05 December 2011

Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam

I want to live in Montana. I will probably die in New Jersey. I am trying to reconcile these two facts.

I long for wide, open spaces. I want to be in the middle of a plain, with the mountains in the distance and no neighbors in view. You don't need a doctorate to decipher my motivation. I live in a house with eight other people in the most crowded state in the union. And on the surface, this dime-store diagnosis makes sense. But I've been trying to look below the shimmer, into the muck of my soul, to understand this yearning.

When I was ten years old, my family rented a Winnebago and traveled across the country. We took a northerly route, and stopped at all the big national parks. I've seen the Gateway Arch, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Yellowstone, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, and more than I can remember.* It was a life-changing trip for me, but not in a way that can be quantified. It's more of a feeling, an imprint, that lingers within me. And sometimes it makes me restless.

I am not going to leave my family and head west. I may be twitchy, but I'm not Thelma or Louise. I love my  men; I would be lost without them. My relocation fantasy includes the whole pack, which has given me a clue to  its symbolic meaning.

Montana represents simplicity.

My life is hectic and often overwhelming. Each day I wake up full of optimism and energy, and almost every night I go to bed feeling like I didn't accomplish anything beyond the bare necessities. I argue every day about homework and housework. I am in a constant battle against electronics and social media. I may repaint my van yellow and black, so I can begin charging for my taxi services. There are not enough hours in my day.

But in Montana, the Montana of my dreams, there are no electronics. Except for my laptop, because I am a writer. The children play outside, and wander through nature. I even let them have ATVs, because we own hundreds of acres of flat land. At night we eat dinner together, everyone does their homework, and we play board games. I kiss them all goodnight, they go to bed without arguing, and then the Captain and I sit in front of the fire. It's idyllic.

I know that this will not happen. We are not going to move. The Captain works in Manhattan. His parents live with us, and all of his family plus half of mine is here in New Jersey. We're not going to leave them. I could significantly alter the fantasy and make Montana the retirement destination. But after a lifetime of working, the Captain will be looking for a place he can golf for more than three months out of the year.

So I am tasked with trying to find the peace and simplicity I think exists in Big Sky country. That seems nearly impossible, which means my only alternative is acceptance. Last week, the blogosphere kept sending me messages: things are perfect; the world is exactly as it should be; everything happens for a reason. And you know, after a while I gave in and agreed, because it's tiring and nonconstructive to be restless.  I am trying to focus on what I can control, and what makes me happy in my real world.

When I start to daydream, I remember when the Captain took me to Montana two years ago. We were at the rodeo, really immersed in the experience, and I looked over at the group of riders waiting to compete. Most of them were teenagers, looking spiffy in their fancy shirts and hats, high up in their saddles...texting.

There truly is no escape.

*"The Corn Palace, the Grand Canyon, the Mississippi River!" she remembered when she awoke, disturbed that her brain was apparently so old it did not recall staring at a giant hole in the ground.


  1. Aaaah; simplicity. If only it were that simple! Well, I was pleased to read a new post from you, albeit difficult to know how much you sometimes yearn and struggle and are 'muddled'(?)-this being from a person who loves you so.
    Here's my one dimensional, common, but heart-felt advice: realized what you DO accomplish everyday and the positive impact you're making on the herd... you really are! XO

  2. I want to live in Montana, too. I think I live closer than you do right now, insofar as we eat together most of the week and bedtime is bedtime, so says the law (aka mom) and she'll brook no argument in that regard. It's catching up to me, though, because the teenage years, they are approachin'. You know the funny thing? Magnum would move to Montana in a heartbeat if there was good work there. (Which really has nothing to do with anything, does it?) Anyway, I hope you find your Montana down there in NJ. In the meantime, build it in the book. :)

  3. I'm seriously impressed that you figured this out, it being so complex and multi-layered. Would have taken me around lots of dead ends. Or I'd have gotten distracted (shiny!) and forgotten what I was thinking about.

    Maybe you could add some of that simplicity to your life in NJ? Just little tastes of it. Find a board or card game that most of the family can enjoy. I've heard Munchkin is fun. If your geeks know about HP Lovecraft, try Arkham Horror or one of those games where you create the game board as you go. Once or twice a month, try for a scheduled family play date. Bribe them with goodies. And once or twice a month, let everyone take care of everyone else, and you can go to Montana in your mind while you soak in your bathtub or get a massage or just hang out in your bedroom --- and no one is allowed to disturb you.

    My favorite memories involve all four of us being together (yeah, harder to do when you have twice as many). We played Life and Sorry (one of my faves ... wonder what you could do with two boards and an expansion on the rules for that?) and Monopoly and Hearts (much arm-slugging ... we were a rather physical family). Yelling and laughing. Even playing Sorry these last few years with Mom and Gram was a kick; Gram always played the pitiful old lady routine at least once per game. She could even fake teary eyes, the old faker!

  4. I saw this last night but didn't comment because I thought I'd let you keep your illusions another day. lol I live in Montana, and I would squee with joy if you and Delia and your crews were moving out here, but ..... no. it is not simple. Life is life, no matter where you live. There are some things that are simpler, and some things that are not. If you ever get serious about it, e-mail me and we'll discuss. As a fantasy destination in your head, though, I can see how it would work. My fantasy place to live is Bali at the moment. But honestly, sometimes I dream of living smack dab in the middle of Manhattan or Seattle or Portland.

