“My first day in Chicago, September 4, 1983. I set foot in this city, and just walking down the street, it was like roots, like the motherland. I knew I belonged here.”
“Chicago is my home,” Veronica says.
I sneak a glance at her in the rearview mirror.
Is she about to cry?
Her eyes look glassy and she’s blinking hard. She has the tells like she’s about to cry.
We are listening to Stolen Dance by Milky Chance en route to school.
It’s Week 3 at new their school.
Seconds later, as we pull into the school parking lot, she continues, “I miss my old school.”
There’s a back up of cars – a bit of Chicago gridlock – so I’m able to turn my head and look her in the face. “I know,” I pause, “I know. Me too.”
With that, the cars start moving and I make my way through the drop-off lane. A parent helper opens the door and greets the girls with a smile, “Happy Wednesday.” The girls stand and lean in for a quick mommy kiss before they’re off for the day.
I finish my exit in the parking lot.
That was a rocky start.
As the song plays on, my head spins.
I love this song – it’s peaceful to me. It reminds me of having my face in the sun, sipping an IPA, and hanging with my best guy at Lolla to celebrate our 13th anniversary. I could listen to it on repeat right now.
And yet, my baby girl is emotional …
I touch the rewind button to relisten to the song. This time, I listen to it through her eyes.
I want you by my side
So that I never feel alone again
They’ve always been so kind
But now they’ve brought you away from here
I hope they didn’t get your mind
Your heart is too strong anyway
We need to fetch back the time
They have stolen from us
And I want you
We can bring it on the floor
You’ve never danced like this before
We don’t talk about it
Dancin’ on do the boogie all night long
Stoned in paradise, shouldn’t talk about it
Shouldn’t talk about it
Coldest winter for me
No sun is shining anymore
The only thing I feel is pain
Caused by absence of you
Suspense is controlling my mind
I cannot find the way out of here.”
Now I’m the one holding back the tears.
What did we do? … Did we mess up? Things were good in Chicago. We didn’t leave because it wasn’t working, we left because of work.
But it’s good here too. Things are good here too. Different, but also good.
I didn’t realize the lyrics would hit her upside the head. I think about Stephen when I listen to this song, “And I want you, we can bring it on the floor.”
Yeah, let’s bring it, baby!
Yet my girl, instead of “stoned in paradise” was singing “stolen paradise.”
For her, “They’ve always been so kind. But now they’ve brought you away from here,” means something different than it does me.
My bad mom voice held me hostage … you stole her paradise, you witch.
This continued through an hour of hot yoga, I gotta tell you. Especially during savasana. I mean, Tracy Chapman’s The Promise is heavy. Seriously, it’s a wonder that I wasn’t a puddle at the end of the class.
That night at bedtime, I snuggled under the covers with her as I always do. (I stay with each girl for a song or three of cuddle chat while we listen to the soothing sounds from the Putumayo CD, Dreamland. (We started listening to this CD when Veronica was born and it hasn’t let up. We listen to it every.night.))
She was still feeling heavy emotions.
Some of the words I heard were:
- “I belong there.”
- “I feel at home there.”
- “My friends are there.”
- “Why did we have to move?”
What do I do? What do I say to make the pain go away?
‘Cause that’s what you want with your babies, right? I want her to not feel alone.
But, I can’t.
I can’t, poof, make it go away.
She feels how she feels.
It’s tough because her words echo my thoughts. I’m happy with the move, with the change, but still, Chicago was my home of 17 + years. It’s very much where I feel at home.
And I’m an adult. I know about change. I know that, this too shall pass.
I want to lift her spirits and say: We’re closer to the cottage and Mema and Bepa (my parents). Grandma and grandpa are two exits away (my husband’s parents). Your cousins live much closer. Your aunts and uncles too. You can play Headless Horsemen with the neighbors. You can ride your block around the neighborhood. We have a yard. And on and on …
But the reality is: She feels how she feels.
So what am I to do?
I mean, really, as her mother, what am I to do?
Here are few things I’m doing right now. It’s a dance, and I don’t always know the right moves.
Allow her angst. Her feeling are hers and they are very real. I don’t want to diminish what is going on in her head by saying, you’ll make new friends when she’s saying, “what if I don’t many any friends like I had in Chicago.“ I know she’s happy here, but she’s also sad not to be there because that’s what she knows. She’s mixed and this is to be expected. I know that the fog will lift. I know that transitions take time and with that time she’ll find her way here. I know that, but again, I’m 41. I can imagine how it will be for her because this feels like a similar culture shock to what I experienced in France my junior year overseas.
Practice what it’s like to be new: Before the first day of school, Veronica wanted to try out her conversation opener: “Hi, my name is Ronny. I just moved here from Chicago. My dad got a new job in Milwaukee.” She tried out her lines on me a few times, and I walked in on her – mid-intro – in front of the bathroom mirror a couple time as well. As adults, we practice for job interviews, so it makes sense she would want to run through her introductions.
Stay positive. When she brings up her emotions, I share mine with her, Me too. I miss Chicago too. Yet I don’t dwell on my own feelings. Through action, my husband and I are highlighting the wonderful things about Milwaukee. It’s not to downplay or forget our life in Chicago, but to show the girls that, although this may feel like a 180, that there are also advantages and adventures here.
Get her involved. It’s not to forget – make new friends, but keep the old, as the Girl Scouts say – but to see that there’s lots of life here too. The drama class she’s in will give her an opportunity to meet peers who share her interests. As will her tennis lessons and dance classes.
Read her emotions: Sometimes I give her a pep talk. Sometimes I simply listen. But mostly I remind her that: You don’t have to forgot your past – it’s your roots. There’s room in your life for both the old and the new. No one is asking you to replace your besties. The Girl Scouts’ got it down, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”
And Frank Sinatra knew it about Chicago in My Kind of Town:
And each time I roam, Chicago is
Calling me home, Chicago is
My kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of razzmatazz
And it has, all that jazz
And each time I leave, Chicago is
Tuggin’ my sleeve, Chicago is
The Wrigley building, Chicago is
The union stockyard, Chicago is
One town that won’t let you down
It’s my kind of town
We love you Chicago!