Renting Before Owning
“You have to rent first.” Grandma always offered advice but negated it by ending any given recommendation with, “but what do I know?” However, this time, her counsel to rent was not followed with any self-effacing declaration. In fact, when I told her that we were planning to move 75 miles away to northwest New Jersey into a new house we were going to have constructed, I noticed worry etched on her face.
I dismissed her rent first concern summarily by saying, “You’re probably right, Grandma, but what do I know?” She smiled faintly at my reference but she could not hide her grave concern at what she deemed to be a rash decision – a seeming unalterable mistake.
I Don’t Want to Leave You, but …
I did not want to leave my beloved grandparents who now only lived about 15 minutes away. I felt so connected to them and safe in their presence. In fact, as much as I wanted to run away from suffocating suburbia, nagging thoughts of guilt and concern rose to the surface. Was I being selfish and doing my grandparents a disservice by leaving them to fend for themselves? (My parents were joining us, looking to embark on a different life in new surroundings.)
I rationalized that our new house was still close enough where I could check up on my grandparents, each weekend if necessary.
Moreover, I reasoned that I had to do what was right for the kids. By moving to the country, my children could now breathe fresher air, immerse themselves in nature, and venture outdoors without always looking over their shoulder.
And the view from my home was breathtaking, overlooking an expansive forest where the sun set in hues of golden yellow and red. The abundant, shiny stars incessantly twinkled light, calling for my attention to the skies above.
I felt alive, and as important, hopeful!
I used to watch Fame (guilty pleasure) where the theme lyrics underscored promise, “You ain’t seen the best of me yet …” Here, I thought that I could be my best self, leaving my emotional baggage behind. This would represent a fresh start – a new beginning with limitless possibilities.
Even as a small child, I always wanted to move to the country, and now my lifelong wish was coming true, right under those vibrant stars. But you know what they say about wishes.
So I thought I was living out my fantasy; I really was engaging in fantasy thinking.
All Good Plans of Mice and Men …
It did not take long for my utopia to crumble.
We were just getting settled when the bell rang. I opened the door to 2 neighbors who looked at me with piercing, unforgiving eyes. With complete disregard to any amenities, one said with the most bitter acrimony you could possibly imagine: “You’re from the city, right? Well, out here in the country, we take care of our homes.”
He was alluding to our rather long grass, but again, we had just moved in and did not even fully unpack. The lawn was not the primary concern.
But doesn’t that sound defensive – an excuse to countrymen everywhere who are proud caretakers of lawns? It did to this gentleman who demanded that we do something to remedy the situation immediately.
When I meekly said it would have been nice if their first visit could have been to welcome us, his cantankerous manner remained. “That’s neither here or there,” he barked.
After their departure, I quickly reassured myself that this was an anomaly. Surely my other neighbors would be courteous and thoughtful, happy to welcome new community members.
Stop laughing! I naively thought that people in more wide open spaces, where the pace of life was less frenetic, would be more gentle and kind.
This wishful thinking was dashed when other neighbors expressed their concerns. One did not like the look of an unhealthy tree on our front property. Another told me to take a small children’s inflatable pool off my deck because it was an eyesore. Still another neighbor wondered why our garage had 2 doors when almost all the others had 1 door.
Lesson: Think twice about moving to a gated community!
We also got engulfed in a Hatfield-McCoy dispute when we simply asked the builder to change specs to our land when we found out that a neighbor was using a small part of our property. The builder told this neighbor that we wanted their driveway to be dismantled and reshaped to conform to property lines – a creative fabrication. (Changing property specs must be expensive.)
Can you imagine what transpired next? My ears are still ringing from the machine gun-like swear words that hit its mark.
Lesson: It does not take long for enmity to build among people – especially those who live right on top of one another.
Alright, so these people were not going to get any of our Christmas cards. Similarly, we were not going to get invited to any of their parties.
