Sometimes I wish America were a little bigger, and that there were areas of her still yet to be discovered. When I read frontier stories, tales of those first pioneers, I imagine being born a century and a half earlier. I would have jumped at the chance to head west. I’ve always been a sucker for the word “free,” but “free land?” You wouldn’t have to ask me twice! To pack and purge, load up the covered wagon and wave goodbye to your family and friends, the only home you’ve ever known, and head in a new direction, off on a great adventure — I would have totally done that.
But there’s not much left of this great country to be discovered, and frankly I don’t find Alaska’s short days and chilly weather very appealing. So instead, I married a Coastguardsman. And together we’ve crisscrossed the Eastern Seaboard, in search of our own American dream.
It would seem we’re not too far removed from our pioneering ancestors. Sure, things are much easier these days. While every new grocery store I shop at seems like unknown territory to be conquered, at least I don’t have to worry about getting attacked by a bear while I’m gathering ingredients for dinner. And while some neighbors are more “distant” than others, I’ve learned not to turn down a helping hand, especially when it’s accompanied by a plate of warm cookies. And while modern transportation has assured me that all that is most familiar is only a handful of hours away, every year of this nomadic lifestyle causes me to question just what, or where, I should now call home.
And then there are the things that haven’t changed since the 19th century—a desire to serve and protect our freedom, humankind’s quest for adventure, and most importantly, the unequivocal bonds of family. I don’t know where my kids will go to kindergarten, the name of their next doctor or how old they will be when they are allowed to get their driver’s permit. But I know who will read them their favorite stories, kiss their boo-boos all better, and teach them how to drive. And I know who they will have as best friends — each other. And I certainly know that their lives will be a big adventure, because it’s something we talk about on a regular basis.
Recently my husband and I enjoyed a rare moment alone in the car. We were driving down the Maryland/Virginia Eastern shore. The sun was setting to our right, and the windows were cracked just enough to allow in the faint scent of brackish water off to the distant left (a familiar smell made memorable by our years of living by the sea).
I was gazing out the window at the golden fields and hubby was doing what he does best on long car trips—laying out our future. “If I get this job we can stay here for this many years, but then we’ll have to go here.” “If I end up with this other job we’ll move to this place for so many years, but then I can take this job over here, which would set me up for that other position we’ve talked about.” “If we do this, then this will happen which means I’ll have to do this. And in that case you might want to go live with your parents for a few months….”
Meanwhile I’m following along, plotting the places on a map I’ve drawn in my head numerous times before, alternately nodding or cringing at the mention of each different duty station.
I know these places well. I’ve never seen them, never visited, most often I don’t know another soul there. But I’m learning that the longer my husband continues in his current career path, the narrower our options become. I’ve figured out how to be prepared for everything, and nothing at the same time. And I realize now that what I want, doesn’t really matter. Because I’m learning that “the dream” is not a place or a job. It’s not land or a house. It’s not school districts or sports teams or colleges. And it certainly can’t be found at a location on a map, no matter how far you travel. The dream is the man sitting next to me, securing our coastlines, and the children we’re raising together. And I’m learning what so many pioneers before me figured out long ago – that whatever adventure we go on, wherever we end up, the dream goes with us.
Janine is currently living the dream with her Handsome Coastie in Annapolis, Md. for the next two, three, or maybe six years. She’s a work-at-home mom to Jack (3.5), Jude (2), and Julia (6 months). She often vents about life with three little ones over at www.coastiemamalogs.com.