It’s the eve of my annual back-to-Michigan visit, and per usual, I’m feeling a myriad of emotions. I’m excited to see my parents. To watch my daughter take my dad’s hand and follow him out into his big backyard covered in green. To see her play in the same rooms at my mom’s house that I played in when I was little. To catch up with friends I grew up with, survived school with, laughed during class with, and see our babies play together.
Then at the end of the day, those beloved people will all go home. They’ll go back to work, back to their families, back to their lives. And I won’t be home. I will feel a cavernous ache.
Michigan does not equate to home for me anymore. This is probably the most defining event to have ever happened in my life, figuring out what home is. I used to desperately want out of Michigan. I wanted to move anywhere, be anywhere but there. Then it happened, and I didn’t know why we ever decided to do it. I knew the second our car passed that border, we’d never be able to truly go back.
People tend to call visiting home a “vacation” but it really isn’t, it’s so much more emotionally taxing than any vacation. Unpacking all of that baggage of “Have we made the right decision, raising our kid so far away from her grandparents?” and “So what should we do in our downtime between visiting people? We’re exhausted, but we don’t truly have anywhere to go.” and “I want to spend more time with one of my best friends but I feel guilty not spending that time with my family”, and the honest-to-goodness lament I feel about two days into any trip of “I miss my bed!”
I soak in as much time with my parents, my grandparents, my friends as I possibly can. I want to stare into their faces and hold their hands and just be there as much as a person could be, trying to tide me over until my next trip, without overwhelming them. Without being a burden on them, intruding on their day-to-day lives. But my daughter is tired. She misses the comforts of home, and she doesn’t want to sit in someone’s living room all day long. We end up leaving before I feel I got any sufficient time with any particular person, and I’m dying to get home but I also feel like I leave a piece of myself in Michigan every time we go.
I don’t regret moving to California. I absolutely, truly love it and have met most of my closest friends here. I would never take it back, and I don’t have any plans of leaving. I grew more in that first year living here than I have in all my years of living combined. (That also may have had something to do with it being my first year as a mom.) But I have had to redefine for myself what home means. It isn’t the lush green of Michigan anymore. It’s not even California. It’s the people I live with. The tribe I’m surrounded by. Those people in Michigan are definitely part of that, but the place itself isn’t. That’s what home is. People.