Roots and Wings
Angela Williams Glenn
"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children.
One is roots and the other is wings."
As an adolescent, I dreamed of leaving home and experiencing the big unknown world outside my small town’s limits. Even when I was twenty-two, I think I still saw the world as my playground, like a spoiled child does. When I envisioned my future, I only saw the beauty in the imperfect lives of others’ happily ever after stories, and didn’t see the sweat, tears, and time that went into chasing their dreams and creating their homes and families. As I headed out on Missouri’s I-70 East that first time, the anticipation of the unknown road ahead of me filled me with fear and excitement. I would learn that the road to our goals and dreams is a little bumpy and that there’s always value in what we leave behind.
My young daughter excitedly interrupted my reminiscing. “Mommy, I have my suitcase packed. Can I put it in the car?”
I glanced over at her as she dragged her overloaded pink Dora suitcase. I was sure it was full of odds and ends from her bedroom. There were probably a few useful toys for the long car ride in there, but I usually also found mismatched socks and shoes, My Little Pony accessories but no My Little Ponies, and the same thing with Barbie.
“Sure,” I said. I didn’t have time to double check it, and I was just as excited to get on the road as she was. If we had to, we could buy new matching socks when we got there. I was finally going home. The year long stretch from my last visit to this long-awaited visit was finally here.
“I can’t wait to see Nene and Papa, Mommy,” she hollered. She raced down the hall to head out toward the car where her dad was loading the last of the stuff.
My husband called from the door, “Anything else?”
“Nope. Just the kids. I’m coming now.”
I grabbed my purse and my own activity bag for the long car ride. I glanced around the house as I headed toward the front door, making sure all the lights were out. The noise of my husband and children faded as they loaded themselves into the car. The Christmas tree glittered in the window with the falling dusk and spitting snowflakes behind it; I knew I had to turn the tree lights off, but for a moment I paused to appreciate its beauty and the feeling of magic that comes with Christmas.
“We’re waiting on you,” hollered my husband.
I flicked off the lights, closed the door behind me, and headed toward the car.
As we backed out of the driveway to finally head to my parents’ for the first time in a year, I glanced at the house that represented eight years of hard work. I smiled at our two daughters excitedly bouncing in the backseat. They were thrilled to head the eighteen hours to Papa and Nene’s for the holidays. In so many ways, the life we had created was so much more than I dreamed possible. But with everything we chase, there’s always something precious left behind.
As we pulled away from the house on that cold winter evening, I turned up the Christmas tunes and let my mind drift back to that first drive across I-70 between my childhood home in Missouri and what would become my children’s home in Maryland.
At twenty-two years old, that moment was possibly one of the scariest of my life. I would question many times if my stubborn father was right and I was absolutely out of my mind. But I was set on proving him and anyone else that doubted me wrong.
I had told my parents only a few weeks before that I was leaving. I was packing my few belongings and my dog in my old Ford Contour and moving halfway across the country, eighteen hours away to Maryland with my boyfriend. They didn’t know Nate very well and to say they weren’t happy with my decision might be an understatement. I had always been stubborn, but because we were such a close knit family they never really saw this coming. No one believed I would leave in the first place and, if I did, it wouldn’t be long before I was back.
Growing up, I had always imagined living near the ocean. As a small-town Midwest girl, the ocean and the big cities of the East Coast were a life I only saw on movies and television shows. I had been to the beach once in my life and, aside from Buffalo, New York, had never traveled very far. Leaving my family behind was the hardest thing I’ve had to do, but I was set on discovering what else existed outside those small-town walls. That place gave me these incredible roots that I will forever be grateful for, but I had such a yearning to try out my wings that come with that growth from adolescence to adulthood.
So I left those roots behind to put those wings to the test.
The first couple of months in Maryland were a disaster, to say the least. It started with the dog falling out of the car window as Nate was driving down the road. A dog with a permanent limp and three-hundred dollars later, we finally left with home fading in the rearview mirror.
Within a month, we were at constant odds with each other; living together was not the smooth transition we had anticipated. We ended up with two broken cars - one which left us stranded over an hour from our new apartment with no one to call because we had no friends or family there.