  5. Here's one of my favorite quotes from a man who loved the wide-open places and helped make possible those national parks you visits. "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."--Teddy Roosevelt

  6. Carrie - that is an excellent quote, words to live by. All I can say is I live in NJ and I feel your pain. Montana sounds good, mountains sound good, beach sounds good (I know there's no beach in Montana! It's metaphorical!), more space, fewer people. Especially when I'm driving. But actually you did live this. Twice this year. *cough, Irene, cough, October snow, cough*
    I've found myself saying no to some things that I have been doing because hello teenagers! I have no time anymore to do them. And I've managed to develop enough perspective to understand that I will be able to get back to them in a few years, and I'm okay with that.
    Want to take a few hours off and meet in Chester for lunch?

  7. @bobbi: It's good advice to recognize what does get done. I'm trying to make sure some of that is what I want to do, instead of just WORK. Which never ends.

    @Delia: You are a little closer to Montana, because you live in the middle of nowhere. Or at least next to it, and all that government land.

    I set the book in Montana so I would have to go there for "research." I'm building it in, baby.

    @Skye: When we lost power for that week at the end of October, we all sat up and played Rummikub and cards by lantern light. It was good, cold fun! It would be lovely to work that into our monthly routine.

    I don't figure things out as quickly as it seems. I like to stew, and ponder, and sometimes even mope before I share what I've discovered.

    @Barb: When I was writing, I thought, "Barb will find this funny!" because I know you're out there. It is a fantasy, and not even a particularly well-planned one. I don't do well in the cold! But when we flew in two summers ago, we dropped out of the sky and almost onto a mountain, and my heart just soared. There's something about the land, there and in Wyoming, that just resonates with me. Julie would probably say it's a past-life thing.

    I would totally squee if you moved to Manhattan!

    @Carrie: It's quite lovely where I live, and not too far away there are mountains. Not like in the West, but rolling and open. Maybe when I'm feeling claustrophobic, I'll take a drive.

    We like Teddy because he's on a horse outside our favorite museum.

    @Karen: The other day I told everyone I was in no mood to help them. I have to get serious about taking some of them off life support. It's hard, because there have always been little boys in the house, so I just keep helping all of them! But even the little people are getting bigger now, so onward!

    I haven't been to Chester in years! I bet it's lovely this time of year. I'd love to do lunch, now or in the future!

  8. Anonymous6.12.11

    Yep, the first thing I "saw" was you out there in the open, in another life time. And it WAS simpler then, but sadly, none of us lived very long. And we were isolated, very alone for long periods of time.

    Better to create Montana Time where you are now, and do as Teddy tells us (Carrie, that quote gave me chills). You make SUCH a difference now, doing the difficult work you are doing every long (and tiring) day.
    (Seriously, do that math real quick; five boys, times ALL the people they will interact with... this huge number is directly related to YOU and how YOUR job as their mom began their lives.)

    Everyting is perfect, and will continue to be. :)

    OH! Almost forgot, I had to read outloud to Daniel the Fail today. Gawd I love that kid, small overly decorated fake plant and all. (But I'm thinking of it as a Solstice Shrub.)

  9. @Julie: I'm on the figurative journey to Montana. I feel like I've made it through Pennsylvania, which is a big, freaking state, and takes hours to drive. But it was worth it. Westward, toward peace and simplicity!

    Five's shrub is proudly displayed on his dresser. He totes it around to show various family members, because "it's so cuuutte!"

    I tried to talk him into a smaller, drapier, indoor green tree. He said, "Mom, you can buy whatever you like. Go ahead, it's your money. If you want that tree, you should get it. But I want the one I picked out yesterday."

    I thanked him for giving me permission to spend my money, then I took all his cash and we got his tree.

  10. Anonymous6.12.11

    Five's tree is adorable. I received a special showing of it, but didn't know the fascinating back story. If I had, I would have made a much bigger deal.

    Frankly, I think all kids under 10 should have a miniature tree, with tiny seasonal decorations - purchased with their own money - to cart around in their arms.* The world would be a happier place.

    -- Janet

  11. I would like a picture of Five's tree, please.

    And, everyone has already said insightful things about "work" following us wherever we go and they've said it better that I can. So....I'll talk about myself instead. :)

    I am the quintessential wide-open space girl. Sean's from your state; Red Bank/Middletown area. One cannot swing an "I NEED SPACE" sign without knocking down at least three Jersey residents. I like rural areas because they are quiet. My husband (unknowingly, but his actions confirm) feels silence is deafening. So when I fantasize about my "Montana" it is someplace quiet with room to breathe and think. Unfortunately, I will have to run away from home to accomplish this as Carrie will vouch that I have the world's LOUDEST children and husband. I dream of silence while I live in constant cacophony. Someday we will meet in the middle at dull roar. Until then I have ear plugs.

  12. I love the post. I think when you're a young mother you hold a secret Montana in your heart. I remember how taking a bubble bath undisturbed was pure luxury. So, hang in there because it will get better, and besides, Montana isn't going anywhere. It will wait for you. ; )

  13. @Janet: Doesn't everything to do with Five come with backstory? Tonight, he harassed me about decorating the big tree.

    @Sarah: I like when you talk about yourself! All my comments on other blogs begin with something about me--shoot, is that wrong?

    You should meet my brother's children. He invested in ear plugs about five years ago, and I'm pretty sure he's still using them.

    I'm getting the distinct impression we need to buy some land in Montana, and use it as a mother's retreat. Who's in?

    @Robena: I love when you stop by! I do manage to find a few moments in the day (or the dead of night) for quiet time, now that the pack members are older. When they were younger, they would follow me everywhere. I remember sitting on the toilet and watching as one of them slid his tiny fingers underneath the locked door to try and get to me!


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