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Saturday, June 21, 2014

In My Life (I Love You More)

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

A few months ago, I chose a topic for the group . . . and then I didn’t write my post.  I had a specific idea in mind at the time, but when I sat down to blog about it, I realized I didn’t really have an ending.  I asked the other bloggers for some extra time because I knew the ending was coming, sooner or later.  (Ever gracious, they obliged.) 

It was later rather than sooner, but I now have the ending.

Then, last week, Moma Rock gave this topic:  What are some of your favorite song lyrics? And why?  And although I faced great pressure to write about Bon Jovi (ahem!), I realized how as I’d been contemplating the ending of my “wish for” post, I’d had certain lyrics running through my head.  I can’t say they are “favorites,” but they sure seemed relevant. 

The topic I’d chosen was:  Careful what you wish for.  Here, finally, is my take:

When I was younger, I’d always wanted to live in Evanston, Illinois.  For those of you not acquainted with Chicago or even Illinois, Evanston is a city bordering Chicago to the north.  It’s famous for housing Northwestern University, and for serving as the southernmost city on the famed North Shore.  Neither of these reasons particularly appealed to me.  I just liked the town:  the cute and walkable downtown, the abundant parks, the huge historic homes lining Asbury and Sheridan Road.  Someday I’ll live in one of those, I’d dream as I drove down the winding tree-lined streets.  I’d be happy living here. 

Fast forward quite a few years, and suddenly I’m following a large pink moving truck as it pulls up to a house in the 60201, one of Evanston’s zip codes.  The house isn’t one of the sprawling landmarks I’d dreamed about but instead a plain brown bungalow – and a rental at that.  And it wasn’t on Asbury or Sheridan; it was barely in Evanston.  We’d moved to what is known as “Northwest Evanston,” a corner of the city bordered by the suburbs of Skokie and Wilmette, both of which sit a stone’s throw away.

Despite my years of wishing, I wasn’t thrilled to move to Evanston.  It didn’t feel like the realization of a life-long dream.  In the intervening years, I’d bought and grown into a sprawling yellow brick bungalow in Edison Park, a neighborhood on the Far Northwest Side of Chicago, not far from where I grew up.  But after a decade, we couldn’t stay.  My eldest daughter was attending a private school in Evanston, and the drive was killing us.  The threats and stress of an unstable neighbor sealed the deal. 

And so, we moved.  We rented a house for a year to see whether we liked Evanston.  We enrolled our then-Kindergartener in the local public school.  I walked her to school, picked her up, got to know some neighbors, explored the area.  I found things I liked, of course, but I can’t say I fell in love.  I missed my old house, my old neighborhood.  My old life.  I struggled to adjust.

After a year, we decided to stay, and we bought a house just a few blocks from the rental, a house that could not be more different from the charming homes I’d dreamt about.  Ours was a gut rehab, brand spanking new, filled with all the bells and whistles but zero charm.  It was not the Evanston about which I’d dreamed, for which I’d wished.

Quite the contrary.  In fact, there were many, many things about my new house and my new town that I didn’t like, that I even hated.  The cost of the house.  The high taxes.  The location (there is no good way to get to or from Evanston – trust me).  The stupid opposite parking on Thursdays and Fridays for street cleaning (and for snow).  The streetlights that illuminated exactly one foot of street.  The phrase “cooler by the lake” (and the accompanying cold air).  I felt like an outsider.  I struggled to make friends with the other moms.  I struggled, period.  

And once our middle daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and I began an 18-month battle with the school district to secure services, I openly bad mouthed my adopted home, vehemently, loudly.  I made a new wish:  I wished we could move.  I initiated conversations to that end with my husband – and he didn’t disagree.  Exhausted from our battle with the school, we started looking elsewhere:  nearby suburbs like Glenview, Highland Park, faraway suburbs like Geneva and St. Charles.  Living in Evanston hadn’t been the realization of a dream I’d imagined.  I should have been more careful.  I’d wasted a wish come true.

This spring, as I reeled from the worst winter I’d ever experienced (and that says a lot given my years in Illinois and Michigan) and we looked around various parts of Illinois, another wish began rolling around my heart:  I wished we could live somewhere warm.  A place where winter didn’t register temperatures below zero – ever, let alone months on end.  A city where my car wouldn’t be eaten by salt and where snowplows were a rare sight not because city services stink (Evanston) but because they were wholly unnecessary.  I dreamt and I wished and I imagined.  But I really didn’t see such a move in our future.

