…..With confidence that my offspring would correct the silly behavior of their dad, I went my merry way on my day trip down to the Jersey shore with my girlfriends while my family kept their date with the Real Estate agent.
While on my own day trip to the shore, my girlfriend Susan asked if I might be missing out on the house hunt with Mike and the kids. I assured her that I had no intention of relocating to South Jersey and neither did my kids. Susan already lived in Jersey, another Northeast girl married to a South Philly guy. Actually she and I were childhood friends through High School and thereafter. Our husbands’ friendship went back even further than ours. Susan wanted to move to Jersey. She was used to driving everywhere she went, and was never fond of public transportation.
“It’s not that bad,” she tried to convince me, going on about all the great places there were to shop and the many movie theaters to choose from and how nice it was to have some land. I knew all that because we travelled with her and her husband Anthony on a regular basis. Come to think of it, we were the ones who hiked over to Jersey to do those things with them. Trying to not sound petulant I responded, “Well, he can look all he wants. I am not moving to New Jersey.”
My street savvy city dwelling children found the house in New Jersey much more to their liking than I could have ever imagined. I was betrayed. They were seduced by a ¼ acre backyard blanketed in green grass and trees! “Trees, Mom, there’s lots of big trees! And room for a pool! And a driveway, with a garage!”
That was almost 25 years ago. This Philly girl was dragged, kicking and screaming to live in Jersey. It is the main chapter of the life I didn't sign up for.
Life is full of twists and turns. Life is what happens when you tell the universe your plans and the universe says in response, "I don't think so." It's a tweak to your nose that you had better get with the program….whatever that program might be.
We moved to New Jersey that summer of 1988 and I was promised by my husband that if I gave it at least a year, and was still hell bent on moving back to Philly, we would. As it turned out, fate landed me a direct drive down a Jersey back road to the home of our weekend traveling friends Anthony and Susan. Our new house was close to the Black Horse Pike, they lived just off the White Horse Pike. That was the main stabilizer and calming factor for me making life in New Jersey somewhat palatable. With longtime friends close by, who also worked in the city, we still spent a good deal of our weekend time with them and their pool in their backyard, just like most of my cousins. Our summer weekends were like a family gathering. It was comfortable and we were relatively content with the routine.
Fast forward, life happens, our daughters graduate high schools, go to college, meet their future husbands, a wedding, a grand baby, a couple different job changes and I get the news that our friends are relocating south bound to Virginia. They were moving for a job opportunity. Soon after our farewells I asked my husband if we could move now. He was surprised.
"You really still don't like it here?"
I guess I was being too compliant and passive those last 10 years. I've since lost that character flaw.
He continued, "What about the kids?"
“The kids are grown," I responded.
"But now we have a grandchild," he whined. No, really, he really whined.
That next year was an emotionally draining one, and the most life altering in the course of events. My father died shortly after a cancer diagnosis. Soon after, grandbaby number two was born and became brain-damaged. With a need for extra family support and therapy, the new grandbaby and his Mom, Chrissie, moved back home within two months of his birth.
In addition, my mom’s health was such that she was unable to live alone, especially in her three-story Victorian house in Philly. So she moved in with us, and our briefly empty nest became too crowded for multiple generations. So we traded up to a bigger house, with an in-law suite, in-ground pool, oversized grassy lawn, and even an extra bedroom that I unsuccessfully tried to turn into a Mom cave.
But within two months of settling in, Mom died, and suddenly we had a lot of extra space. More twists and turns and more changes in the life we didn't sign up for soon affirmed my mantra that fate puts you were you are needed, whether or not you planned it.
The rooms meant for Mom went unused for about two years when my niece Bridget found herself overwhelmed and somewhat alone as a single mom, trying to work full time and continue go to school. Moving in with her Dad and stepmom wasn’t a viable option, neither was it practical option to go home to her Mom who lives even further than her Dad. She needed an extended support system.
My daughters’ relationship with Bridget and her sister Theresa was closer than cousins and more like sisters; they are all within a year of each other in age. They still remained close as young adults, sharing each others’ life stuff and secrets. With that, when informed of her situation and we decided to offer her the extra room. It made practical sense since they all worked together anyway and could coordinate with the same daycare. Bridget moved in and filled the space that was meant for Mom.
“Six months”, she kept repeating to me, like some kind of weekly mantra. “Six months, TOPS,” she would emphasize and then continue, “As soon as Theresa graduates from school and gets a job, we’re getting a place together. Six months.” O.K., I reassured her, halfheartedly.
The short lived semi-empty nest was now full up with two toddler boys and their moms. It was busy and noisy and the days flew by. I was often asked by friends why my niece couldn’t live with either of her own parents and since it was really none of their business, I would shrug and say, “it doesn’t matter, besides, it’s what we do”.
Six months passes by and several things happened. Bridget’s sister Theresa did graduate college, then went on a month long trip with a college buddy touring England and Ireland, returned and temporarily moved in with us, just until she landed a job and found a place to live. However, it was becoming clearer by each day that the two sisters no longer had the chemistry they might have imagined they had growing up. I could see that moving into a place together was not going to happen, at least not happily. They were in two different life style modes. One was a working mom going to school and the other had just finished her college days, but clearly was not on any domestic path. Eventually, Theresa found a job and made plans to share a house, in Philly, with a housemate that was not her sister.
Shortly after it was clear we were beyond six months I suggested that Bridget get her driver’s license renewed for New Jersey, since that’s where she landed for the time being. “Why would I do that”, she asked, looking at me like I was suggesting she cut off a limb.
“Well, you’re here for now and probably a little longer than that. It just seems the practical thing to do until you finish your degree”.
“But I have a Pennsylvania license. “
“But you live in New Jersey now,” I said matter-of-factly.
I suggested that it just made practical sense to get her driver’s license and car registered for New Jersey. We were in no rush to end her ‘six month’ stay with an open ended extension. On the day she did transfer all her vital information to a New Jersey residence she actually said with almost defeated resignation, “I guess I really am a Jersey girl now. My driver’s license says so.” Join the club, honey, I didn’t plan this either….end of Part 2.