This week’s it’s my birthday.
For the last two years, I’ve wished on my birthday candles that I would move before my next birthday. This last year feels like a one-blinker – just a flash of experiences and challenges – and here I am, alive and writing to you from my desk in Freiburg, Germany. I couldn’t have even dreamt up this view out of my bedroom window where I write this now when I blew out the candles on last year’s Milk Bar birthday cake, which apparently does not ship to Germany.
For the last two years, leaving was all I could think about. It became my life pursuit, bringing with it the daily spiritual challenge of staying present in my current life as I put all my energy into manifesting a new one. All the wise folks were right in the end. It was the pendulum falling in the middle, between force and avoidance, that created the balance of personal agency, surrender and magic where suddenly it was happening and even crazier than I could have made it myself.
I had turned so many of my plans over to higher forces by the end, that I realized when the For Sale sign went up in our yard I hadn’t told many people I was moving at all, let alone out of the country.
The hardest question to answer was, “Why?”
When it comes to what would empower or submit someone to let go of an entire life and leave, the appropriate answer to the question why feels like, “What do you want to know? Really?”
I delivered the talking points. I always spoke the truth. I had other reasons too, a little more personal. I felt enough emotion in the goodbye of leaving my community and the promise of what a new scene could do for my work, family life and sense of identity that I didn’t need to state the obvious. No need to hitch a “EAT MY BUTT AMERIKA” sign to the back of the trailer and stick my middle finger out the passenger window on my way out.
Plus, the proof is in the (slow) results. Who knew how life would really change with moving, but I knew life would change if I moved. Summer here feels like the official season of our settling in after a long first half of the year. It’s a good time to reflect on that last birthday and why I wanted so badly to cut town.
I left because home was making me sick.
I’ve always been known for being a sickly little thing – theater kid with knobby knees and spaghetti arms, glasses and an allergy list the length of a CVS receipt. Since moving to Dallas at age nine, I’ve had issues with seasonal allergies, depression, brain fog, hair loss, a different patch of mystery rash a day – the vague list of symptoms goes on.
I have befuddled the best of the networks of doctors on both my parents and then my husband’s world-class corporate health insurance to no real answer. I present as a perfectly healthy American woman on a lab panel so my protesting that I did not feel well was beginning to annoy everyone.
The lower a city’s Air Quality Index is, the cleaner the air is deemed. Dallas carries a “good” rating at an average of 43. Freiburg feels like a noticeable difference at 12. The first months here I could not stop breathing. I would crank open windows or go on the balcony for hits of air when I felt stress. I figured I was going crazy. But my mother and my friend both mentioned it their first days here.
Maybe things like the air don’t make a huge difference to everyone. I feel like I got a new battery lately, though. My joint pain and skin flare ups I tend to get when I’m not feeling well are at an all-time low. The pipeline of thoughts to plans to actions feels a lot cleaner. It could be that fresh air, along with hitting that 10,000 step goal around lunch every day and being able to grab a family dinner’s worth of produce on the way home for $15 every night is working to heal what my home state’s leading research hospital scratched its head over.
When I really think about where my environment was costing me my health, I have to reference the Vibrational Frequency of Thoughts and Emotions, a spiritual practice I (try to) subscribe to that our creative energy is related to and dependent on the energy of our emotions and thoughts.
This is the general idea – the emotions have a range, moving up in vibrational energy as one can transcend his or her feelings higher.
Transition is painful, growth is painful, but as a working creative person, despair is death. My family eats as I imagine, create, launch and sell my own ideas. In my practice, the idea fairy really does not come around despair.
The summer of 2020, I know I was not alone in that I was drowning in anger and despair. As a life-long Miss USA (My God! My birthday is on the Fourth of July weekend!) I’ve always been the girl for gingham, cherry print, apple pies, free speech, bootstrapping work ethics and neighborly generosity over the need for aid. My ancestors are child miners and self-sufficient farmers. But the summer of 2020, as we gave people their freedom to work over the aid they needed to stay safe at home, as we yelled at each other in the street over courtesy face coverings and how much Black Lives were allowed to matter – it’s even not appropriate to share how it made me feel in light of the wreckage it took over the lives lost or destroyed – but my feelings were low on the vibrational frequency scale.
The night in June 2020 that the White House was barricaded for protection from civil rights protests, Air Force One flew into the local airport down the street from my Dallas house. The President went from there to a home I could walk to from where I was sitting that evening, as he held the five-figure per plate fundraising dinner he felt safe attending in my hometown – in my neighborhood – as the country was on fire.
I had a lot cut out for me in my anti-racism work, and being gaslit by the neighborhood was making it worse. I needed a mental health break – wide open spaces for life or at least the next two election cycles. I felt like a sensitive failure that I couldn’t tough it out and keep taking it to the streets, until I remembered that Joan Didion spent most of 1969 posted up writing essays about yesterday’s American headlines from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. As one of those moms who’s worn baby carriers to protests since 2016, maybe I’m of better use right now if I take it off the front lines for a minute.
Beyond just the creative-killing sorrow for the times, was the constant panic and despair of a member of my family being killed or in a hostage situation due to gun violence. I gritted my teeth and white knuckled the Admissions Office chairs of every reputable school in the area while they explained the lengths they went to so their active shooter lock down drills for children were not in any way traumatizing.
But I still thought about it all the time. When it took over my life so much that I sought help, I was told these were “intrusive thoughts” – ones that I normally wouldn’t think about so much, but could get help for with medication and surrender. These are two things I wholly subscribe to, but were doing so little for the constant, radio static levels of panic I felt wondering the when, where and how my family would be impacted by gun violence or what would be stolen of our dignity or right to safety in the spirit of not regulating firearms.
