Beginnings

March 08,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Nine years ago this July we packed up our Dodge Grand Caravan with all the things we couldn't live without for a few weeks (L. was just 11 months old at the time, so you know the back of our van was filled with all sorts of plastic "necessities" in bright primary colors) and we left our home of five years--Rochester, New York, behind. We drove north, to Maryland, so we could spend a few days there before driving south, to North Carolina, where we'd meet up with the moving truck at our new rental home. I think I had made my farewells to New York weeks before we left, so when departure day came I was excited, and not too sad. But I have always loved New York, and always felt a strange affinity for the landscape of upstate New York, and for the people. I fell in love with that part of the country when I lived in a small upstate town for two years before I met and married Scott, and traded in the small New York town for a larger one. Sure, southerners may be more friendly, but when you do get a true New Yorker to be friendly and to open up to you, you know for certain--without a doubt--that they really, really like you. We're southerners now, whether we're completely comfortable with that fact or not. Still, I've dreamed of going back to New York, to that place where Scott and I first lived, as a young married couple, and the place where we took that great plunge into parenthood. And L., who is fiercely proud of the fact that he was born in NEW YORK and NOT North Carolina ("I was born in New York," he'll tell people. "The most important state in America"), like his sister, has been longing to visit his birthplace for years now. And for some reason I've felt it so critical that he does get the chance to see the place where he was born; to stand on the same sidewalk where he took his first steps, at ten months old. And I want to show T. the landscape of that place that she's heard us talk about so many times, so she can put pictures to the stories. I'm a consummate connector-of-things. I can't stand it when parts of my life are left open, disconnected from the rest of it. I want to close the ends, weave the threads from my past with the threads of the present. I can't stand it when friendships disappear, or people drift apart; when things are undone. I guess I want this for my kids, too, so that they feel a sense of completeness, a sense of continuity--even if they have little, or no memory, of the time or place that began it all--this amazing story of ours. Next weekend, we're loading up the kids and embarking on the long drive north, back to Rochester, New York, and then on to Canada for a side trip to Niagara Falls. We have dear friends we're waiting to see again, and beloved places we long to visit. We have favorite restaurants we hope will still be there for us, and many, many steps we hope to retrace. But mainly, I just want to stand on that bit of sidewalk in front of the house where we lived when L. was a baby. I want to see my son and my daughter standing there, too, in the same spot where Scott and I stood, one hot, hot, July day while I was heavily pregnant. Just days away (days overdue) from becoming first-time parents, we were driven outside by the heat, and my need to walk a little, to stretch my aching back. We stood together, me leaning a little on Scott for support, my hands on my full-term belly, and we talked about our hopes and the possibilities for the future. Somewhere out there was the unwritten part of our story now: our move to North Carolina, the birth of our daughter. Out there waiting were the challenges, triumphs, joys and sorrows of the coming years, and the things we, as young almost-parents couldn't have imagined: L.'s autism diagnosis, and the challenges we faced when T. was born. Somewhere out there was all of that, spinning itself into existence and yet, standing there that hot July day, we couldn't even have imagined it all.