As Christmas approaches, most folks are preparing for visits with family and friends, whether that means staying in town and playing host or traveling to see loved ones. Those around me have asked me if I, too, am going home for Christmas. It’s a difficult question to answer, not because I am unsure of my plans, but because the concept of home as most people define it is completely foreign to me. Is home the house I grew up in? Is it where I live now? Is it where my parents live? What if the home my parents live in is not a home in which I have ever lived? So many questions, and no clear answer. I pondered these questions during my run this morning.
When people ask me where I grew up, my simple, “just-answer-the-question” answer is Northern Virginia. If you care to dig a little deeper, you will learn that I grew up in a military family and refer to myself as a third culture kid. It’s jargon we use in education for people like me who grew up everywhere and nowhere. But let’s be honest: the primary reason I prefer to be called a third culture kid is because it sure sounds a lot more sophisticated than Army brat.
By the time I was nearly thirteen and my family “settled” in Northern Virginia for the seemingly eternal five-and-a-half years that we lived there, I had moved ten times, lived in seven states and one foreign country, and had no friends. It sucked. My hair was a curly mess (still is), I had glasses AND braces (oh, the torture), and I really preferred Nelson over New Kids on the Block (must have been that long blond hair). I’ve learned from teaching middle school for five years that when you get down to it, no kid belongs in middle school, but I really didn’t belong. One might go out on a limb and suggest that all of that moving experience would have made me outgoing, taught me how to make friends and how to connect with people, but all I really wanted to do in those first months was hide behind my books and write in my journal.
At one point in my early years of being uprooted from place to place, my mother fell ill and my sister and I went to live in Manhattan, Kansas, with our grandparents and auntie, uncle, and cousins for three months. I was seven years old; my sister was nine. It was there in Kansas that our uncle introduced us to running. Little did I know then that something so seemingly innocuous would become my greatest passion in life (bear in mind that I don’t yet have children).
We ran track that summer and I very quickly realized that unlike my sister, a speed demon I was not. What I did discover was that I could run for a long time. And I liked it. My aunt and uncle, whose memories I trust more than my own at age seven, insist that I didn’t like running, and while that may be, I will never forget the euphoria I felt when I finished sixteen laps around the track, the muscles in my sinewy little legs burning with exhaustion. Now that was a great day.
I moved to Texas, then to California, then to Germany and then eventually to Virginia after that, and it wasn’t until high school that I picked up a pair of running shoes again, upon realizing that swimming, albeit fun, was not where my prowess lay. I eventually managed to make some friends that first year in Northern Virginia – good ones, in fact, and the dearest friends I still have today (you know who you are). Slowly, carefully, I began to call Virginia home.
My parents’ sacrifices of separate year-long tours in Korea allowed my sister and me to complete all four years of high school at the same school – a luxury unheard of for most third culture kids. We were very fortunate that way, and I peppered my high school experience with four seasons of track and three seasons of cross country. I had found my groove.
Fourteen more moves, six cities, two more states, the District of Columbia, and one more foreign country later (sheesh), I now pay rent in the fabulously underrated city of Des Moines, Iowa. I moved here four months ago with a new job and the prospect of a fresh start after the toughest year of my life. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about living in Des Moines, but admittedly, this place is really starting to grow on me. There is a lot to be said for a mid-sized city in the Midwest, and Iowans are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. And just in case it wasn’t clear before, I have met a lot of people in a lot of places in my day.
And so, as I prepare for this Christmas (which, incidentally, I will be spending with my parents at their house in a city that I’ve never lived in), I think about all of the homes I have had in the last thirty-two years, how different they have been, and how each of them has taught me and that home is not a physical place. Rather, it is all of the things that bring me joy and solace; the people I hold dear, both near and far; the memories I have from years past; and knowing that no matter where my physical home may be, my running shoes are small enough and light enough that I can bring them with me. And as for Des Moines… I think I’ll stay awhile.
Thank you for reading!