It’s been one year since we moved into our house in Providence — officially making it the longest we’ve lived anywhere in six years.
So perhaps, it’s no wonder, we’re a bit restless.
In getting to know Providence, I’ve mostly been pleasantly surprised. Before moving here, I’d spent months visiting playgrounds in Boston with Madeline talking to moms who were friendly enough, but kept their distance. In contrast, on our first outing to the Brown Street Park in Providence, one of the moms invited me to lunch at her house, and another offered me her email and phone number. All I could think was: I got digits!
Although Providence is a city, there is much about it that feels more like a small town. Even in our year here, I’ve discovered people I’ve met know one another — I met a local doctor with his son at Three Sisters once and a few weeks later ran into them at a birthday party of another friend’s son. It’s that small town vibe, I’m convinced, that makes it a bit more civilized. You can’t really honk at someone who might turn out to be a parent at your kid’s school.
I also love our community of neighbors — we chat when we run into each other, we get each others’ newspapers when we’re away, and much to Madeline’s delight, we watched our neighbors’ fish a few times. One time, a neighbor cooked a delicious rhubarb pie and brought us half. That doesn’t happen in New York — at least not the New York that I grew up in — and not in Boston either.
As far as getting around, Providence I’d say is as convenient as Boston — you still need to drive often, although we can walk to restaurants, coffee shops, the post office, and bookstores. I stand by my initial instinct on this: in New York City, you don’t need a car which is positively liberating whereas in Boston you do, but traffic and poor city planning make driving an absolutely enraging experience. In Providence, driving just isn’t stressful. And we’ve managed just fine with only one car (and a Zipcar membership for occasions). In fact, the ease of getting around here has inspired us to explore surrounding towns and sights — it takes mere minutes to head out to ‘rural’ or coastal Rhode Island. And Providence surprisingly boasts plenty of excellent restaurants for its size, which I somewhat expected since even a friend who hated Providence conceded before our move — you will eat well. We still haven’t found dynamite Thai food, but that’s hard to come by in Boston as well (and even in our NYC neighborhood). For that, apparently, you need to go to Thailand.
Of course, Providence has a long way to go as a livable city. It’s an underdog with a murky reputation and corrupt political history. We need more business incentives and less obstacles to bring more jobs here. We need better transportation, like the proposed streetcar, to link diverse parts of the city. Still, I believe it’s a city worth fighting for, and I was buoyed to see Angel Taveras win the democrat candidacy for mayor. There’s a lot to be said for a smart, eager upstart with vision taking the helm.
So then why our restlessness? Are we doomed to go wandering the earth again in search of what — I’m not sure? Or will we somehow squelch the urge? I’ll admit that part of our discontent derives from our house itself. Although I adore our house, what can you expect from a hundred-year-old house? Everything needs work. And it’s all a lot more expensive than I had thought. Geoff has long had this theory about the burden of ownership — even if you own a lawn mower, it requires a certain amount of maintenance in its lifetime. You need to buy gasoline for it, have it repaired, etc. So how much of your free time then does a car absorb or worse, a house? And worst of all, an old, out-of-date house?
I think left to my own devices I would probably let the yard and the house fall into disrepair. Geoff says I have a Grey Gardens approach to home ownership. If a 40-year-old brittle blind tears, I roll it up so you can’t tell. And when a toilet breaks, I think — let’s just close off that bathroom — we’ve got others. But Geoff would rather not live with leaking toilets, a yard full of weeds and dying trees, peeling lead paint on the windows, and a 50-year-old heating system. I guess I can’t really blame him. So we’ve begun the renovation of one bathroom, and have found the time, the cost and the hassle all a bit more than we’d like.
Is this what makes so many “grown-ups” jaded? If we keep moving and never own anything, even a toaster, can we ward that off? I do know that our years living nomadically had a perpetual abandon to them. Don’t like this apartment? Let’s find another! Hate this city? There’s lots more to chose from! And although we suffered the futility of grievances that accompany a lack of ownership — the smoke alarms routinely blaring, a too-small hot water tank, a bad smell often drifting in the hallway — there was the freedom in knowing: this is only temporary.
And therein lies our struggle — are we here to stay? Even after a year, we find we can’t commit. Loyalty to place perhaps doesn’t come naturally to either Geoff or me. I suppose we are like a perpetual bachelor who falls in love, but still ponders: is there something better out there? And, if so, where? We’ve lived in enough places to rule out some of the seemingly best options. Still France still looms as an imagined oasis. Although considering I wouldn’t send Madeline to the French-American School because it seemed too strict, I’m not sure how I’d stomach sending her to an all-French school in France? We’ve also pondered San Francisco since it’s another technology hub and home to so many of our friends, but do we want to move that far away from family?
Of course, I’m tired of moving and searching. The less glamorous part of the nomadic life is that you spend half your time packing and unpacking and the other half searching for a place to live. It hasn’t been long enough for me to forget that. And I’m not sure I have it in me again, at least right now. Plus, I like it here. Despite, or maybe partly because of, our aging dame of a house and the risky bet of this city, I might even love it here. But is that enough?