On Being Back in Bloomington

Yes, it’s blurry, but it’s cute.

Yes, it’s blurry, but it’s cute.

I’ve been having a difficult time adjusting to being back in Indiana—Bloomington, specifically.

There, I said it.

We’ve been back for six weeks and I’m still struggling. Gus is struggling too. I thought it was the time change, but we got his sleep schedule shifted forward two hours, and stayed home for a week to acclimate—”This is where we live now. This is home. This is what we do here.”—and he’s still really angry. I’ve been puzzling about why he’s so angry these days, and I realized it could be me and my negative attitude about being here that is making him angry.

I’ve heard parents say that their kids are their best friends, and I don’t like that sentiment. A friendship has both sides giving and both sides taking. That’s not what parenthood is. Parenthood is giving and giving and giving. And every now and then, you get something in return—a dandelion, a kiss, a piece of artwork, a smile—but it’s never something that’s expected or owed. But I did realize something I haven’t thought of before: I am Gus’ best friend. We play together, I’m the person he sees most, and if I’m bummed, it affects him too. We’ve moved and his friend doesn’t want to go to the park or go on adventures or play anymore. And so in an attempt to get his best friend back to her better self, I wanted to share my thoughts on Bloomington going into this last year.


Left Behind

I think another thing I’m struggling with being back here is the feeling of being left behind. That feeling surprises me, because we had a couple friends from the class above Ries that graduated this May, and one moved, but the other is still in town. So it’s not that we’ve actually been left behind by friends who have gotten jobs and moved on to “real life.”

I do think that part of it is that—between Ries’ class, homework, work and my class, photography, and being parents of a toddler—we don’t have much time to socialize with friends. And I’m sure that to a degree, this last year of school will turn into “senior year syndrome”—where the anxiety of what comes next and the idea of being separated—divides us from the friends we have here. And I dread the day when that happens, because I’m the kind of person who wants to hang out until someone moves. (But that may be a product of moving a lot as a kid.)

Ries and I had a moment in April when we went out with friends and got a little sad about it, because it was the end of his first year, and we said to each other—”It’s never going to be like this again.” And it isn’t. And that’s okay. But it always surprises me that academia always has this real feeling of death surrounding it, especially in the spring, probably because the levels of personal growth and separation from the familiar systems and people. Everyone moves on, and that’s part of life.

Despite not having many memories in Bloomington, prior to moving here in 2017, I do have a few—the other night, I went to pick up Thai food for dinner (we don’t do a lot of dining out with Gus these days) and I parked in front of a Turkish restaurant where we had Ries’ 22nd birthday dinner. We celebrated with a group of friends that night, and all of them have drifted off to their own lives.

And then I walked to the Thai restaurant, where I can still remember where I sat with various groups of friends during our brief escapes from DePauw—again, most of them gone from my life. Maybe it’s just my brain that does this kind of stuff—holding the past up to the present like a transparency, seeing both coexisting constantly. (Wouldn’t it be a relief to be somewhere entirely new?)

Ries and I after his first week of class. (Gus was in his stroller outside the frame, don’t worry.)

Ries and I after his first week of class. (Gus was in his stroller outside the frame, don’t worry.)

Outgrowing This Phase

Another aspect of this challenge is that we’re in a different place in life than most students in Ries’ program. We’re married. We’re parents. We’ve survived a deployment, we survived the Marine Corps. We don’t have student loan money to live off (which is a real blessing, but means we have credit card debt and work to cover as much as our expenses as we can.) We don’t have concerns that single people do—we don’t have to deal with bad boyfriends or dating apps or going out—but they don’t have the concerns we have—trying to give each other time to work on school, pursue other projects, take a break—When was the last time you did something fun? Why don’t you play something? What do you want to play?—buying diapers for the best price, potty training, making sure our two year old has eaten dinner, etc.

We’ve been planting seeds for years, and they’re just starting to break the ground, but we’re not sure where these investments will lead us beyond generalizations—web development, user experience, a bigger city? We got a taste of life out of school this summer, and I don’t have as much patience as I should, wanting to get back to a place where I can take Gus out to a museum and not worry about the cost of admission sending us deeper and deeper into the red. Wondering if I should try to only buy him secondhand clothes this year instead of buying new. Selling everything in our apartment for extra cash.

This is the cost of starting over. This is the cost of career change and having a family. This is why people with kids stay in miserable jobs, because they don’t want to do this, what we’re doing right now. This is the cost of growth. And we’re about to turn a corner, I can feel it, I really, really can. But I’ve never been great at waiting.

Little Bud on the day he picked out matching sunglasses for us.

Little Bud on the day he picked out matching sunglasses for us.

Somewhere Else

Growing up, I spent most of my time wishing I was somewhere else. My extended family lived in Oregon, but my nuclear family lived in other states—Indiana mostly. We traveled to Oregon twice a year—once for Christmas and again for a week or two in the summer. Between those two trips, I found myself thinking if I could just get through six months, I could “go home” again. As a kid, I didn’t understand that this isn’t a healthy way to view life—waiting for one event, the build up to it, the event, and the disappointment of it being over—but as an adult, I have more awareness of what is happening.

