on before I did, who at least noticed something was off. I do not know if I would have believed them if they told me. But now I know. I see it. There is no going back to the way things were. I am all done with this abusive family system.
At the beginning of this year I set three goals for myself in the mentoring group I belong to. When I set them, I thought they seemed unattainable. At least the first two. The three goals are as follows:
1) move to Tucson (which became Austin)
2) achieve financial independence from my dad
3) support David in his work
And now I am living in the last quarter of 2020 thinking: holy shit. I did it.
Back in July, David was listening to a book on essentialism and Marco Polo'd me one morning saying if he's really honest, he wanted to return to Austin. Then a few days later he said it again. And I said LET'S DO IT! I started taking everything off the walls of our home, reactivated a Facebook account I had previously created solely for the purpose of selling on Facebook Marketplace, and got started selling and selling and selling. I knew we would be downsizing. I was not sure how much. I had been on standby to start this process for months. I called the realtor we used to buy our house and said I could have it ready to list in two weeks. We extended that another five days because I was a little too optimistic with my initial estimate. I rearranged our first floor back to the original intended purpose of the rooms, completely depersonalized, and staged the shit out of it. On August fifth we had photos taken. August sixth our house went on the market.
We kicked around so many different scenarios and housing situations. We longed to return to our beloved Wells Branch neighborhood in north Austin. Checking out the market there it just did not seem feasible without downsizing significantly. I looked into Round Rock and Pflugerville. Rentals and for sale. Turns out its hard to find a rental that will accept not one but two 50 pound dogs. I have always considered them medium sized, but apparently medium sized in the rental market is under 35 pounds. So much stress about the housing situation. We went back to: what do we really want? And we decided we wanted to be in Wells Branch. If that meant downsizing to 1,400 square feet, so be it.
Last fall we had kicked around the idea of moving near trails in West Bloomfield. We went out to check them out and were very disappointed. They were straight and boring and ran across busy streets. We were trying to find our Wells Branch trails again, but they just did not exist. Earlier this year I was looking at Austin real estate and realized I was looking for my house here and could not find it. I came to the conclusion that I already had what I wanted, I had it in Michigan. But I continued to have this nagging discontent about space not fully utilized in our Livonia home and the desire to downsize. Enter: the perfect house (for us). When it originally came on the market it was just out of the price range we were comfortable with and at that time we were not in a place to make an offer. It went under contract and I figured it was gone. But then it came back on the market with a price reduction. The layout I wanted on a smaller scale. A full stamped concrete patio. Fenced in. Big trees. Right off the trails in Wells Branch. We decided to offer. They countered. We accepted. And it is ours.
We have now been in this house for four weeks. Every time we walk the trails it feels so surreal. I cannot believe we are here. This move has been the hardest by far. Two kids, two dogs, downsizing a 2,500 square foot house with 1,200 square foot basement and a shed to a 2,000 square foot house with no basement or shed, moving across the country in the midst of a pandemic. What kind of bat shit crazy are we?! A friend of mine from Austin told me earlier this year that if we started taking steps towards returning to Austin, she bet we would find that things would fall into place. That friend was so right. I am so grateful for those words that stuck with me through the ups and downs of this process, this journey. We are home. We. Are. Home.
We went a week without furniture, but a group of my mama friends that I have kept up with since we left Austin four years ago had the house setup with air mattresses, sheets, towels, a cooler full of food, and a bunch of welcome cards and goodies for our family. When we walked into the house on the evening of Sunday, September 20, it did not feel like home. It had been vacant for a few weeks and felt dingy and dirty. The windows we had hoped to simply repair were clearly in need of replacement. I wanted to gut the bathrooms. I was prepared for it to feel smaller than it looked in pictures, but all I could think of when I walked in the front room was how much smaller it was than our front room in Livonia, my favorite room in our house there. But when I walked into the kitchen and saw the mound of things my sweet mama friends had pulled together and the beds they had setup for us in the master, my heart swelled. Okay, so the house needs some work. Both of our previous houses did too. And making it ours will take time. But sitting on the island was the love and support of friends, and that love and support buoyed my heart and helped me through those first days of adjustment.
I will be honest, the last four weeks have been HARD. The have also been completely wonderful. When we crossed the border into Texas as we were driving down, I was EUPHORIC. As we drove through the concrete jungle of Dallas, I LOVED it. All the state flags of Texas that made me think this state was so strange when we first arrived eight years ago, they made me feel nostalgic. Texas is so ALIVE. And Austin is just incredible. What stood out most about Austin when we first arrived was just how alive it is. There are so many cranes on the skyline. Commercial and residential construction happening everywhere. Traffic on Sunday afternoon. You know what I thought when I got stuck in traffic on 35 on Sunday afternoon? PEOPLE WANT TO LIVE HERE! I was thrilled. We ADORE Austin. I never want to leave. Ever. Ever. Again.
