There are few things more daunting than holiday hustle or flying cross-country with small children, and yet we decided to combine these two joyful circumstances and head back to California for Christmas. In a (semi-) hasty decision, I researched the cheapest days and times to fly, and pulled the proverbial trigger. Chris and I usually spend a large amount of time contemplating any decision – of any size – and so my quick purchase of five round trip, Christmas-fare plane tickets was a bit of a shock to Chris’s (frugal) system. We are not a family who travels much, nor have we ever traveled around the holidays. Our Christmas celebrations were always contained in a five mile radius; even during college, we were Yolo County locals. As I was checking flights into several Northern California airports though, my mind was on all the reasons why we really should head west for Christmas. Our families missed us, the kids wanted to check in with cousins and friends, we don’t yet have any animals that need daily tending, and surely, no one would be visiting us until the temperature climbed well above freezing. Five flights to Oakland it was.
Our family and friends were thrilled to hear that we were coming to California for a week; the kids were beyond excited to fly on airplanes and snuggle with grandparents again. Chris and I were nervous about leaving the farm, but were very much looking forward to seeing loved ones, talking about our new life, and letting grandparents watch the kids so we could stay out later than 5:00pm. Chris and I dealt with all the normal pre-trip planning and anxiety that a week away entails, and yet one thing remained regularly awkward, from ticket purchase through plane boarding. When talking about our trip to California, Chris and I both would unconsciously say that we were going “home” for Christmas. We had spend the better part of the summer packing and moving our worldly possessions, settled into a new community, school, and geographical area, changed our address on every piece of mail, and passed the Minnesota drivers’ license exams – why in the world would we say that our “home” was back in California? It felt disloyal to our new Minnesota life to keep absentmindedly referring to California as “home.” Not only are we are not here temporarily, we have worked very hard to begin to put down roots in this community and to start our pasture-based farm business. We have 1,000 business cards to corroborate that our home is, most definitely, here in Braham, Minnesota. It was going to be interesting, though, to be travellers and guests in places that were as familiar as our childhood homes – because they were.
Christmas Day arrived and as we loaded the kids into the car in -10 weather (-17 wind chill), we looked forward to simply surviving the 13 hours of travel facing us. To our great surprise, not only did we all survive, the kids were amazing travelers. Our middle monkey got to check out the pilot’s seat, our terrific two-year old slept through an entire flight, and our oldest enjoyed looking out the window as much as her daddy.
Our week was chock full of hugs, stories, laughs, sweets, and visits. A week-long stay anywhere sounds unquestionably long enough to fill socially, until you think about the prospect of visiting every family member, friend, coworker, neighbor, and restaurant that you have known and enjoyed throughout the course of your entire life. Chris and I divided up our visits and managed to see most of who we wanted to. There were some dear friends that we missed, but unless we had forgone sleep, there was no way to cram in more hometown visits than we managed. It was a gloriously familiar week – we didn’t consult a single map, Chris hacked his way around the golf course I still (sorry, Jerry!) have a set of keys to, and I got to catch up with friends that I have known since before we could drive. Everyone wanted to know what it was like living up here in the icy north, and we assured them that it is as cold as they are imagining, but even more welcoming than we ever had. We spent countless hours with our parents, and the girls got boatloads of grandparent snuggles and cinnamon rolls.
Toward the end of our week, Chris and I had a moment to talk alone. We realized that we had come to the same conclusion, separately, about California; we were just beginning to notice some things about our previous state of residence. We noticed how much garbage was lying on the side of the freeways, how many cars were jostling the bumpy traffic lanes. We began to see just how swamped and crowded the business were, and how many panhandlers populated the bus stops and big-city blocks. Mind you, these issues were not markedly different or worse than when we set sail for Minnesota in September. Indeed, these situations were very much the same as what we would’ve experienced in our normal, California life just six months ago. It seems odd, to begin to notice things about the place in which we had spent over 30 years, things that were the same as when we had lived there. But after thinking about it for a week or so, I think I understand why we were able to look at California with new eyes.
We had been living in the monkey house. Bear with me, dear readers. Back in an earlier lifetime, when I had room in my schedule for frivolous TV watching (obviously, before kiddos), a judge on a particularly entertaining competition show was consulting with a contestant about a particularly bonkers creation.
The judge began, “So you go to the zoo, you walk into the monkey house, and it stinks.”
“And then after you’ve been in the monkey house for a while, you get used to the smell, and it suddenly doesn’t stink anymore.”
“You sir, have been in the monkey house for too long.”
We had only been able to notice these aspects of our former home because we had had four months away – four months out of the monkey house, as it were. It is amazing just how fast and how drastically our definition of what is normal had changed. Just as our families were (and still are) shocked at our weather temperatures, we have become similarly surprised by just how different things are out west.
Coming home after a week away stirred up a mixed bag of emotions. We were so happy to have had that time with family and friends, so grateful to have been able to visit, and slightly sad because it was clear just how far away all our lifetime loved ones were, physically. Gone are the days of running across town to Grandma’s house for a cinnamon roll and a movie, but thank goodness for FaceTime and group text chains. We are still talking to our people every day, regardless of how many miles are between us.
It was a relief to get back to the farm and find everything mostly the way we left it (the frozen pipes in the pump house are a post for another day…). A part of our hearts will always belong in that big, crazy state. In our families’ kitchens, where we help ourselves to the coffee and cookies, and in cars in the company of lifetime friends, where the jokes and history are as long-lasting and familiar as the county roads we travel. What we do know now is that our home, where our heart, dreams, and future are, is most definitely back here in Minnesota. There will be many, many more trips out west to California, but every one of them will see us heading home to Braham. ~Lauren