Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kim Harmeling: Home

My husband and I ended up in Texas a number of years ago after my job went away and the company offered me another opportunity in Houston. We could see new places, meet new people, learn new stuff -- it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Houston is a place as different economically, socially, and politically from Seattle as it’s possible to be and still be in the same country (though if you ask anyone there Texas IS a different country and never doubt that they are serious).

The biggest change, however, turned out to be something we never suspected. We never thought that moving away from our families would be so hard. We thought that with phone and email we’d have no problem keeping in touch, and we’d see them at holidays, so no big deal right? Wrong. It’s just not the same as having them local. The phone bill to our parents was astronomical and the emotional toll difficult on both ends of the line. My new job went badly, my husband couldn’t find a job at all and got tired of being a house husband, and the house we bought was drafty, hot, and bug-infested. The dogs even got sick from the heat and developed allergies to the lawn grass and the fire ants.

We felt disconnected – adrift in a place with unfamiliar societal rules and full of people with no inclination to teach us. A place where it’s legal to carry a weapon without a permit as long as it’s out in the open where everyone can see it and where having an open container of liquor in the car is okay as long as it’s in a bag where no one can see it. The combination of the two doesn’t even bear thinking about but the results made the news every single day. A place where it was every person for themselves, more overtly than anywhere we’d ever been. It felt wrong on every level but we couldn’t figure out why, in this new city where we were supposed to be having a great experience, we were so very unhappy.

Family for us is ballast, providing the stability we need to navigate the uncertainties of life. Houston was full that – uncertainties. Jobs, house, health, friends, all of it unknowable. We felt stuck there, having made the commitment to move and seeing no way out of the situation. Stuck without the stability we were used to and, to our surprise, discovered was essential to both happiness and sanity.

We lasted one year, almost to the day, before we got out and came back home as fast as we could. It took us two of the longest days I can ever remember, just to get out of the damn state of Texas. Five days later when we drove across the Washington state line, I thought my husband was going to pull the car over, get out and kiss the ground.

This particular moving experience gave me a deep appreciation for the people and places where I grew up. It’s amazing how many people move away to a different city, different state, or even a different country for college, a job, to serve their country, or just for the adventure of it, only to move back home later in their lives. It might be two years or twenty years, but they do come back. Not necessarily to their parent’s house, mind you, though economics force many to do so, but at least back to the city or even the neighborhood where they grew up. Back to home territory, gone to ground so to speak, in an area where the rules, faces and social norms are familiar. A place where you can settle in and breathe deep. Back to family, in whatever form that may take.

We return with the things we learned while moving around, pieces of culture picked up along the way, friendships made in distant cities or lands, new ideas and perspectives that we share with our family and friends and which make our shared lives richer and more appreciated for the experiences had elsewhere. So, move away to that school, job, lover, or locale you have to discover, but don’t be surprised to find yourself moving back for reasons you might not be able to define. Write while you’re gone, email, or call but come on back home when you’re ready and share with us what you’ve learned.

We can hardly wait.


  1. Great job, Kim! Glad to have you on board!

  2. Also, the line about the guns having to be out, but the beer having to be in made me laugh -- I loved that!

  3. Nice piece! At least it only took a year for you to remember you were wearing ruby slippers all along.