I Believed You Had to Put Down Roots to Have a Kid—I Was Wrong
My mother was an army brat, so I grew up hearing about how awful it was to move from place to place. I internalized the message that I’d be a terrible parent to do that to my child, if it could be avoided. Now, 30 years later, I have a son, Oliver, who has lived in 10 places in 7 cities across 2 countries.
At 18, I left for college, excited to leave my small town and move to Philadelphia to live an artist’s life like the ones I’d read about in books. And I did, though with a driving restlessness to continue experiencing new scenes, which ultimately led me to live in 17 cities in 5 states and 3 countries. All the while, I knew this for sure: It’s wrong to have kids if I can’t stay put, so I better keep moving while I can.
Then, at 35, I awoke to the strangest serenade from my ovaries, a truly moving rendition of “Rock-a-bye Baby.” Nine months later, my lovely Oliver was born—and I knew I had five more years to wander before I had to settle down for his 12 years of schooling. Twelve years. For me, 12 years felt like being entombed in Tupperware.
Luckily, after moving around the West Coast a bit, Oliver, my lady friend, and I fell in love with Portland, Oregon, and stayed for 10 years (with a nine-month stint in San Francisco—I’m only human), enabling me to “do right” and give my kid some roots.
Then Oliver surprised us by asking if he could go to high school in Europe. My lady friend, who’d been wanting to move to Europe for years, yelled from the kitchen as she simultaneously called her Swiss-based company: “Get yer passports ready!”
Oliver enjoys new cultures and new people—and maybe the chance to be new too. Even though I spent my life intrigued and inspired by new places, I’d carried this idea that being a good parent meant staying put for your kids. I was shocked to see how ready I was to pass that idea down to my children.
When Oliver asked to move, I allowed myself to feel how stagnant I’d become, holding firm to the notion that we wouldn’t leave Portland until he graduated from high school. In that moment, I evaluated my deeply held, unconscious notions about these roots.
Experiences and art—not single places—are my roots; Oliver is rooted in friendships and challenges. This difference reminded me of what I intuitively knew as a child: Roots vary. What’s most important is to be grounded, however that manifests. And that’s an idea I do want to pass down.
Tammy Lynne Stoner is the author of the novel Sugar Land ($12; amazon.com).