Last winter was a tough one. Chicago was miserably cold, and I know I’m not the only one who reached a breaking point with week after week of plunging temperatures and dumping snow. It’s August now, but the rose-colored glasses I wore for Chicago last four years are still frozen over.
This post isn’t about weather, though. It’s about community, that feel-good internet buzzword that always makes me feel a little sad because the truth is that I’m having a damn hard time cobbling together a community that makes Chicago feel like home. It’s just so big! I know there are people living here who are my kind of people, but I can’t find them. Or, I found them, and they live on the other side of the city, so I never see them, because who has time and gumption for three-part commute (train, bus, walk) in the dead of winter? Or, I found them and then they moved back to California or Idaho or Missouri or Indiana or whatever. The transitory nature of big cities can be heartbreaking.
Plus, adult friendships are hard! I like to be social, but I look primarily to my family to satisfy that need. My mom recently told me that when I got invited to go on playdates as a kid, I would check her schedule first, and if she had plans to go out in the evening, I would choose to stay home because I needed that mom time. In college, I didn’t understand when my roommates wanted to go to parties or movies with other friends or hang out with their boyfriends. Can’t we all just hang out here, just us? Having a kid compounds that need. Every week brings another missed happy hour So that I can rush home in time to spend more than hour with Dylan before bed, every weekend a brunch or party or class for which I waited entirely too long to send my RSVP regrattably no. I’m not even reaping the social benefits of being part of a religious community these days. Playgroup meets on weekdays when I’m at work, Relief Society activities meet during bedtime, and our non-traditional family structure makes it hard to really connect with other ward members.
I could go into all the reasons why making and keeping friends is so hard for me (I keep moving, I have a crazy job, babies are particular and demanding, etc.), but I know this isn’t a unique problem. Everybody is busy and everybody wants more time with family and everybody is a little bit lazy. What’s more, if I want more or closer friends, I am a grown adult fully capable of picking up the phone and getting out of the house once in a while. But damn if it isn’t hard.
A few months ago Robert and I were sorting mountains of baby clothes into smaller mountains, keep for us, keep for family, give away, and I realized that if we have another baby, there probably won’t be a baby shower. This is a relief, frankly. Occasions marked by the gathering of one’s nearest and dearest stress me out to no end. I’m talking birthday parties, graduations, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, weddings, baby showers. They make me starkly aware that I’m missing something everyone else seems to have: a community of close-knit friends and family. The people I do have are not local. The people who are local are few and would probably be surprised to realize that they are my closest friends, because the relationships are not reciprocal. So when I realized that the next major event that’s all about me will likely be my funeral, I was relieved. No more gifts. No more showers. No more guest lists. No massive social pressures on the immediate horizon. I could breathe and enjoy the little life we are building out here on our own.
And then I looked at a calendar and photos on Facebook of my friend’s kid’s first birthday party and it dawned on me: my social obligations may be at an end, but my daughter’s are just beginning. When she was born, a family member asked if any friends were coming to see us at the hospital and I couldn’t fathom having friends close enough for such a visit. When she was blessed at our church, I cried because Robert couldn’t lay his hands on her head and I couldn’t stand in the circle and I didn’t know who I could ask to be part of the ceremony. Now, I know that a baby doesn’t need a crowd to feel special on her first birthday, but what about her second birthday, and her third? What about her baptism? What about recitals and school plays?
Parenting is breaking your heart and stitching it back together, scarred but somehow bigger, every single day. Right now, it breaks my heart that I can’t give my daughter a community of people who love her and will be around to help her grow.
I wish that mine and Robert’s families weren’t so scattered.
I wish that Phoenix didn’t push all my “get out now!” buttons.
I wish I didn’t know the unique pain that is living in a homogeneous town as a kid that wants something more, or at least different.
I wish that I could shake the feeling that my daughter will be one of those kids who will benefit from something more, or at least different.
I wish my family never moved to Ohio and made me fall in love with lakes and rivers and trees.
I wish that driving desert highways didn’t still my troubled soul.
I wish I could give my daughter the desert and the lakes.
I wish that I didn’t know for a certainty that we’d run into the exact same problems with building community in any other city, because the problem isn’t Chicago, it’s us.