Some people love going home. But for me, my hometown is not at the top of my travel list. We do, in spite of that fact, try to make the trip once a year or even every other year.
A few months ago my husband, children, and I made the trip back home to visit my mother and her side of my family, including my maternal grandparents, both in their 80’s. On the ride there, my anxiety was making me very uncomfortable. I was telling myself that it would go by quickly. But I wasn’t ready to face everything there again. To me, it was full of places to avoid. It was me wishing I could go back in time and change so much. Even after so many years. Thinking of the family and friends that no longer speak to me.
These things are easy to forget about when you’re 600 miles away.
I began writing “Going Home” before we left for the trip. It was going to be an article about visiting the place where I grew up. More importantly, it was going to be an article about knowing that my new city was my real home. I had lived in Charleston for ten years and spent summers in Charleston my entire life. I always felt that I belonged here.
I intended to write my article on the 10-hour car ride back. I planned to explain that “Going Home” was about my journey back to Charleston, not to my childhood town.
I was constantly reminding myself that I was a different person now. I never quite fit in as a child in my big city with a small-town feel. But I got out, I was free. I was now living in the city crowned the #1 city in the U.S. nine years in a row by Travel & Leisure. I silently watch on social media as my old childhood friends, classmates, and neighbors visit my beach town. So I had won, right?
My childhood/teenage years were filled with things that made me want to run away and be someone new. The pressure to be perfect was deafening. Contrary to my beliefs as a teen, I had a great childhood, better than many. (Thanks Dad and Lisa.)
I just couldn’t quite find my place.
I couldn’t find myself.
The day after I graduated from college, I packed up my old two-door Saturn coupe and I followed behind my dad and step-mom on the 9.5-hour drive to Charleston to start a new life. It felt as if I had waited an entire lifetime to leave.
(Cue Jason Aldean’s “Rearview Town”).
I was finally home. I was safe.
“Going Home” was going to be my tribute to Charleston.
However, I learned something unexpected in the middle of writing this. On the way to my hometown a few months ago we first stopped to visit my husband’s family in West Virginia.
West Virginia is a beautiful state, but it also reminds me just how different my husband and I are. I admittedly didn’t love visiting his hometown the first several times as I am very much a city girl and often struggle to slow down. I like to constantly be on the go and entertained. It’s difficult for my type-A personality to stop and smell the roses or just enjoy the country life.
One of the reasons I was attracted to my husband in the beginning, is that it seemed so effortless for him to stay in the moment and always be content. He loves nature and animals. He is low maintenance and humble. He wasn’t like past boyfriends. He can cook; he can fix literally anything, and he has never seen the inside of a tanning bed. I took for granted the time he took showing me around his small town in the mountains. The home that made him who he is today.
My children love these trips to West Virginia exploring creeks, swimming in the rivers, and visiting their paternal grandparents. I, however, still had just two ideas of how to live- either in a big city or at the beach, my only two homes.
While in WV one afternoon, we were four-wheeling through the mountains, and my thoughts were unfortunately preoccupied with why I didn’t want to visit Kentucky in the upcoming days. I took a deep breath and looked around me. I watched my oldest son having the time of his life on the back of the four-wheeler in front of me. I had one of those “aha moments”. I thought this is what life is all about. Family, my children, nature, being in the moment. Not being worried about anything. I had been stuck in the past for long enough, dreading visiting a place, avoiding visiting family.
It finally occurred to me that it didn’t matter in the slightest where I called “home” for myself. All that matters is that my family is there with me. It could be a big city in Kentucky (yes those exist), the beach in Charleston, South Carolina, a small town in West Virginia, or someplace new. It wasn’t going to define me anymore.
During our short visit to Kentucky, I watched my children smile, hug, and play with their maternal grandparents, great-grandparents, and great aunts. Nothing terrible happened, and I didn’t see anything or anyone that I didn’t want to. Home may have changed, and perhaps it will change again someday. I am lucky to have the peace of mind that I have now and to have family in so many different places to love my children.
Home for me isn’t so much a place now, but a state of mind. A state of mind that reminds me to be appreciative of how much I have grown and changed. A state of mind to focus on the “right now” and be thankful more often. I have made a life and a family that I am incredibly proud of.
Being home to me is a representation of my huge support system while also a reminder to be constantly grateful for this present moment with my happy, healthy children and life. This is the life that I was meant to have and I am so glad that I have arrived.
I am finally home, no matter where I am.
While traveling for Thanksgiving this year, I am going to try to remind myself that my home is wherever I am, with my family. I am no longer lost. I am thankful for our large family and hope one day my children will also see that their home is in so many different and loving places. Their home will always welcome them with open arms.