As many of you know, on October 1st I moved to the Hudson Valley with my family after 10 years of living in Oakland, CA. The decision was fairly practical: We wanted to own our home and ultimately send our boys to a good public school. With the punishing cost of housing in the Bay Area, this didn't seem like an option for us in our beloved Oakland. So we set our sites on the Hudson Valley in 2012 and after three years of looking for a house, we purchased our 1820 farmhouse on July 15, 2015.
We were thrilled. We were relieved. We were filled with optimism about this new life waiting for us some 3,000 miles away in the country. I grew up in rural Upstate NY and went to college in the small city of Ithaca less than an hour from my hometown so rural life wasn't completely foreign to me though it was a few decades behind. When I was 22 and finished college I moved to San Francisco. And I lived there for three years. And then when I was 25 I moved to Brooklyn, NY and I lived there for another three years. And when I was 28 I moved back to Oakland, CA to start graduate school.
Fast-forward 10 years and 1 marriage and 2 children and several wonderful jobs later and it was time for a bigger place and to look further down the road towards schools and proximity to our extended family and overall cost of living and also career opportunity for two working artist parents. The Hudson Valley quickly rose to the top of our list as satisfying many of these criteria at once. Just two hours from Manhattan we could afford a 3-bedroom farmhouse with several outbuildings including an old carriage house (our future art studios) and several smaller structures. And there's a rural art community here that doesn't exist in many other rural spaces as a result of the influence from Manhattan. After a few visits to the region, we were convinced we could make a home here.
But as October 1 crept closer and closer from our July 15 house closing I felt increasingly more anxious. More concerned. More afraid. And I also felt sad. The Bay Area was such a welcoming and befitting community for us. We felt at home there. And leaving it was a big, huge, gigantic decision but one that felt inevitable.
So we packed our house, found somebody to drive our car, and boarded a plane with our two small boys to head to NY. September was nothing short of exhausting. Packing a family of four for a 3,000 mile move felt epic. Of course, many families have done it before us and many families will do it after us but it was still exhausting. Add our infant who doesn't yet sleep through the night and our very part-time childcare and we weren't sure we would make it. But, of course, we did.
But as a first-time homeowner and as the first-time I've ever moved with children, I only paced myself to that very moment when we would board the plane--much like a first-time mother only paces herself to that moment of childbirth somehow forgetting that the moment the child is born she is responsible for 24-hour care. I didn't think about the life that would be waiting for me to nurture it on the other side of that plane ride.
And so I gave September everything I had and then I got on that plane, completely unprepared for the challenges of October, and felt temporarily relieved while we were suspended in flight. When we finally arrived to our "new" 1820 farmhouse I was completely in shock. My husband found the house in January on a business trip and while we looked at 30 odd houses in this area over 3 years I never actually stepped inside this house. My new house. It was completely foreign.
Moving was exhausting but arriving was completely overwhelming. The barn was filled with mildewed cabinets the previous owners left behind. The garage was filled with old musty furniture and strange fish silhouettes on the walls that must have been used as decoration but were now just a faded fish mark on the drywall at the back of the garage.
And the house, though filled with beautiful potential and the "good bones" we saw in photographs, was one room after the other of needed updates. Some updates were bigger than others. Renovating a home with one preschooler and one infant after just moving across the country is quite a feat. Not to mention, it's even more disorienting to live among paint cans and ladders when you also work from home. We could not find respite.
I was sick five times in six weeks and twice required antibiotics. I was running on empty. I felt vacant. Hollow. Overwhelmed. Sad. Raw. Exhausted. And hinging on depressed. I felt like my body was something I was dragging around behind my head. I was so deeply exhausted that my chest was like a hollow cavity that held my heavy head on the top of my neck. Empty. I felt empty. Empty of all the things I knew and loved about my beloved California. I knew it would feel strange to relocate to a new place 3,000 miles away but I didn't know it would be so disorienting or depleting.
In addition to the exhaustion of moving, the exhaustion of an infant, the demands of a preschooler, and the need to keep nudging our careers along, we were also sitting in a house that looked nothing like us. I looked for opportunities to see myself in this new space but I just couldn't find them. I kept thinking that we had landed on a new planet and we were running a marathon. Not even to mention our new and utter dependence on our car was shocking. Though not isolated by rural standards--we have neighbors on three sides and we're only a 10-minute drive from the nearest small town--it was an epic switch from our recent life in America's big, beautiful, and walkable cities.
We only saw one solution: We had to slow way down. Down to snail's pace. One of my biggest challenges in parenting is my inability to do anything else. I've become fairly competent at using naps and limited childcare to accomplish great heaps of work with the time management focus that only parenthood can bring. But renovating a house cannot be accomplished during naps. It takes so much time to remove debris, prep walls, prime walls, paint walls, and shove boxes from one side of the house to the other. Not to mention, it's noisy.
So we started with a huge purge: Remove shag carpets, carpet pads, and the layers of linoleum and newspaper and random fabrics used as insulation. Remove everything from the barn--everything down to the drywall and the concrete floor. And remove almost everything from the garage. And then we decided we needed help. So we found a recent college graduate to help us paint 15 hours a week. And we came to the realization that our moment of rest and settling and complete unpacking was still several months away.
We made a plan: We would live downstairs and paint the upstairs and then we'd move upstairs and paint the downstairs; we'd also refinish the wood floors. We put a curtain up over the window in the full bath and pretended the chocolate tile bathtub didn't depress us every time we stepped inside it. Reluctantly, we put our dishes and our food into the crappy cupboards in the kitchen so we could make food and start some sense of "normalcy" while finishing the upstairs renovations.
We set our beds up in the living room--all of our beds--so that we could get off the cold, drafty floor and say goodbye to our air mattress. We praised the split pea green laundry room every time one of our boys spilled something down their shirts as we could actually do laundry in the meantime. Thank goodness.
And now, four weeks later, we are still living in the chaos. Boxes line every room and furniture waits stacked in the barn. We've organized our suitcases by person so each of us can locate pajamas and knee socks and clean clothes each evening and again each morning. Eventually we'll renovate the bathroom, the kitchen, and the horrible split pea laundry room too. Eventually, we'll renovate the barn and the garage and the outbuildings. Eventually, we'll plant a garden and some fruit trees. For now, we just want white walls and smooth floors and to fill our dressers with our clothes.
But November has finally arrived. Finally! Marking our one month in this house. Marking the end of the month we moved. The end of the hardest part. The end of the very raw beginning. The end of the packing and the moving and the shifting and the arriving and the not-knowing and the shock and disturbance and sadness and grief of leaving a place we loved so intensely for over a decade.
And November marks the beginning of something new. It marks the beginning of settling in. It marks the beginning of seeing our new pace with house projects, searching for childcare, turning one eye back to our careers to secure work in this very new place, and also the first month of our brave 4-year-old and his new preschool somehow already filled with new friends.
Quite frankly, November marks the beginning of hope. Hope that we will not just survive here but that we might actually thrive here with enough weeks or months or even years under our belts. That this house and this land and this exact space on the planet have something to share with us. Something to teach us. Something to offer that we had no idea was coming. Shocking, disorienting, filled with longing and loneliness and ache this place will eventually give way to something beautiful.
Something that looks like the very hard work at the beginning of a very long and beautiful dream. The doing. The sorting. The sifting. The planning. The purging. The building. The very beginning of something that might be the most beautiful hard work we've ever done. Of course, it looks nothing like we expected. But the beginning of a new phase of growth. And ultimately, what might actually be the gateway to the next best thing.