But wishes are funny things.  Because sometimes they come true.

For reasons not relevant here, my husband began looking for a new job.  He looked, of course, in Illinois – but he also looked in other, warmer places.  He got a bite, and that bite turned into a job.

In Tennessee.  Murfreesboro, Tennessee. 

We talked it over – briefly, actually – and the opportunity was too good to pass up.  My wish came true.  We’d be moving somewhere warmer.  We’d be leaving Evanston.

And now, as I race to clean and declutter and get that gut rehab house on the market, I’ve begun to realize that, once again, I need to be careful.  Because, somehow, in the five years I’ve spent in Evanston, most of which I’d spent wishing to get out, I’d made connections.  I settled into a community.  I’d created a home.  My wish, in no small part, had come true:  I’d been happy in Evanston.  Happier than I’d thought.

As I pack, I see vivid images in my mind of people and things I will be leaving behind, and my heart is heavy.  And playing in the background on a continuous loop are two songs, both of which seem relevant here, to this post and to this time.  The title of Don’t Know What You’ve Got (‘Til it’s Gone) by Cinderella seems particularly poignant, even if the lyrics don’t register much.  And when that’s done playing, I hear Unanswered Prayers by Garth Brooks.  Those lyrics ring so true.  The song tells the story of running into an ex and remembering how hard you wished and prayed for things to work out with that person but now realizing it is best that wish went unanswered.  The chorus:

Sometimes I thank God, for unanswered prayers.
Remember when you’re talking to the man upstairs.
Just because he doesn’t answer, doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.

In essence, Garth is warning to be careful what you wish for.  As am I.

I’ve never been terribly good and being “present” in the moment, and I realize that fact more now than ever as I live the final few weeks of Evanston life.  Each day, I look around and think about those parts of Evanston I do love and will greatly miss.  Living within walking distance of Bent Park, particularly on cool, humid mornings when the fog rolls in.  The chocolate cake at Tag’s Bakery that tastes just like a Suzie Q.  As angry as the school district has made me, I’ll miss the school end-of-year picnic and Fall Fest and the 10’s orchestra shows.  I’ll even miss the gut rehab house, the one we spent years charming up, with shutters and gingerbread and flowers and paint and memories. 

Most of all, I’ll miss my Evanston friends:  Cynthia and Mariah and Allison and Julie W. and Julie R. and Liz and Me’Chelle and Erin and Jennifer and Kate and Lara and Anna Renee (and I’m sure I’m forgetting someone and I’ll apologize now).  I’ll miss watching their kids grow up; I’ve known some of them for more than half their lives.  I’ll miss our awesome next door neighbors on both sides, especially Sue and Pete to the north, who generously offer us fresh tomatoes and watch the house when we are gone and who snowblow for us each winter (even if it is at 5:00 a.m. . . . ).  I’ll miss Dave at the bakery, even though he’s moody, and I’ll miss Judith who works behind the counter.  I’ll miss taking walks down the leafy streets, past the Sixteen Candles house and the Uncle Buck house and the Curly Sue school (which would be my kids’ middle school had we stayed).  I’ll miss sitting at the YWCA and talking to “swim dad” Chris, who doesn’t live in Evanston but might as well.  And I will miss my hospice people:  my “ladies” with whom I visit each week, and my wonderful team, Mary and Jill and Kathy. 

Even though I will grieve these losses, I am excited about the move.  I look forward to the adventure, as much as I dread starting over.  But as I move on, literally, I will remind myself to more carefully choose my wishes, and to remember that we really don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone.  I will try to remember that, sometimes, there is an upside to unanswered prayers and ungranted wishes. 

And I will always, always Keep the Faith.

Epilogue:  Some lyrics for my NWEv Friends:

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever, not for better.
Some have gone and some remain.
All these places had their moments,
With lovers and friends
I still can recall.
Some are dead and some are living,
In my life, I've loved them all.
But of all these friends and lovers,
There is no one compares with you.
And these memories lose their meaning,
When I think of love as something new.
Though I know I'll never lose affection,
For people and things that went before,
I know I'll often stop and th
ink about them.
In my life I love you more.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

This weeks topic came from me, and I asked the ladies to write a breakup letter.  Here is my take:

Dear State of Illinois:

            That’s it.  I’m done.  We?  Are through.

