Reflection time: challenges and insights – Part 1

It’s been about five months since leaving the Northwest and I thought I’d write about some of my reflections on our overall experience thus far. To this point I’ve mainly shared about our exciting new adventures or focused on humorous differences between our current and previous homes. While it’s fun to write about these things, and hopefully fun to read about, it glosses over the deeper aspects of our move and attempts to settle in. My previous entries, and most of my Facebook posts, present more of a highlight reel of our lives. I don’t want to give the false perception that everything is always fine and dandy, because that’s not real life. While moving and settling cross-country has provided us the opportunity to engage in many new events and activities, it has also posed some challenges. 

My plan was to just have one reflective-type, entry but once I started writing and thinking, things got lengthy in a hurry. So I decided to separate it into two different posts. This one will focus more on general adjustments to the move with some anecdotal stories. The next will be more personal and contemplative. If you’re looking for the activity-based travel writing and smiling posed-pictures of us in various places, then these posts probably aren’t for you. If you want to gain a better understanding of what things have been like or what I’ve been thinking about a deeper level, then you’re in luck. So without further ado, here are some insights into our experiences with traveling, adjusting to our new home, and connecting with others.

Traveling is fun… until it’s not

We left Seattle on May 26th, 2018 and scheduled a long road trip with stops to see people and places along the way. We stayed in eight different hotels and four different family homes before making it to Bartlett, TN on June 20th, 2018. The only problem was, we were supposed to arrive on the 17th. What’s an extra three days after that long on the road? Not much at all. But at the time, I didn’t handle it so well.

Jeff was scheduled to report at Norfolk the week of June 11-15th to finalize everything before relocating to Tennessee. I had talked to the office at our apartment complex, made arrangements for furniture rentals and delivery and everything was set for our arrival the following weekend. But Jeff returned on that Friday, the 15th, and said that he had to report in at Norfolk again that Monday because they weren’t done processing something. Okay, not ideal, but I handled this first announcement with some poise. I called the apartment and furniture place to reschedule everything for the following week. I tried to look on the bright side and think of extra sight-seeing we could do in Virginia. I tried to positively reframe everything, no biggie.

But then Jeff returned from base the following Monday saying that they still hadn’t finished his processing, and that they couldn’t say definitively when they would finish things up and release him. Also, our hotel informed us that they could no longer keep our room for us… Cue loss of emotional composure time for Danielle. Yes, I had thoroughly enjoyed traveling but that’s when I thought there was a firm end-date. I hadn’t realized how much I had been awaiting a return to a permanent residence: to not have to continually pack and unpack all my belonging every few days, or painstakingly load our car every departure so everything would fit and we still could have some visibility out of the back window, to be able to make my own food, sleep in my own bed, be surrounded by my own stuff. 

I also think this triggered the weight of our move. While traveling it was easy to be distracted by each day’s activities and the new places we were experiencing. While in Norfolk the reality of us moving to Tennessee began to sink in and I didn’t realize how anxious I was to actually arrive and see our new place. Neither of us had ever been to Memphis, nor knew anyone that had lived there recently. I did research online and chose a location that seemed like it would be a good fit for us. But were the online pictures accurate? Was the neighborhood going to be okay? What had we really committed ourselves to one year of? By the end of the trip I just wanted to get there and find out.

Another day’s delay also meant I had to re-call the apartment complex and furniture places and tentatively reschedule everything again. I hate making phone calls, especially when I’m in a bad mood. Just a cherry on the top of my pity-party sundae.

Of course everything worked out. Our hotel had a last minute cancellation and was able to keep us there for another night. The Navy finished authorizing everything and released Jeff the following day (Tuesday). We left that afternoon and booked a room for the night in Knoxville that happened to be serving Happy Hour and presented us with complimentary wine upon our arrival (or maybe they just saw me walking in and were like, you know what that lady looks like she needs?). The apartment and furniture places were understanding and able to reschedule. And we arrived in Bartlett, Tennessee the following afternoon. 

In retrospect, I’m glad we were delayed in Norfolk. Sometimes you don’t realize how inflexible or unconsciously anxious you may be until you’re forced to change your plans. Even if that change is brief, and ultimately inconsequential… 

New home, no acquaintances

Our new home turned out to be just what we were looking for. A 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment in a quiet neighborhood. Our furniture rentals arrived the day after we did and then our personal belongings, that the Navy shipped for us, arrived the following day. I figured that I would take the following week or so to organize everything and settle in. I did not anticipate the delivery crew literally dumping our stuff everywhere when I asked if they could remove them from and dispose of the boxes. I couldn’t stand seeing our stuff piled haphazardly and lying all over, so instead of taking my sweet time (which I had plenty of) to put everything away, I had one long marathon session the following day and it was pretty much all done.

