I was born in New England, reportedly at an Ivy League school (thus allowing me to, in one sense at least, peak at birth), but spent most of my childhood and adult life in the Midwest. That is, until well over a decade ago, when, while pregnant with my second child, my husband and I got the crazy idea that we wanted to live on an island somewhere south of cold. So we sold our house in the Chicago suburbs, birthed a baby in a temporary apartment (not literally – I’m all about natural until it involves pain, and then I’m all about the epidural), and six weeks later, we took off for coastal Carolina.
In Chicago, we were professionals. My husband did some engineering/sales/GM gig that I still don’t really understand. I do know that it involved ties and pressed shirts as well as an office in a suburb far, far away. I taught high school English and reading to very large children who often questioned the necessity of my discipline. For pleasure, we indulged with near religious fervor in cuisine from various Chicago steakhouses, honed our wine palate, and traveled internationally.
Once we moved to an island, things became a bit different. My husband had recently become self-employed and worked largely out of the house, doing something even more nebulous to me than his previous job. I focused on educating the small people who lived with us on social norms (going potty on the inside of the toilet, most people don’t touch fire, etc.). For pleasure, we began drinking our morning coffee while watching the sun rise over the Atlantic, pairing our wine selections with fresh seafood, and walking the beach, often to collect shells, sharks’ teeth, and sea glass.
In truth, many parts of our daily life were much the same as they would have been had we stayed in Chicago. In the early years of island living, we learned that diapers on the island are as malodorous as they were in the Windy City, and we explained the perils of toys in the toilet with the same frequency.
But much became profoundly different. Instead of living right outside the third largest city in the country, we began living in a place far removed from malls, big box stores, and masses of humanity. I began crossing a bridge to go to church, to go to my favorite grocery store, and to take my kids to school. The two parks we began frequenting both overlooked the Intracoastal Waterway. While doing dishes, I would often watch a dozen or more dolphins swim leisurely along the coast. It turns out that pelicans, who I always knew were big birds, look from close up like they could airlift my firstborn. It also came to pass that a quick run to the store without makeup and all the recommended steps of personal hygiene would always result in running into multiple people I knew.
Here’s the thing. Smart, intellectual, accomplished people said we were crazy to do it. And at three o’clock in the morning, the night before the move, I even feared they were right. They said things like, “Why are you doing this now, with a newborn and a toddler?” Or, “Do they even have things like medical care in remote places like that?” And, “It’ll be like vacation at first, but eventually you’ll hardly even notice that you’re living on the beach.” And my answers, all these years later, are as follows:
- We did it now because now was when we could. Later doesn’t always come.
- In a strange twist of fate, medical personnel enjoy the beach as much as the rest of us, so yes, y’all can find highly qualified doctors here.
- I can’t speak to other people’s experiences, obviously. But in my own, I can tell you that it is exceedingly rare, indeed, to walk up the stairs into my living room and see the Atlantic Ocean, with all its sweeping splendor, and not have that second of pause. There are things that are momentary distractions from that, of course, like strange, ill-placed rashes, projectile-puking children, and the like. But for the most part, that little thrill, that one I felt when we first moved here and I couldn’t believe that a little Midwestern girl with a modest upbringing could ever end up someplace like this – that thrill remains.
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