To a degree, it’s normal and perfectly healthy. When I was pregnant with Gus, I wished most of my pregnancy away, because I was so excited to become a parent and I was excited to see how he looked and behaved. After Gus finally arrived, I found myself missing being pregnant—I had Gus (in the outside world) but pregnancy is such a special time, and all of the sudden it was gone. And that’s a normal part of the process.

I think it’s common during times of transition, because of the stress and uncertainty. For example, I don’t know anyone who looks forward to the process of moving. Let’s skip that mess, please. Starting a new job? It might be exciting to start something new, but will anyone like you? do you know what you’re doing? is the job well suited to your experience and skills? You get what I’m driving at.

Pushing through a short term transition isn’t a big deal. But wishing away months in trade for the future (or the opposite, living in the past) isn’t healthy. So much changes with kids so fast. Gus is picking up two words a day sometimes. I don’t want to skip the next eight months of his life and pop out of a wormhole next June in a new city with a boy I don’t recognize. This time I have with him, I will never get back, and given that I’m hoping (and applying) to full time jobs for next summer, these are my last months at home with Gus.


Bloomington is Changing

It’s not all me either. Bloomington is changing.

The homeless population has tripled since we left in May. This weekend, I walked out to the car and got in, and before I could back out of our apartment parking space, a man rode up on a bicycle, parked it behind the dumpster, opened the gates, and started digging through our dumpster and recycling bins wearing gloves with no hesitation. We saw a man walking down a five lane road with no shoes or socks on yesterday. When I was running at a local park, there was a man walking around with a seven foot tree branch, and I couldn’t help but think, “That guy could knock me out cold, and Ries would have no idea where he took me.”

While I was on a run, I saw the mural I photographed our Halloween photos in front of last year had been vandalized and sprayed on it—”Bread and rice, you bougie fucks.” I don’t know that the homeless population is using the word “bougie”, but I have no doubt that message was written by a local not affiliated with the school, and the phrase “bougie fucks” was in reference to the university students, faculty, or staff. And while I was walking home, I had a car pull up next to me and a male scream in an attempt to scare me because I was wearing headphones.

Like I said, things are different. And I haven’t even mentioned the aggravated assaults that have happened on campus in the past six months, what happened earlier this summer with hate groups leaving flyers on targeted residences and vehicles, or what happened at the Farmers’ Market. This is real stuff that is happening. It’s not just a feeling. Most people don’t have to worry about Antifa showing up to their small town farmers’ market. It’s a lot of things that add up to a bigger thing—feeling unsafe.

Ries and Gus at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. Gus thinks he is simultaneous Buzz Lightyear and a T-Rex.

Ries and Gus at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. Gus thinks he is simultaneous Buzz Lightyear and a T-Rex.

The Balm

It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.
— Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

We have no idea where we’ll end up next summer after Ries graduates. We both have to go through the rigamarole of applying to jobs, which is exhausting—even though we’re excited to FINALLY start new careers, getting there is going to be a lot more work.

So until then, I’m trying to be honest with my feelings about Bloomington and change my outlook on being here for the next seven months. I’ve felt like this before when we were living in Augusta (I still prefer Bloomington over Augusta, but I do miss our friends and the support network we had there.) and something that really helped was rooting down and trying to find new things to do in the area.

I created an adventure list for our little family (probably mostly just Gus and I since Ries is preoccupied with class, homework, and work. Here’s what I’ve included on it:

Gus’ Indiana Adventure Bucket List

  • Indianapolis Children’s Museum (we went as a family last Sunday because they had a free admission day!)

  • Indianapolis Museum of Art / Newfields (I’m hoping to go for their new pumpkin mirror exhibit.)

  • Connor Prairie (waiting to do this until it gets colder!)

  • WonderLab (we just went there today for the first time to preview their new exhibit!)

  • Hoosier Heights (they are suppose to have free climbing for younger kids.)

  • McCormick’s Creek State Park

  • Exotic Feline Rescue (I visited this rescue when I was in college.)

  • Cataract Falls (I’ve never been, even though it’s near DePauw.)

  • T.C. Steel State Historic Site

  • Kid City in Greenwood

  • Urban Chalkboard in Carmel

  • Monument Circle (for the Christmas tree lighting—it’s a big event, but we’ve never beenI

I’m trying to take advantage of the unique things the Midwest has to offer since we don’t plan to live in the area later down the road. I’m hoping we can visit Cincinnati, Ann Arbor, Chicago, and Nashville this year, and I’m trying to make it up to Indianapolis once a week (I feel like I’ve rejoined civilization when I’m up there.)

I apologize if this was a downer, but it’s where I’m at and I’m trying to be proactive about changing my attitude.