I Put Down Roots, But Sometimes I Still Tug Against Them

by Lynn Shattuck
Originally Published: 

Many of the moves were propelled by my changing ideas about what I wanted to do with my life. In Seattle, at the height of the grunge era, with purple-streaked hair, I pursued schooling in the music business. In Burbank, Calif., I tried on life as a film production intern, trying to get used to the near-constant sunshine and my heavily polished office mates. And in Maine, my hair short and burgundy, I worked as a barista before landing a communications job with the local hockey team. When I got bored or scared or depressed, I reinvented myself, trying to figure out how to funnel my many creative interests into a sustainable life.

By my mid-20s, I began nesting. Whether prompted by an awakening biological clock or pure fatigue from all that moving, I began accumulating candles and photo frames that called to me from flea markets and the shelves of Cost Plus World Market. I envisioned a home somewhere, candle flames reflecting off the tiny round mirrors on my imported, embroidered purple throw pillows. Maybe I’d live in a loft in Oregon, a tiny cabin in the woods of Washington state, or a Victorian carriage house in New England. Something small, exotic and peaceful.

Fifteen years later, I look around the ample suburban home where I live with my husband and two children.

Since marrying, my husband and I have upsized twice, most recently just over a year ago. Those cardboard boxes I lugged from coast to coast have long since hit the recycling bin. Instead, we hold on to things: the plastic detritus from the birthday parties our young children attend most weekends, our kids’ artwork, dusty books, and, in the lingering still-sealed boxes in our basement, the jewel-toned Moroccan lanterns that belong to that younger, more bohemian version of myself.

We live on a cul-de-sac.

We don’t plan to move again until the kids are grown.

We are rooted.

Maybe it’s the desperation of a tough Maine winter, but I’ve been feeling weighed down by the suburban life we’ve chosen. By our calendar, brimming with dentist appointments and our son’s tae kwon do classes. By our pretty-but-prim, celery-colored walls and practical beige carpets. Though our kids have the benefit of an excellent school system and have so far enjoyed sturdy, predictable lives, I sometimes regret the heft of this life. I feel bound by the roots we are shooting down through the dirt.

I’m amazed when I think about that transitory, younger version of myself. She floated from home to home as if riding some whimsical wind, leaving friends and family, jobs and colleges in her wake. She was full of freedom, her life buoyant and untwined.

Yes, we could still uproot ourselves. We could downsize. We could, as I sometimes fantasize about, sell all of our stuff and sweep the kids off to Spain for a season. We could recreate ourselves every few years like Madonna. Like I did when I was younger.

And perhaps we will—I still, after all, manage to surprise myself. I tried hot yoga last spring, a wink at my 40th birthday, and fell in love with the way my mind slowed down as my body went elastic and slick with sweat. I’ve gone from being an aspiring writer to a real one, fulfilling a lifelong goal. In the last few years, I’ve taken up running and meditation. Even as we are rooted, we stretch out. We bend and shift, trying not to get too set in our ways, even though parts of us savor the conventional lives we’ve chosen.

Maybe what I’ve really been missing is not just change or freedom, but the feeling that I could flit off and recreate my life somewhere else when things get hard. Because the truth is, they get hard all the time: when I get an email about our son’s behavior in school, when the property tax bill arrives, when I worry about another health issue cropping up for one of my parents.

That nomadic girl’s life may have been more exciting than my life now, but she wasn’t all that happy. In fact, I have so much of what she was looking for: a creative job, a loving partner, amazing children and friends. And I have something else that she didn’t know she wanted—the fortitude to stay planted when things get tough or boring. A life that’s not so terrifyingly open-ended.

The trick, I suppose, is to stay rooted but not root-bound. Planted, but with room to tilt and turn. And mindful that this busy season of life that sometimes leaves me feeling so fettered, so entrenched, is the life I wanted.

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