First published July 3, 2014, in Leah's former blog, "Being in Berkeley".
I have been living in a state of what I've internally labeled "limbo" for at least three months. Limbo meaning neither-here-nor-there. I've been in transition. Unrooted. In transit. At the beginning of April, Jason moved to Berkeley without me. He started a new job. He started meeting the people that would become the people he will be rubbing elbows with on a regular basis for the foreseeable future. He began living a life here, finding his favorite places to get coffee or to grab an after-work beer and bite to eat.
But I was still in Iowa, struggling to survive as a single mom, tasked with the job of getting rid of the many things we couldn't bring with us, finishing school, transitioning my job responsibilities, and parting with my friends. It was an awkward time. I could see my email inbox beginning to thin, as the number of items it made sense for me to weigh in on at work became fewer and fewer. I could feel the strangeness hanging out with my friends as summer plans would inevitably be discussed. As they came up, it would hit all of us simultaneously, almost out of nowhere though none of us had forgotten it, that I would not be around for summer activities. I'd be...somewhere else doing...something else, while my friends frequented the pool, the Ped Mall, the various church activities being planned and more.
And then after more tearful goodbyes than I thought it was possible to endure, we drove the vehicle that is our life off the cliff. We left. We saw all of the worldly possessions we still had packed up, and we got on a plane. We took off from a small airport surrounded by corn fields, as the sun rose over the pastoral horizon, and we landed in a large airport by the sea. Where there are palm trees. And tall buildings. And a city pulsing with life, sweat, and passion - living and breathing, it seems - yet a life which is utterly foreign to me because I have not yet been immersed in it. Immediately I feel as if people are racing around at a million miles a minute, and I am struggling trying to figure out where the on-ramp is, and how to drive here, so I can slowly enter the flow of traffic.
I was aware that things would be different. I had done my homework. I knew Berkeley was affluent, very diverse, highly educated, and extremely liberal culturally, with a penchant for passing local legislation that reflected its values. But I couldn't know the little things that would feel different. Iowa City, after all, shares many of Berkeley's cultural values, as well. But here we don't have one recycling bin (as I'm used to), we have three large recycling cans (one for paper/cardboard, one for glass and plastics, one for compostables) and one small bin for non-recyclables. Here there are no plastic bags at stores to be found; you bring your own reusable bags or pay for paper as you are checking out. And as I found myself confronted with my own lack of knowledge about many of the fundamentals of daily life, profound insecurity was triggered. I'm sure I'm not green enough. We probably have too many processed foods in our cupboard. Everyone I meet seems to have one sweet baby or a darling dog and I have three wild-animal-like rascals running around after me. I don't feed them only organic edamame, but I let them eat fruit snacks from Target. And as soon as someone figures out that my baby wears disposable diapers, that I don't have a nanny, that I have too many kids, or that, God-forbid, I'm an ordained Christian pastor, I'm doomed. It will be clear that I am a fraud who no one should befriend because I obviously do not belong here.
But this insecurity, also, was an effect of limbo. Limbo is inherently unsettling. My address had changed in a day, but my life was more slowly transitioning. We lived for a week in an empty apartment with almost no furniture, as our things made the trek out west. Once our stuff arrived, we were buried in boxes for days. But even in the midst of this foreign chaos of starting a new life here, bit by bit we've begun to adapt. We've gotten in the habit of bringing our reusable bags with us to the store. I've begun navigating public transportation. We bought bikes and a bike trailer for the family and are enjoying the fact that we can bike through most of Berkeley pretty easily and that the kids love it.
The first time we headed out all as a family - Jason on his bike, Elliott on his, and me bringing up the rear, towing the two girls behind in the trailer - I knew we were quite a spectacle. Any time we go anywhere as family I am aware that we are unique, as I've yet to meet anyone at this point with as many as three kids (though I have heard other such families do exist), but on bikes we are a site to behold. Yet as we bike, I feel myself strangely more at home, here in this new home. Rather than feeling self-conscious for being the woman who apparently couldn't stop breeding, I notice the smiles, the thumbs up, the nods of approval from the Berkeley-ites who highly value green-dom and biking as part of that. I feel good about our choices to downsize, to have only one car, and a smaller home, and a gaggle of bikes. And I have the sense that we maybe might belong here after all.
So today is my 37th birthday. And here I am, celebrating it in a two bedroom apartment in Berkeley, California. The boxes have been cleared away. Pictures have been hung on the wall. It no longer feels like we're camping out, but it's starting to feel as if we live here. And so as I raise my glass today, and perhaps you raise one with me, I say, "Here's to the end of limbo." And here's to the beginning of something new.