Even Nature Turns Its Back on Me
Regardless of any possible social isolation, I still had nature on my side. The air at night smelled so good and a lot better than the pollutants and airplane dust emanating from JFK Airport in our former Queens, NY neighborhood.
And the kids loved to be outside, gawking at the deer, raccoons, rabbits, and even on one occasion, an odd black bear from afar. We would sit on the grass and just appreciate the beautiful environs.
Well, that family tradition ended when one of my sons got diagnosed with Lyme Disease. Now nature was no longer viewed as a calming influence, a respite away from a chaotic world, but as a threatening, unsafe menace.
Lesson: Don’t lay out on grass in the country where deer ticks are pervasive. After all, nature is not all what it’s cracked up to be.
An Environmentally-Caused Catastrophe?
Another problem rose its ugly head at about the same time: My youngest son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. I’ll never forget the day we received the news. The neurodevelopmental specialist uttered, “Your child has PDD-NOS. You better get him ready for an institution because that’s where he is going.”
I told the good doctor that his job was not to take away hope from parents … that the only institution my son would be going to would be college.
But during that heartbreaking car ride home, I felt an uncomfortable mix of panic and guilt. Should I have allowed those multiple vaccinations during one doctor’s visit? Should I have trusted my intuition months ago, and had him seen earlier because I noticed the lack of eye contact, communication and social delays, and other symptoms of autism.
And what if by moving midway through my wife’s pregnancy, this new environment may have contributed to the condition? Could it have been the fertilizer that permeated the air once a month? Could my wife have been bitten by a deer tick carrying disease during a critical point of her pregnancy? Could it be radon or other nefarious gases or chemicals that lent a hand in the development of autism?
These questions will probably always remain unanswered. But if vaccinations are really not to blame (as Big Pharma suggests) and environmental factors are partially responsible, then by moving to Shangri-La, perhaps we inadvertently set the wheels in motion for the development of this medical disorder.
Lesson: No area is devoid of problems. You can’t escape environmental hazards. You just do the best you can wherever you live, and try to make the best of any situation.
Is This a Blue Ribbon School?
Still, like a domino effect, my son’s condition led to other problems in Fantasy Land. We were constantly embroiled in a fight with the local school to get desperately needed services for him. At one point, I know that I was Public Enemy #1, insisting on support from a budget-conscious school whose financial coffers were not big.
Grandma always told me, “Never get involved in the courts – either side.” This is no doubt sage advice but, at times, perhaps unavoidable. Frustrated by their worthless program, we sued the school and settled out of court for my son to receive about 20 hours of 1:1 ABA therapy. Each year, its another battle with the realization that these disputes may have never taken place had we stayed where we were.
Lesson: The school in a new community may not really deserve the accolades it receives.
Predictably, most of the parents here think autism is contagious. They prefer that their children play with “normal kids.”
I remember one parent who introduced herself to me with these bonding words, “Aren’t you the dad of the retarded boy?”
Lesson: There are stupid people everywhere.
There is No Shangri-La – Temper Expectations and Find Happiness Within
In the last 15 years that I’ve lived in this “new community,” a realization has been borne: The ‘Good Life’ is not necessarily going to be achieved by moving to a certain place. It is only attainable by embracing positivity, becoming less outer-directed, and by showing more compassion to yourself and others.
As I always tell my wife, “The names change but the personalities stay the same.” In any given neighborhood, you’ll find kind, compassionate, indifferent, aloof, acerbic, and even cruel people.
Lesson: There is no running away from human nature.
So I no longer look at these magazines proclaiming the “Top 100 places to live.” You’ll have your ups and downs in any place, and any life you create ultimately is derived from your own attitudes, actions, and reactions.
You just have to reconcile yourself with the fact that life anywhere is replete with ‘Perfect imperfections.”
Reflect on what American actor and director, John Malkovich,” once said, “Utopia means elsewhere.”
Lesson: Create your own utopia wherever you are and stop expecting to land in an ideal place where all troubles seem to melt away. If you don’t let go of such expectations, you’ll be vastly disappointed … but what do I know?