After the movers left the Saturday after we arrived in Austin, I was ready to collapse. But instead we started furiously emptying boxes. And we did so until there were no more. I mean technically there are still two in the master bath but. Close enough. I was on a mission to setup this house and make it ours. I had the front room painted before we arrived. The north and south walls were a deep orange red. I had them painted a light mint. David, my mom, and I painted the kitchen and family room a light coral. David painted Sabina's room the pink she picked out. We picked up an IKEA play kitchen. Bookshelves. David unpacked the kitchen and stuck everything in the cabinets. I emptied the cabinets and reorganized everything. I furiously removed dirty, dingy, rusting curtain rods and bathroom hardware and we replaced it. I hung every piece of art we brought with us. I decorated the top of the kitchen cabinets with little odds and ends. I decorated the top of the coral cabinet we brought from Michigan. I decorated the shit out of everything I could. I just wanted it to feel like home. NOW.
The reality is, it took us four years to get our Michigan home to where it was before we left. It did not start off the way we left it. And it will take time for this home to feel like ours. For us to make the changes we want to make to it. I want to change every light fixture in this house, for instance. But first, the windows. A couple more weeks and we will have all new windows and a new back sliding door. I CANNOT WAIT. I have had to talk myself down and remind myself that we have only been here two days. One week. Three weeks. I have done so much in that short time and it is more than okay that things are not perfect. That there is more that I want to do that simply cannot happen right now. That may not happen for five years. I can enjoy this home the way it is now. The way it is now is perfect for our family. But oh how I want to have it all the way I want it. Right. Now. Patience is difficult for me. Holding space for my desire for complete transformation now, and for the reality that my desire is not possible at this moment.
Sabina has struggled hard. Totally makes sense. The kid is five. We just took her from everyone and everything she has ever known and remembered and transported her to a new place where she knows no one, to a house that is foreign to her. The first three days here it was overcast and rainy. She declared the weather made her upset. ME TOO. I raved about the sunshine we were coming to and it looked like all we did was bring Michigan to Texas. After three days the clouds parted and gave way to sunshine and heat. And Bina decided she did not like Texas and that she wanted to move back to Michigan. She missed her friends. I miss my Michigan friends too. She decided she was scared of our house. She did not want to do anything alone and declared she needed help with tasks she has been doing solo for awhile, like sleeping in her room, going potty, and washing her hands. While I found this frustrating, I knew that right now Bina just needs some extra love and patience. She needs to know that she is safe and secure here and that we will build a life here together. That David and I are here for her and we are not going anywhere. Embracing this season of regression to some baby-ish tendencies instead of fighting it will resolve it in time. I have lost it myself in this transition and have not been there for her in the way she needs me as I am trying to be there for myself and can barely manage that at times. And that is when David comes in and takes a turn and between the two of us I think we are going to be just fine.
My mom came to visit for a week to help us get settled. Towards the end of her visit Sabina started asking when she was going to ride a horse again. I then followed up with a couple of the farms I had found and reached out to while we were still in Michigan, knowing that this would be an important part of getting settled for Bina. I made an appointment with one of the places for Bina to have an evaluation for placement in lessons. She counted down the days until her evaluation. So did I. We arrived Tuesday morning and were introduced to a miniature horse named Jose. He was the perfect size for her. She was able to brush him out all on her own and could reach his back without my help. Bina got on that miniature horse and showed off the riding skills she has acquired since June of this year when she turned five. I was worried about not being able to find a place to ride that I liked as much as the place where we rode in Michigan. This place far exceeded my expectations and I think will be an even better fit for her long term. I was thrilled, and Bina was too. She got to go on a trail ride around the farm. The instructor was so kind and patient. When we got back in the car Bina was beaming. Earlier in the day she had played with our six year old next door neighbor. She could not wait to get back to tell her about her lesson. She wanted me to send photos to her.
When we arrived home, the six and seven year old neighbor kiddos across the street were playing with our six year old next door neighbor. Bina joined in and the crew moved to our next door neighbor's backyard. I sat on the back patio with the mom and we talked while the kids played. Then the kids moved to our backyard. It was a day filled with playing with new friends and horseback riding. Can it get any better than that for five year old Sabina? And now we have Tuesday lessons to look forward to each week. Thursdays or Fridays we hike with our new explorer friends. We have the neighbor kiddos. A friend of mine in Round Rock who is homeschooling for the first time this year. Our little friend crew is ramping up and I am so excited for Bina and for myself. Oh and I got myself a little bluebonnet tattoo to signify finding my way home to Austin.
Almost four weeks in, our house is coming together. It feels like us. It is filled with our furniture, our toys, my colors and decor. David has installed two light fixtures I chose to replace the old ones in the kitchen. This weekend he will be installing the new fixture for the eat-in kitchen. I cannot wait. I bought some hooks to attach to the mud kitchen I had made for the girls to play with in the backyard. The entire first floor and backyard are oriented for play, and our cozy loft is where we can sit on the couch and rest, read, watch TV, play with Bina's 18 million stuffed animals, whatever. We wanted to return to Austin because it was the first place that felt like home to us. We bought our first house here, had our first child here, rescued our two dogs here. We have a community we built and kept in touch with while we were in Michigan the last four years. And we have returned to that community and are growing it further to cultivate relationships with fellow homeschooling families and new neighbors. We love the outdoor lifestyle and how dog-friendly Austin is. Dogs are EVERYWHERE. I love it. Austin is alive and growing. The job market is fantastic. The winters are glorious. The food is incomparable. The shopping cannot be beat. It is basically heaven on earth with fire ants. And I do not want to be anywhere else but here. Returning to our first home. Our return to Austin.