I loved him, but I wanted to quit. I missed home desperately, and I was torn between what I left behind and what I was chasing. Sometimes it wasn’t very clear which direction I should go, but I felt if I didn’t give staying a chance, I would regret it and wonder “what if” for the rest of my life.
The man I went out there with became my husband, my partner, and the one that really made the whole journey complete - because it became not just my journey, but ours. We had our moments. We fought, we disagreed, we struggled emotionally and financially at times, but we kept moving toward our goals and ambitions. We became a team. Where I was weak he excelled. Where he struggled I stepped up. Sometimes the path was unclear, and sometimes we had to step backwards in order to move forward. We both started careers, went back to school for our graduate degrees, and we bought our first home in the city of Baltimore.
We were excited to buy that first home, but it wasn’t the place we dreamed of raising our kids. We put thousands of dollars into that house, only to learn it could be decades before our house would again be worth what we bought it for; the housing crash that occurred shortly after we bought it saw to that. We brought two daughters into the world while we were living in that house, and as much pride as we had in it, we were afraid we would never be able to get out of it to buy a house for our family with a large backyard in a school system and community we could raise our family. Raising our children in the inner city was not what we envisioned, and there was no way we could afford private schools on teachers’ salaries.
But, a year before our first daughter started school, another one of our dreams was realized. Even though we could not sell our house because we couldn’t get out of it what we needed, we qualified to rent it and purchase another one. We could now move into a community to raise our family and keep our first home as an investment property.
The longest year away from my childhood home began with the purchase of the home to raise our family. Banking numbers told us we could do it; we could have the American Dream with the nice house on an acre of land in small-town America to raise our two children. The financial struggle to make the transition would test our relationship in a way it hadn’t been tested since that first year we made the big move east. With no house to sell, we drained our savings and sold the only thing that was truly ours, a truck we had paid off the year before. Once we were moved in, we had to fill an empty oil tank in the dead of winter, had a septic back up, the AC went out in the heat of the summer, then three floods in eleven days in the basement because of a broken pipe, water heater, and well pump.
It was an exhausting year, and even though I had been away from the Midwest for over eight years, it was also the year I came to realize how much I missed it and how much it had really meant to me. I had grown up since I left. I was no longer the naïve kid set on leaving a small town behind for bigger and better things in life. I learned even when we’re chasing our dreams and living the life we imagined, it is life. There are bills to pay, disagreements with the ones we love to work out, and just when we think we’re making enough money we’re not.
And, it’s not the things in life that matter, but the people in it. Even when I struggled so far away from where I had grown up, I came to see it was the support of my family and my friends back home that kept pushing me forward and encouraging me. It was the character traits I inherited in that place that raised me that kept me from quitting and giving up when I was uncertain or discouraged.
“Mommy?” asked my daughter.
I glanced back at her as we neared I-70.
“How long until we get there?” she asked.
At four, she didn’t quite get the reality of eighteen hours.
“It’s going to take us at least tonight and tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll be there by tomorrow night,” I said.
“Wow. Why do they live so far away, Mommy?”
“They were there first, so maybe the better question is why do we live so far away,” I said, glancing at my husband.
He patted my leg, shaking his head to the same old question I’ve asked a few times of whether he’d ever consider moving back. I smiled. While I missed my home in Missouri, Maryland had become home for our little family.
As much as moving into that house this past year represented the continued drive toward our dreams and the life we envisioned for ourselves and our little family, it made me realize the finality of that choice I made years ago when I decided to leave the only home I had known. We would be raising our kids a solid day or more drive away from family, and at times, I saw the selfishness of that adolescent decision to leave.
That first drive east away from my childhood home so many years ago had become so much more than a journey from Missouri to Maryland. It became the story of my journey from adolescence to adulthood, and it was the beginning of what would become our family’s story of creating a life and place that would become our home.
A smile touched my lips as we merged onto I-70. I welcomed that long dark stretch of highway now. It was the connection between my past and my future. We had succeeded; we had built the life we envisioned, but because we hadn’t failed, home would always be in the rearview mirror. One place gave me my roots and the other gave me my wings, but I would always need them both to really learn how to fly.