I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the challenge of finding home. I wrote about this several months ago, and it still continues to be one of the biggest question marks in my life. This is partly because our apartment was recently converted to a condo. In San Francisco, there’s a limit on the number of condo conversions that can happen every year in an effort to keep neighborhoods marginally affordable. People like us can afford to rent our apartment, but we couldn’t afford to buy it as a condo. Shortly after we moved in, our landlord won the condo lottery (it’s literally a lottery system that owners have to enter, usually for years), and we’ve been formally notified that we can lose our lease by this fall.
This will be the second time that we’ve had to move in San Francisco under circumstances not of our choosing—the first time we had to move out of our beloved studio when Lily was five months old because our landlady’s son was moving back from Sweden, and now our space will be up for sale soon. For someone like me who longs to sink in roots, create community, and start planting a garden with my daughter, this has been a very difficult space. I long for home in a way that mystifies my husband, who is much more accomplished at letting tomorrow’s worries wait until tomorrow and embracing a new adventure. For him, we know we have at least until November, probably longer since the market is down right now, so, why worry now? He does have a point, and I am trying to lean into more gratitude for the present moment, but I am not very good at that. When I dream of the future, it involves a lot of hearth, home, and potlucks in a kitchen full of neighbors. This is why I keep choosing work that allows me to (primarily) work from home—my home space is a deep part of my identity, for better or for worse.
Lily has actually picked up on this rather profound difference between her parents. A few days ago she spent the whole day at a sitter's, and she came home with a bag full of crafts. She was most proud of two large pictures she had made and decorated (with help). They were even wrapped up. The one for Stephen features a large airplane, “Because Daddy likes airplanes.” Mine? It’s all centered around a big house. "Because Mommy likes houses." She's got us figured out quicker than we did.
When I think about home, I’m undoubtedly influenced by the rather idealistic space I had as a child. It’s a space that I doubt exists as a possibility today. I’ve mentioned it before, and it looms large in my memories. We essentially lived on what could be described as a religious commune out in the country. (It was a parochial boarding school run by the Seventh-day Adventist church where my father was on faculty.) All of our neighbors were employed by the same school and shared the same belief system. Of course there were some variations, but comparatively speaking, our neighbors all shared a huge deal of their religious beliefs and practices in common. For example, in conservative circles, almost all Adventists are vegetarians, but one family might go a step further and be vegan. (My good friend and I actually had on-and-off squabbles when we were kids about whether veganism was spiritually mandated. Possibly telling, I was the one considered the liberal on this—and pretty much any—topic.)
Having all of our parents be members of and employed by the same religious institution meant that we were surrounded by kids and families with lots in common who all shared the same school schedule and general ideals. I grew up playing on the hills around the school with my sister and friends (roaming wild for hours on end, really), riding horses, and just enjoying a very community-oriented childhood. Our home was open to the other neighborhood kids, and we freely invited ourselves in for snack time, sleepovers, and just hang out time at our friends’ houses. We also didn’t have TV reception, so I read for entertainment. A lot. I homeschooled off and on, usually when I had something more interesting to do than traditional schoolwork (like the year I got a horse when I was 10). It was idyllic.
Of course, my problem as a mother now trying to find home for our family is that my idyllic childhood doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Not only is the actual school closed and the property sold, but as an adult, I have gone far on a spiritual path that precludes me working and living in a community like that. I deeply value my spiritual and religious heritage, but I’ve chosen to build a life with more mystery, less certainty, and a lot more diversity. I sometimes truly wish I could return to the simpler days, but I can’t.
So now I don’t know where to turn for community for our family. Where do we fit? While I feel like Stephen and I, in general, have community individually, we have yet to find our tribe for our family. Even at the wonderful, progressive little church we go to, we’re the only regulars with a child, and Lily is getting to the point where I feel she needs children’s programming, at least once a month. And I love the moms and toddlers we have as friends and play dates, but they aren’t family friendships—it’s unusual for anything social to happen outside of our scheduled walks or classes. Stephen is the only dad who can swap taking her to her ballet class or Presidio walk, which is a big perk of our being able to share work and childcare, but it reminds us how hard it is to get to know the whole family.
According to Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, one issue is actually that we live in too nice of a neighborhood. Rubin’s year-long quest to improve her happiness is chronicled in a best-selling book, and one of the research tidbits I found fascinating is that we’re more likely to be unhappy in wealthy neighborhoods if we aren’t wealthy ourselves. I suppose it’s the old irresistible human temptation to compare ourselves to others, but people are happier when they live near people who make about the same amount of money as they do.
Now, I’ve written before about how much we love living right next to the Presidio in San Francisco. And we have very affordable rent by SF standards, but our little space is an anomaly in this neighborhood. The houses across the street that border that Presidio are multi-million dollar homes. It makes it hard to imagine fitting in, especially when I seem to only run into nannies at the playground.
Actually, I just discovered that our street is not technically considered part of the Richmond District. San Francisco is divided up into 11 districts, and each district has a supervisor. Since we moved to San Francisco over seven years ago now, we’ve been in the Richmond district (well, there was a two-month mistake I try to forget!). The Richmond is a more affordable district with a diverse population, lots of interesting shops and ethnic restaurants (especially every type of Asian cuisine), and lots of great walking because it’s bordered by the expansive Presidio and Golden Gate Park. At the west end is the Pacific, and on the other side of the Presidio is the Golden Gate bridge and the entrance to the bay, which makes our climate very foggy in the summer and generally a little cooler that other neighborhoods.
Long story short, the districts are being slightly redrawn because of the latest census results, and I discovered while following these talks that our entire street and the Sea Cliff neighborhood (a very pricey neighborhood overlooking the water and the bridge) is not considered part of the Richmond because of socio-economic reasons. Essentially, this neighborhood is considered too rich to have much in common with the rest of the Richmond, so it technically “belongs” with the Marina district, even though that area of town is hardly even within walking distance (it’s at least a 10-minute drive away).
Actually, a clarifying story came out this week—it’s just the north side of our street that’s part of the Marina. We live on the south side of the street. So I literally look out of our apartment windows into a different neighborhood, one that’s considered so much wealthier that our supervisor can’t properly represent their interests. No wonder I don’t feel like I fit in. The temptation isn't really to compare; it's more despair as I realize we will never own a home or move in the same social circles as our neighbors.
There’s a part of me that worries that all of this longing for home is somehow insatiable. There will always be something not quite right even if I find a space that feels like a better fit. I know this is what worries my husband—that deep down my desire for community, my seeking a tribe isn’t an attainable desire, and we might give up much or lose what we do have trying to find it. I worry about that too. It’s a clear risk.
But right now, knowing that we’re going to lose the physical space we call home before too long, I can’t help but wonder where our home is? Where will we be most happy as a family? Where do I want Lily to bring her family one day to tell them stories of her childhood? Where will we flourish, contribute, and do worthy work? Like many great quest stories, I’m completely open to the possibility that I may ask this question only to find that what I wanted most I already had. I may travel far and wide only to discover that my house was built on the very treasure I seek. But I seem to certainly be one who needs to ask the question.