And guess what? The thoughts aren’t that abnormal. It’s the number one thing I’m asked about here by mothers – women who only know about this idea by reading news from the States. It’s such a sensitive, violent topic that it takes time but eventually, at the ice cream shop across from our school where the children spill out of the open gate onto the public street at dismissal, or after a play date, a Mom will touch my arm and ask. “Did Heidi ever have to do one?”
She means a lock down drill.
I say yes, she did once. Her teacher was great. The Mom’s heart breaks looking at me, but she inhales and smiles and asks when she can have Heidi over.
On the sidewalk of the ice cream shop on a German street of a town I didn’t know the name of two years ago, the air feels good on my skin, my daughter and her friends pile on top of each other to share chairs while they lick their cones. No one in my Mom group needed a meme today on how to talk to their kids about gun violence because it is not in anyone’s personal or local news, thank God. Getting on the street car to go home, I feel contentment, hopefulness and optimism drift over me with the breeze and an enthusiasm to get back to my desk for some evening calls and creative work. I think that’s the power of an old fashioned ice cream break.
I moved for that. I’ve felt like it takes a lot of days in the overwhelm, impatience and boredom area to make a move, but those are still higher than despair and can give way to joy. It happens for me. It is worth it.
I left because my daughter deserves a loving home.
This one was hard, with how many people at home love my child. Home is community and loved ones and neighbors, things my grandparents worked hard to establish for generations to come when they moved my family to Texas two generations ago. I am privileged with this in Dallas.
With what I’ve learned about what children need for healthy development, though, I admitted failure that I could not raise my daughter in the States with what she needed to thrive: parents who were available to her both in time and emotional presence, access to consistent, quality healthcare that’s not dependent on my employer (see above re: working creative), consistent access to play, nature, clean air and free quality education.
As she grows, I am selfish to want her around other children who are thriving, children who are able to grow up in families that are resourced with benefits such as parental leave, child tax credits, quality education and free childcare who are more likely to hit his or her developmental milestones and become a secure adolescent – aka one who can pal around with my kid and mostly stay out of trouble.
As they say, “A child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”
I find peace in a society where children are cared for and it makes letting my child play and explore more easeful for me.
I admit though, this one was a free fall. If we leave home for a better society, will we build community?
I see it happening, and it excites me. Heidi rides home to her friend’s house after school in the front of the Mom’s cargo bike. I take a gaggle of girls to McDonald’s and the park after school. We’re all different families, but the community seems more equalized by the idea that our children are cared for, both in society and in the home – which is much easier when society has your back. The pictures I take now look like they could go on a graduation slideshow. We go home and my daughter FaceTimes her friend from the States, who is waking up to start another day of her summer break. We have it good.
I left because, if this was home, I hadn’t left yet.
This one’s personal, but maybe relatable.
I never really liked calling Dallas my home. It was, in my child mind, the worst of both worlds – I was born there but after moving to Western Kentucky and Quito, Ecuador, never fit in.
The cost, it felt, of a deep rooted religious-based school and church community seated with generations of cornerstone families was sameness. If I was at all destined to be good at the sameness Dallas asked for before I became feral in the Kentucky woods or wild in the Amazon, it was lost on me by the time I moved home in fourth grade. When I arrived, I was already way behind at knowing the new trend to show up in at school or the pecking order or who sat where and eventually, as this shit droned through high school, who dated whom. Now and then I would give fitting in another go and the sting of not belonging reminded me the name of the game for my peace was detachment, my membership to the indie movie rental shop for contented time alone at home and, if I really needed to hang out with people, alcohol.
The last two years, I drove around my neighborhood like a good, old fashioned Liberal Kill Joy. What I did not expect once I got here, to progressive utopia, was to be home sick. Not for America right now, that’s for sure. But for home.
And without having ever left Dallas, thanks to taking the auto-pilot flight plan of high school to state school to home, I had never come back. I was not expecting a homecoming to feel so good.
It feels like people at home even miss me, the girl in the group who plays it a little outside the lines, who isn’t like anyone else at the table. I mean there were a few traumatic stories, but generally – maybe it wasn’t anyone’s fault that I felt like I didn’t fit in. Maybe I was asking for permission that I didn’t need to be myself. As it turns out, I’m not like most Germans either. Maybe I’ll never be just like everyone else in a group but just Lilly, wherever I go, and that will be fine.
That’s the birthday report: I’m here. I’m thriving. I feel good again. I miss home so much, all the time.
Just, what a ride. As I know from the privilege of being able to spend years in Dallas working with refugees, one day home is a safe and thriving place and one day it isn’t. I’m also a believer that our perception creates reality. You’re as fine wherever you are as you believe you are. I love America. I didn’t feel fine. The shit going down right now is scaring me. It was making me sick. It was making me a distracted parent, when I believe so much that the cure for *all this* is love and attention to our children.
It feels selfish to be home sick when so many people I love are rightfully sick of home, so I generally try not to wax on about why moving was worth it to me or why it sucks. I just like to keep in touch.
It wasn’t the most relaxing year, but I feel really good blowing out my birthday candles next weekend surrounded by a life that I chose and made when I was told it couldn’t be done. To know me is to know that an I Told You So vibe alone will get me to the next birthday.
I don’t know all of what I’m doing over here, or how long this goes on or what happens next.
If this is my Eat, Pray, Go Fuck Yourself Ted Cruz era, I am all in.
I’m glad I did it all, in that it felt just right for me, for all the many reasons.
When I blow out my candles this year I’m going to use all that extra energy I have from feeling on the other side of a big accomplishment to dream up a great wish for all of us.
Thanks for being a great friend.