So basically, by the first weekend, we were completely moved in and organized in our new place. Our TV didn’t quite make it intact, my medical diagnosis would be that somewhere en route it received an irreversible crush injury. But Jeff, eager to watch the World Cup, rushed out and replaced it immediately, before we had even filed the claim for it. I added a few more homey touches over time, like some scenic prints that I hung on our barren walls (although I dropped one of the tacks while hanging a picture over our bed and, alarmingly, never found it…). But we settled into our quiet and spacious abode quickly and rather comfortably. 

Connecting with other people, on the other hand, proved to be significantly more challenging. We engaged in a variety of activities: finding a new church, participating in a road race running series, signing up for activities on the Navy Base etc, but besides the friendly chit-chat, nothing really stuck. It wasn’t uncommon to have brief interactions with people at these events, or even people at the grocery store, or the gym, or our neighbors around the apartment complex, but nothing on a deeper level to really get to know someone, no exchange in phone numbers, or invitations to dinners. Granted, we could have been, and still can be, more proactive rather than waiting to be the recipient of such offers.

Technology has been a life-saver in staying connected to friends and family that now live at a distance, but there is something to be said for face-to-face, in person interaction. Being an introvert, when I was working full-time, as a physical therapist, my case-load and constant interaction with people all day would wear me out. I couldn’t help but find it ironic that now, here in Tennessee, I had swung to the opposite end of the spectrum… hardly any interaction with others (I wasn’t working for the first few months here, which I’ll talk about more in the next entry). Couldn’t I just find a happy medium? I was beginning to understand the stereotype of that chatty retiree who will spark up a conversation with anyone out of the blue just to connect with someone in person because they probably spend most of their time alone during the rest of the day. Was I going to become that person? So we had settled into our physical space well, but the social aspect was clearly going to take some time… 

I would like to mention, that moving to a new city with no acquaintances and plenty of spare time is a sink-or-swim way to deepen your relationship with your spouse. You’re forced to see how your significant other handles change as well as having an increased reliance on one another because you’re literally the only ones physically present for each other. I’d like to think that surviving this experience, as well as training for and completing an Ironman together last summer, has forged our relationship so strong that not even the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor could destroy our bond… okay, maybe not the best analogy (we’re not trying to rule you all, nor do I think we’re particularly evil). But then again, we haven’t had to parent together yet. 

You don’t know what you’re missing until… you return

I know the phrase is supposed to end: until it’s gone. But I found that, for me, I wasn’t missing the Northwest as much as I thought while I was in Tennessee. The only thing I found truly oppressive, that I instantly missed about the Northwest, was the weather we were met with when we arrived. I mean, it was bad. We’re talking sauna levels of heat and humidity. I couldn’t help but miss the enjoyment of the outdoors in the summer in my previous home compared to my current (actually, someone just told me that people around here basically ‘hibernate’ during the summer then come out again in the fall when the weather starts to cool off… which I have noticed of late). But other than that, I was reveling in the unique beauty, geographical and cultural differences in this part of the country, I didn’t consciously miss my Seattle surroundings that much. 

Well, I didn’t think I did, until our recent return to Seattle. And suddenly I found myself feeling like a kid in a candy shop. My first jog outside: breathing the crisp, cool air, surrounded by forrest greens, and hilly terrain – the Northwest is wonderful! Going to a Starbucks on a Friday and seeing everyone in their casual attire and Seahawks apparel – Blue Friday and easily accessible coffee are awesome! Driving around and catching glimpses of the Mountains and Sound and Islands – Seattle is the most gorgeous place in the world!! The only thing I didn’t seem to rejoice in was the return of actual traffic. Stop-and-go traffic on all the major highways… not a huge fan.

My unbridled excitement upon returning to Seattle caught me a bit off-guard because, like I mentioned, I was genuinely enjoying exploring Memphis and didn’t feel like I was missing my hometown that much. But I guess, 30+ years of living in the Northwest has made me a loyal native. I can travel, and live, and appreciate other areas. But there is no substitute for Seattle, it will always be home.

It doesn’t quite fit under this heading, because I knew I was already missing it before returning, but it was also great being able to get together again with friends and family. We came into town for a wedding, Jeff was actually the Best Man. We flew in together on a Wednesday, the wedding was Saturday, then he flew out on Sunday to return to work the following day and save vacation days for the holidays. I, on the other hand, stayed until the following Saturday since I had yet to start work. Since Jeff’s time in town was limited, we packed our schedule with several get-togethers with mutual friends and family members. By Thursday evening I remember telling Jeff that I was pretty sure I had more face-to-face time with others (besides him) in the last two days than the previous 2-3 months combined in Memphis. It’s nice to be surrounded by people that you have shared experiences with and who really know you. You can attempt to maintain those relationships over long distances, which we had done, but there is no substitute for actually being together. 

Ok, I’m going to break here and post more later. I know this is a lot of words with a shocking lack of pictures. So stay tuned for an even more intimate, contemplative entry in a few days.

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