Sunday, April 12, 2009

Being Home

It’s difficult for me to blog when I’m in Washington visiting my husband Herb. I’m too busy trying to be home. While Herb is away at work all day, I am busy trying to inhabit the space of this place, the apartment where Herb lives while I live in our permanent home in Colorado, which is where my mom Frances also lives.

I suspect that if you counted the days, you would find that, mostly, Frances lives in our Colorado house. That’s because I only occupy that house when I’m not in Washington and not traveling, which I do pretty often. Herb’s trips to Colorado have declined to nine or ten times a year, when he took a full-time job in Washington fifteen months ago, vs. every other weekend the previous nine years of consulting.

I’ve noticed that things in the Colorado house get moved around each time I return, and in some ways, it’s slowly becoming not entirely my house anymore. I ceded the kitchen to Frances within six months of moving in, because wrestling for control of it was giving me chronic hives. Although it is myth that the sinograph for trouble or crisis is two women under a roof, the truth in our house is that we two women cannot share a kitchen – a story to share another time.

Inhabiting a space that is primarily inhabited by someone else is a lot like reaching homeport after an ocean voyage. There is a period of acclimation. My things are here – clothes, toiletries and makeup, books and magazines that I bring from Colorado, and my kitchen. But my energy takes three or four days to catch up with my body landing here. Meanwhile, my volunteer work, my community network and my friends are in Colorado. My mind remains left behind with projects in progress and unfinished to-do lists. The feelings of guilt over uncompleted work, on the other hand, come with me.

The apartment was set up for Herb’s comfort and to satisfy his tastes. I helped choose the furnishings, and I’m the one who cleans the apartment each time I come here. But what’s in the fridge and in the pantry are all about Herb. And he controls the thermostat, which we each adjust when the other isn’t looking.

In some ways, the way Herb and I live is a lot like dating couples where each partner has his or her own place, except that we’ve been married 27 years and raised a daughter who’s now 23. We know we’re together for the long haul, till death do us part. There is no road map for how to be a family in our present configuration, and there certainly are no built-in societal support systems. What helps me is my lifelong experience of being an iconoclast, finding my own identity apart from what my culture, this society, and elders have sought to impose.

In America we idolize an idealized version of the nuclear family – father works while mother tends home and kids. We deem it atypical when an in-law lives with the family, and either the parents are saints or they’re martyrs for putting up with the older generation. Gay and lesbian parents often are categorized as anomalies in benign terms or as aberrations in harsher terms. Commuter marriages where mom and dad live geographically apart are considered challenging and weird. Yet, census data tell us that version of the nuclear family fell below half of all households in 2006.

Herb and I invent how to be family and home as we go. We talk often, openly and honestly. We rely heavily upon email to share updates on what’s happening at Herb’s job, progress on the bathroom remodel in Colorado, our latest conversations with our daughter, and mundane things like cartoons and articles we’ve seen. I’ve learned to wait an appropriate amount of time for Herb to formulate a response to my questions and comments, and he’s learned to stay on the phone when I need to process my day verbally.

Love is an act of will. Love is about making choices. Making a long distance relationship work requires commitment to the marriage as well as to the other person, thoughtfulness and consideration of who the other person is and what makes him/her tick, and vulnerable communication in addition to frequent connecting. Home truly is where the heart is and not a geographical place on the globe.

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