            And I’m not going to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.”  It’s totally you.  You are no longer the state I fell in love with.  I?  Don’t even know you anymore.

            Don’t look so surprised.  We both knew it was coming.  I’ve tried, Illinois, I really have.  I’ve overlooked so many mistakes, so many indiscretions.  But you’ve pushed me too far, my once fair state.  This time, you’ve crossed the line.

            What?  You don’t know what I’m talking about?  Ok, how about this tidbit:  you recently pushed to make permanent a “temporary” five percent income tax while simultaneously giving yourself a nice juicy raise.  Who does that, Illinois?  Oh, that’s right, you do.  And you do it without thinking twice.  Without a shade of embarrassment or regret.  It’s all about you, Illinois.  You couldn’t care less about people like me, your constituent, your resident.  You look at me and your eyes light up with dollar signs.  You lie awake nights and think of ways to gauge me for even more money.  You are a gold digger.  One of the best.  And I’m so over it.  Completely done.

            It’s not like I was that into you, anyway.  Ask my husband where he’s from, and he says, “Wisconsin.”  Ask me, and I say, “Chicago.”  My city of origin just happens to fall within your oddly shaped boundaries; hell, I’ve long been a proponent of Chicago ceding from Illinois and becoming its own cool state:  Chicago – just Chicago (sort of like the Sting of the states).  Of course, breaking up with you means turning my back on Chicago, too.  But that’s ok.  The city I grew up in lives no longer, and I’ve no patience for Rahm’s Chicago.  (And I’ve no money for the city’s parking meters:  $6.50 an hour?!  Seriously?!)  A lifelong Chicagoan, this isn’t easy.  But you’ve left me no choice.

            I’m not alone, Illinois.  Recent news reports indicate Illinoisians are fleeing you at a staggering rate, something like three an hour, which is seventy-two a day, or twenty-seven THOUSAND a year – the second highest rate in the entire country (second to New York, per usual).  Hell, I’d be moving out on you, too, if I could swing it.  Don't worry; Im working on it.  It will be a happy, happy day when I unscrew those “Land of Lincoln” plates from my Jeep, replacing them with the undoubtedly less expensive tags from a competing jurisdiction, one not occupied by Michael Madigan (and one where salt won’t eat away the undercarriage of my car).

            Don’t try pulling the pouty eyes on me.  The innocent look simply won’t work.  The list of ways in which you’ve compromised our relationship is long and getting longer.  I’m sure you’re thinking, “But I’m ranked in the top five!  And it’s true – you score high points, but in all the wrong ways:  highest sales tax in the nation, highest unemployment rate, worst traffic, worst baseball team, coldest winters, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!  You’re killing me, Illinois, figuratively and literally.

            To make it worse, you’re foibles are public knowledge.  Talk about embarrassing Internet photos – remember Blago?!  No other state boasts two governors housed in two separate prisons at the same time (and none could “brag” about the last one appearing on Celebrity Apprentice).  So horrible is the current governor, he was booed at a Blackhawk’s rally!  And everyone there was happy and drunk!  I can’t even listen to the governor’s voice; if I hear him on the radio or TV, I lunge to change the channel (much like I do when those heartwrenching ASPCA commercials come on).

            Even your ridiculously expensive Super Bowl commercial was terrible:  claymation?  I’m sure I wasn’t alone in having Davey & Goliath flashbacks.  You spent eleventy billion of my dollars to lure people here by showing Abe Lincoln making a weird “hmmmm” noise while touring you?  Really?  That’s the best you’ve got?

            You know, I think it is.  Sadly, Illinois, it’s just not good enough for me. 

            So don’t bother to call or text.  Don’t send cards or flowers or chocolates (because you’d be using my money, anyway, and that tax rate is killer).  I’ll be online researching other states, looking for one that’s at least 5’10” with blue eyes, no income tax, and warm winters.  Take care of yourself, Illinois.  I wish you well.  I really, truly do.