Since we came back to the US and felt our lives completely fall apart and run off the rails, our car has always stayed with us. The first thing we did after leaving the Volkswagen dealership was install super fancy Maxi-Cosi carseats for two-year-old toddler Coco and not-yet-born baby Theo. When it was clear he would make his grand entrance, we parked our car in the hospital parking lot and in true American car-culture fashion, we were given free parking as a bonus and congratulations. We kept the parking ticket stub and put it in Theo's memento box. The date stamp says August 1, 2014, 6:07 pm. Two days later, we took Theo home from the hospital in that same car. All four of us, buckled up safe, gliding along a tree-lined street in a sweet, quintessential American town. And when that town failed us miserably, it was that same car that carried us (and a U-Haul trailer) out of there. During hot Spokane summers when our kids wouldn't sleep or calm down, we'd all get into our air-conditioned car and take long, relaxing drives in the Palouse. There could be no greater symbol of our American life than our beloved car. It's been like a home to us in a way.
As much as I love our car, I also deeply resent it. The aforementioned carseats quickly became the bane of my existence and what seemed like such a smooth ride and enjoyable driving experience at the dealership quickly felt stodgy and frustrating when punctuated by constant parking, getting in and out and car seat buckling. I especially hated it when compared with the seamless walking and stroller pushing I missed in Zurich. Heated seats and Bluetooth connectivity can only make you so happy, it turns out. Despite the popular opinion that having a car is convenient, I'm resolutely unconvinced. Drive-thru's are not the answer and yet for so many months, when I felt the stinging of tears in my eyes as my three-year-old cried and begged, "Can't we walk instead?! Please can we walk!" on the way out to the car, they absolutely were.
I cannot tell you how utterly ridiculous it felt to pull our car into our garage when we first moved into this house. "It's like our car has a tiny house of its own!" I would exclaim to others, jazz hands out in front of me, nodding excitedly, only to be met by puzzled expressions and the shaking of heads. We have a detached garage that doesn't even have a remote opener, but it seemed extravagant and unbelievable to me. And it still does, honestly. It's bizarre, because one of my favorite books when I was little was about these personified cars who loved to get into their garage at night and rest their tired wheels, cool off their hot tires after a day of driving and just rest and unwind in their happy place, which of course was their garage. I'm not even sure what to make of this.
The thing about walking here that frustrates me so much is that even if you live in a place that's a bit walkable, it's still just out and back trips. Right now, we can walk from our house to the grocery store - and back. Or we can walk from our house to a coffee shop - and back. In Zurich, it was a constant mix of buses, trams, trains, even boats, but mostly walking. We can't do that here. Things aren't close and clustered and it doesn't make sense to walk most of the time. It's only out and back trips, which are something we have to make time for, and that drives me nuts. I can't live this way.
And yet all this time in Spokane, I've been trying to get behind the house and yard and garage idea. When we first got here and went around with a realtor that very first weekend, I was ready to dive in and do it. By the end of that weekend, and after seeing a dozen houses, I was less enthusiastic. And by the end of that week, we concluded we were not ready to take that step. Thank goodness for that! The word mortgage comes from French and literally means to engage with death. Still, as the months went by, and I would catch myself noticing "for sale" signs as I drove through certain neighborhoods, I wondered if maybe I was just scared of buying a house - in a good way. After all, lots of things that are wonderful and good are frightening in a way, too. But I just couldn't get excited about the whole package and overall lifestyle. Even if I had a house I loved, a space I enjoyed and could tend to and make my own, I always came back around to the fact that it would still be car-based living.
A few weeks ago, I heard through the grapevine that one of our favorite houses in town might go on the market this spring. I got thrown for a loop because it's a beautiful house. We've been inside it because we know the owners and it has just about everything on my list. Hardwood floors, gorgeous, well cared for original 1940's kitchen with white cabinets and a newer gas stove, stainless refrigerator and dishwasher. A window in the bathroom, a window above the kitchen sink. Nice yard with a hot tub. Fireplace! Maybe this is it, I thought to myself. Maybe that little house would be a place where we could settle down and finally go all in on this Spokane life. I drove by. I imagined our kids walking to the park and to school. I imagined our furniture inside and wondered what colors we'd paint the walls. I thought of birthday parties in the backyard and breakfasts in the little nook off of the kitchen. I thought of pulling our car into the garage.
Ugh. Deal breaker.
I wish I could do it. It seems like we're supposed to do it. We just need to accept that once we're grown up and have kids, we have to give up certain things. We have to move to the suburbs or a smaller city and accept car-based living. But I can't. Just as I would rather have dinner all together every night than more money in our bank account, I would rather live in a small apartment in an urban setting than have a house and a yard and a garage. This is proving to be quite the stumbling block, but if nothing else, I'm grateful for all that we've been through since we got back to the US for identifying our values. I'm not sure where that leaves me, but at least I know, right? What are your values? How do you align your life with them?