It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I had a baby (pictured below) and that’s turned out to be as time-consuming as one would expect. Even so, I had three major goals for my maternity leave (aside from taking care of the baby, of course):
1.) Read as much as possible: Accomplished, but I “read” mostly books on tape, which are much easier when caring for a newborn.
2.) Re-establish habit of walking in the morning (over-achieved — started C25K program and hoping to get into trail running soon…go me!)
3.) Learn to like/appreciate the place I currently live/find a sense of community even though I’m not currently living exactly where I’d like to be living: I’m in the very early stages of this…and I only have two more weeks of maternity leave to go.
I have written extensively and exhaustively (sorry) about my geographic commitment issues and my ambivalence about the D.C area: The cost of living, the traffic, congestion, the competitiveness…for years, I’ve complained about being a type B personality in a deep sea of accomplished, goal-oriented, ambitious, athletic type A personalities. These people have boundless energy for running marathons on weekends, hitting the gym BEFORE work and moving up the corporate ladder (well, more like government ladder– it is D.C after all). For years, I’ve lived as if I’m on the verge of moving somewhere else better suited to my personality, where I’ll find my niche and draw tons of creative inspiration from my environment and live happily ever after. But I think that’s kind of magical thinking, because no matter where you go, you’re still the same person. And, I have a kid now, most of my immediate and extended family is within a 20 mile radius of my house, and I’d like my daughter to have a close relationship with her grandparents. Plus, my mom has offered free babysitting for a year, and that is an offer way too good to pass up. So basically, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.
Because I’m sticking around for a while (probably forever), I want to make myself like the place I live more, both my immediate suburb and my metropolitan area at large. So it’s fortuitous that I’ve come upon several “signs” that have lead me to believe I need to reconsider my attitude towards where I live. First, I read a bunch of books with a really strong sense of place, and this really got me thinking about my own relationship toward the place I live and what I can do to foster stronger connections and happiness where I’m actually living, rather than constantly fantasizing about moving somewhere else. Second, one of my friends on Goodreads was reading a book called “This is Where you Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are,” and I immediately bought it on Amazon (library didn’t have it), in hopes it would give me some good pointers I could apply. The book is about a journalist, Melody Warnick, who is a chronic mover, always thinking she’ll be happier in the next city. When her husband gets a job at Virginia Tech, she decides she’s going to do everything she can to fall in love with her new town. Personally, I felt Warnick spent most of the book trying to convince herself that she loves her new town rather than actually loving it, but she at least seems to not actively hate it by the end of the book. If Melody Warnick can find love (or at least not-hate) for Blacksburg, then I can do the same for Centreville. The book did not provide me with any magical remedies– it mostly offered a list of common sense suggestions, some feasible and some not so feasible — but it did make me think that I might as well make the best of where I am right now. And last, a woman on one of my Mom Facebook groups posted about how happy she feels when she goes back to her home town, and asked if anyone actually loves living in northern Virginia, which has never quite felt like home to her. There have literally been hundreds of responses, some passionately extolling the virtues of the area, others describing how much they hate it, and others who don’t seem to care one way or another where they live, as long as they have the basics. Reading the responses, especially those from newcomers who really do love and appreciate Northern Virginia, made me start wondering if maybe I’m missing something and I live in a great place after all.
There’s nothing like a baby to root you to where you are, especially if you have a decent job and a strong family network in place. So before I get started on my hometown love project, a few facts about Centreville (according to Wikipedia): First of all, Centreville is not a town. It is a “Census Designated Place,” which means that for Census purposes, it’s a “concentration of population.” Very romantic, don’t you think? It is 12 square miles, and as of 2010, the population was 71,000. I’m guessing it’s closer to 90,000 now. It’s also very diverse: About 25% Asian, 15% Hispanic and 8% black.
And now, some subjective “facts,” according to Wiki-Me: Centreville is the big box equivalent of a town. Census designated place, I mean. I’m not trying to put Centreville down — it’s a nice Big Box store. Maybe Target, early in the morning while the aisles are clear, the shelves are orderly and fully stocked, and the cashiers are peppy and friendly. What I mean by this is that Centreville is the suburbiest of suburbs. If you were dropped off in Centreville, you’d probably be able to tell you were east of the Mississippi (lots of greenery) and just outside an educated metropolitan area (densely populated, lots of Japanese cars). Other than that, there is, I think, a generic quality to it. It’s nice for sure; calm, clean, convenient, but it’s not somewhere you’d visit, if you weren’t from around here. One interesting thing about Centreville it’s home to, at least in my opinion, the largest strip mall on the planet. It’s not really a strip mall, per se…it’s more like a strip mall complex. Or a strip mall campus. Not sure what you’d call it.
But ginormous strip mall and all, on some level, I must really love Centreville. I’ve moved away about a dozen times, but I keep coming back. Maybe I have a soft spot for it…I still remember the days when it was all wild fields and horse farms, a small town with views of the far-off Blue Ridge Mountains, and a dark community library in the basement of a small building. Those days are long gone, but here are some things, if I put on my rose-colored glasses, that I like about Centreville: I can walk places. Not very exciting places, but places nonetheless. Several grocery stores, hair dressers, restaurants and gas stations are within a 10-15 minute walk. There’s a Starbucks, a local bagel shop, a tailor, a couple vets, doctors offices and dentists. If absolutely necessary, I could get most of my day-to-day errands done without a car. There is also a large athletic field complex, dozens of children’s parks, forested walking paths and half a dozen creeks within walking distance. People take care of their homes and there are some nice gardens. Once new neighborhoods are maturing, so we now have lots of big, tall, aging trees that add a bit of character. If I ever decided to take a 4 a.m. walk, I would feel pretty safe, because the entire town is linked by sidewalk, and because crime is reassuringly low. I see squirrels, chipmunks, blue jays, cardinals and robins on a daily basis, and foxes and deer at least once a week. If ever I get a craving for Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Peruvian or Korean food, I have plenty of restaurants to choose from. In the evenings, the sidewalks fill with people walking their dogs, jogging, going for a family stroll.
So I’m going to come up with a feasible plan for how to like my Census Designated Place more, do some hyper-local exploring, and try to expand my friends/community network, because I think this would make me a lot happier than wondering if/when I’m going to leave all the time.