Part one of a three part series
As many people know, Chris and I were born and raised in the same small (for California) town that our own daughters were then born in. In fact, the five of us started life in Woodland, 25 or so years apart, in the same hospital, in the same ward. My parents were native Californians who landed in NorCal after youths and young adulthoods spent in Southern California (for our non-West Coast readers, yes, there is a HUGE difference between the two halves of that big, crazy state). Chris, however, came from not just a long line of Californians, but locals to boot. On one side of his lineage, he was at least a third-generation Yolo County resident.
Raising our own family in the same town in which we grew up was a special adventure; one I am profoundly glad to have experienced. Our wedding was practically a class reunion – 90% of those that stood up that day were (or would become) Woodland High graduates; attending a parent-teacher conference across the table from our own preschool teacher was both extremely comforting and seemingly impossible all at the same time. As an adult, seeing the faces of your junior high yearbook as you walk around the grocery store is just a joy. Truly. What a pleasure to know that any possible social interactions could be accompanied by myriad middle school memories, right?
In all seriousness, it was quite comforting and a blessing to be raising our little ones in the community that nurtured us along to adulthood. All four grandparents were less than 10 minutes from our house, and the slate of life-long wedding attendant friends mentioned earlier were still around, almost in entirety. We had a tremendous local network of extended family and good friends, all of whom were involved in our lives in many positive ways, far too many to ever list. During any outing in town, or in the small towns around ours, we were almost certain to bump into a familiar face. Whether it was a friend from high school, friends of our parents, students from school, or co-workers, we never made it through a Costco trip, a round of golf, or a Christmas Parade without sharing pleasantries with a friend. We were familiar with not only the people in our town, but the places as well. Houses and stores were referred to by the names of families who owned them currently or previously, and our close knit group of school friends (K-12, in some cases) had left many, many memories all over our town. Living through several of life’s stages, over 30 years, in the same place, brings real meaning to knowing a place like the back of a hand.
Before our journey to the farm was even a blip on our life-horizon, I assumed that we would be Woodland residents forever. In fact, I can only assume that I assumed such a thing; it was a fact so taken for granted that it took up no brain space at all. Then, a couple of years ago, over several months, and through many, many hours of conversation, Chris and I began to arrive at the conclusion that our dreams were bigger than California could contain. The hope to live our our lives and raise our children in our own, very beloved hometown and the desire to start this pasture-based family farm were, in fact, mutually exclusive. There was no way, with land prices and climate, that we could do it in California. We were faced with a choice. The two paths were polar opposites. We could remain Woodlanders; stay in our reliable, comfortable jobs, buy a bigger house in town, and shelve our farm dream forever. Or, we could make a giant leap into the unknown, leaving behind friends, family, and all familiarity, but chasing a life we were passionate about. This was an agonizing decision; one we wrestled with together, alone, and over many, many months.
Exactly a year ago, in December 2016, Chris and I stumbled across a documentary on PBS called “Xmas without China.” The premise of the documentary is not incredibly important to the narrative here, but basically, it was created by Tom Xia, a young, Chinese-born/USA-raised man grappling with his identity in both cultures, juxtaposed with a look at America’s consumerism and its need for all things “Made in China.” Chris and I are both huge documentary nerds (Non-fiction? We’ll watch it.), and so we were watching with interest when Tom began interviewing his mother about emigrating to the United States. They were watching old home movies of the last time she had visited China – Tom had been a teenager – and he was asking his mother if it had been difficult to leave her family and friends in order to start a life across the globe. “Yes,” she said and (I am paraphrasing), “but we were faced with a choice. We could stay there and choose the past, or we could chose the future and you. So we did it. We chose you.”
Watching this mother articulate to her adult son her answer to this very difficult question was immediately soothing to me. The cacophony of “what-ifs” fell silent, and I knew my answer. It felt like I unclenched my teeth and could finally take a full breath again. No matter what she was faced with – moving across an ocean, to a new country, with a new language, currency, and culture – she focused entirely on what was the best choice for her child and his future. This laser focus helped put an enormous decision to rest in my mind. Distilling this humongous life choice into its most elemental, important question – what is the best thing for my children? – gave tremendous clarity.
Chris grew up spending a large amount of time, especially in the summers, with his maternal grandparents on the ranch they helped manage. His grandfather, Hank, was a real broke-horses-for-a-living cowboy, farrier, and ranch hand; Chris lived for the times he could shadow Hank around, checking cows, fixing fence, and repairing machinery. He gained so much old-world knowledge, so many skills, and a tremendous love for animals and nature from his time with Hank; our 60’x100’ city lot just wasn’t enough space for him to pass along these gifts to our girls. I have long wished for more space – more elbow room for our family, but more importantly, more room for the kids to raise animals, build projects, and, truly, run amok. The independence gained from a childhood spent with space to wander free was high on my list of things my soul knew the kids needed. I hated that I was a nervous wreck anytime the kids were on their bikes in the street. I knew they desperately wanted to join 4-H and FFA in the future, but I could not fathom where these future animal projects would be housed, or how I would shuttle all three of them there every day. Our town of Woodland had doubled since Chris and I came home from the hospital; our girls were growing up in a town far different than the one our childhood inhabited. We wanted to raise them in a smaller town than Woodland had become, a place with a tight-knit sense of community and service.
So in that moment, in our well-known and cherished hometown, amidst the residences of our entire extended family, I made peace with what I thought was the best choice for my children. When choosing our future, I embraced a farm, a rural upbringing, space to roam, and parents pursuing their passion. Yes, this path includes facets that I never would have opted for individually – separation from family, trips home by plane rather than car, and a departure from all that was familiar to us. However, we are ready and able to deal with these aspects of our choice. We Facetime with family whenever possible, and my big girls have become creative letter writers. Our budget now includes plane tickets home for can’t-miss events (PHS Class of 2019, I’m looking at you), and we are stretching our social muscles and making new friends.
As anyone can imagine, we do miss the familiarity of our hometown – close proximity to friends and family is a blessing one should never take for granted – but we are excited and thankful for the choices we have made that have brought us to this moment in time. As parents, we are faced with a million tiny decisions every day; a year ago we were grappling with one massive one. We thought about our children, our hopes and dreams, and our plans, and we chose the future. And we’re so happy to be here. ~Lauren