Finding My Place In a Small Town

I like the world around me in general, and the community I live in is just fine — very good, even. But I am not the type to seek out activities to do or places to be. I just let them happen, when I’m not actively resisting them.

Connecticut is chock full of New Englandy quaintness, and my little Hartford County town is a decent example. There is a farmers’ market in town every summer. It was adjacent to the park we went to after school, so we walked over there. It was crawling with other moms and little kids, just like me with my scruffy girls in tow.

It was a little too much like me, somehow. There was just something unnerving about it, and I’m still trying to figure out what it was. Seeing all those other moms (not dads, just moms) with young children could simply have been a sign that I belong here. I don’t understand why I am not comforted by that fact. But in an odd sense, belonging feels wrong.

Maybe I’m just not used to it. I look back fondly on the time I spent growing up in my hometown of Southington, and that’s likely due to simple nostalgia. There’s nothing all that remarkable about the town, at least compared with other towns in the area. When I left town to figure out what to do with my grown-up life, I knew I would never take up residence there again. It wasn’t a bad thing, but I knew it was time to leave. What I didn’t know — or care about, I guess — was where I actually wanted to be. I still miss some of my old apartments from my student days, but even those places are not ones to which I wish to return. They only served their transient purpose, although I may have enjoyed living there at the time.

From what I can tell from Facebook, a LOT of people from my hometown eventually return there to start their own families, while many others end up moving to the town where I now live. It probably has a lot to do with family ties, especially during those early years of parenting, when a nearby set of grandparents is especially convenient.  I ended up back in Connecticut because I got married, and while I was ready to move on from my then-employment, my fiance was not. It just made sense. It always just makes perfect sense, so you don’t really think about it that much.

When I moved back to Connecticut after working in New Jersey for a while, my now-husband and I shared an apartment until we had been married just under a year. We began searching for a house to buy, because renting just didn’t feel right anymore. I told my husband I really wanted to live in the West End of Hartford, in a beautiful old Victorian with a kitchen full of antiques, tiny hobbit doors under the staircase, and a wildflower garden. He refused: it was too expensive, we would need to rely on the magnet or charter school system, and besides, an old house like that would be difficult and costly to maintain. I was disappointed, but I agreed.

I think having an Internet connection and access to numerous platforms for online socializing makes where you live less important for many of us. That, combined with relatively easy mobility, lets us build a sense of community without getting our hands dirty with interactions in meatspace. I have friends here in town, but I also have friends farther away, and the strength and quality of each friendship doesn’t necessarily turn on the person’s physical proximity. Actual meaningful face-time is kind of a rare treat. But that also means that I’m not all that used to it. So it can be a little awkward at times, but not insurmountably so. And I think most of us feel that way, so I don’t feel quite so alone when I remind myself of that.

I think all those women at the farmers’ market scared me because I saw myself reflected in them, and for whatever reason, that part of myself makes me uncomfortable. Is it that I actually want to stand out, and that the sameness is a disturbing reminder that I’m failing to do so? That could be it, but it doesn’t seem quite right. Is it that I don’t like people? No, I actually do like people, despite whatever outward appearances I might give off at times. I almost never have trouble connecting with people.

I think it was just so normal that I freaked a little bit, internally. I don’t think I’ve ever gone through a period in my life when I felt as normal as I do now. Thirty-eight years old and married with two children, owning a home in a small town, dying my roots and applying eye cream each night is exactly what anyone would expect from me. I do some interesting things once in a while, but most of those things fall well within the boundaries of average, typical, and expected.

Maybe I’m a bit disappointed in myself.

My sister has lived out in Riverside, California for a few years now. She moved out there for her job. It’s a fairly big and well-known suburban town about an hour west of L.A. However, I didn’t really know much about it until she had settled in there. “It’s so boring,” she told me, “like your typical suburban hell with shopping plazas, nothing interesting to do, no culture.” And then I went out there. My jaw just about dropped. It’s a beautiful desert town, with cacti in everyone’s yards. They have little cafes and shops and a historic landmark hotel, a vibrant student community and lots of cool stuff within walking distance from her house.  And they have a big farmers’ market, not as huge as the ones in major cities, but a good deal larger than my little Connecticut town experience from the other day. My sister is quite cosmopolitan and has lived in a few major cities in the U.S. and abroad, so that’s why Riverside is too boring for her. But I was thrilled just by that sprawling and rustic farmers’ market, let alone the rest of the town.

People at the Riverside Farmers’ Market haggle over avocados and citrus. Sellers deftly distribute tiny wooden tasting spoons with various flavors of honey, eager to entice a sale. It’s certainly fun, but there is also some serious business going on. Shoppers are there on a mission. Notably, I saw no children when I went to that farmers’ market. Or perhaps if there were children present, I didn’t notice because their parents skillfully suppressed their whines and grabs while asking the vendors their questions about goat-milk soap and salsa. This farmers’ market was also noticeably deprived of facepainting, balloon animals, donut trucks, and other “family-friendly” attractions, unlike its Connecticut counterpart.

When I think back to how much I enjoyed that warm January week in California, I realize it was the farmers’ market that convinced me I could live there forever. It sounded exciting to be a a transplant from the East Coast. And I wanted to tote my children along with me, strolling down a cobble stone street with no other families in sight, just looking for something fun to do and somewhere exciting to be.

Yesterday, I wanted to try a grass-fed burger and check out what a local dairy farm had to offer, for future reference. I spent the short afternoon keeping up with my kids. It’s ok though. I was just doing what all the other moms were doing. After all, that’s what we do, and this is where I belong.



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