“Where are you going to college?” asks almost any adult.
“I don’t know, but I’m getting out of this town,” replies almost every teenager.
To most teens, staying in their hometown is the worst idea they have ever heard. Even though I didn’t have a hometown until I was about twelve years old, I was one of those teens. No one wanted to stay in “Actionville” (ironically named because of how “boring” it was in our town). You’re a failure if you stay at the local college. You’re a failure if you move home after graduating. You’re pathetic if you choose to live where you went to high school. Now, at nearly thirty years old, I could not be happier with my decision to live in my hometown.
When I was young, I wanted to live anywhere but Illinois, but especially on a coast. My plan was UCLA, even though I didn’t know a thing about UCLA or what I wanted to do for a career. When I got to be a senior in high school, I only ended up applying to four schools: three in Illinois and one in Missouri. I chose the one that gave me free tuition and ended up just two hours away from home! Whatever, it was still two hours away and I didn’t have to come home until Labor Day.
Then a funny thing happened in April of my freshman year. My sister had a baby. My first nephew, Wyatt was born and he was the first baby in the family since me! I came home for the summer and saw him nearly every day. When I went back to school in the fall, his picture plastered my walls. Mom “accidentally” would lose his itty bitty baby socks in my laundry to I would pull them out when I unpacked. She sent videos of her asking, “Where’s Aunt Ko?” and him replying, “School!” with a very pouty look on his face. That was the last straw; I broke. I came home every summer after.
I did what I never thought I would: moved back home and got a job teaching at my old high school.
By every teenagers definition and by my own teenage self’s definition, I was a pathetic failure.
But here’s the thing: I’m not a failure. Moving home was not the kiss of death for me. I earned my Master’s degree at a nearby university. My career progressed to the point that I’m now in a leadership role at a small school in a neighboring town. I did move out of mom and dad’s house! I am happy in a relationship with a dog living just blocks away from my old high school.
Do you want to know the best part about it? Why is it so important for me to live here? Well, I haven’t missed any of my three nephews’ birthday parties since the first one arrived in 2006! I get to hug and kiss them in person and not through a video chat! When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was at her house within minutes. I sat in every waiting room for every surgery until she was cancer-free. When I unexpectedly work late and can’t get home to let my dog out, there are no less than a dozen family members who can go pick her up within minutes. My house is within walking distance so many family members’ houses: my grandpa, my brother-in-law’s mom, my mom, my oldest sister, my boyfriend’s sister, my boyfriend’s parents, etc.
Last night my grandpa got admitted to the hospital thirty minutes away from our town and my mom decided to stay overnight with him at the last minute. This morning, my oldest sister said she would watch my middle sister’s baby (which mom normal does). She and I were able to meet at Mom’s house within five minutes. She took the baby’s car seat. I grabbed Mom’s medication, toothbrush, deodorant, and a clean shirt. She tossed me the garage door opener for Grandpa’s house. Three minutes later I was upstairs inside Grandpa’s house getting him a couple pair of sweatpants. The way my family can converge within minutes to solve any problem is beautiful.
You might think that by moving home I’m missing out on seeing the world! I’ve been to France, Italy, Greece, the Bahamas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota all in the last few years and soon I can add Tennessee and California to the list. Living in my hometown doesn’t mean I can’t travel. It doesn’t mean I’m missing out on seeing the world. It means I can lay my head down at night knowing that if the phone rings and my family needs me, I can be there within minutes.
Am I a failure for living in my hometown? You decide. I’ll be here playing with my nephews, shopping with my mom, walking my dog to Grandpa’s house, and being happy.