Moving home for your baby

When family support trumps your need for independence


Alice Hohl

ReaderEssay What do you call that point in life when all your career aspirations and fierce independence dissolve into a desire to move within a mile of your parents? Oh yes. New parenthood.

I was a Chicagoan by choice. I came here for journalism school and stayed for the job. I loved strolling among the skyscrapers knowing I belonged here. I loved visiting my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, and telling people I worked for a daily newspaper in Chicago. When Ohio’s governor failed to report some golf outings, I laughed, regaling friends with tales of elected officials so much more corrupt that such a "scandal" would never make the front page in my town. In winter, I looked at the snow-covered Columbus streets and clucked, "Not in Chicago. This would have been plowed to the side in three hours flat."

And yet I am writing now from Columbus. It has a metropolitan area of 1.5 million people, a redeveloping downtown and a cosmopolitan university campus. But it’s still hanging on to its oversize pick-up trucks and, in certain neighborhoods, poor grammar and rural drawl.

So why am I here?

Finally on my own

As a child, I always wanted to do things myself. I remember cashing in my 50-cent-piece collection to develop a roll of film. It was no surprise I moved out of state for college. More than anything, I wanted to live on my own.

I took pride in paying (and borrowing) my way through Northwestern University while my roommates waited for checks from home. My first car was financed by my parents, but I made the payments and paid the insurance. By the time I owned it outright, my husband and I had bought our own home. With no co-signer.

I imagined raising my children in the Chicago area, being elected to the local school board. The greatest indignity I could imagine was not being able to do something myself. But things change.

When I became pregnant, life was suddenly not about me anymore. Risk-taking behavior (motorcycle riding, "Chicago" driving, cycling alone from Oak Park to Wheaton) was something I could justify for myself, but not for a child.

After Nora was born and I was home with a baby who couldn’t explain why she was crying, the usefulness of grandparents quickly became apparent. One day I fell sick and my husband, a police officer, was on a call and couldn’t come home. I felt totally helpless.

Still, I was stubborn. I could do it myself.

But in those first hazy weeks, it wasn’t about myself. It was about the subversion of self, really. Every decision was about this tiny, warm, non-communicative person. Was it selfish to want to live by ourselves and advance our careers?

My husband and I discussed extended family as an important part of a child’s upbringing. Once I quit my job to stay home, my career didn’t really factor into it anymore, anyway. My husband, also a Columbus native, had been wanting to move back home for years. I could feel myself relenting.

And there was the isolation. I couldn’t take care of the baby without a break. Where was that village to raise my child? Not here.

Here there were only well-meaning friends who would offer to babysit and then forget to support my newborn’s head the first time I handed her over. And the teenage girls who had lots of experience, but who forgot to strap Nora into her infant swing.

I realized proving my competence was less important than providing my daughter the best life possible. Up went the "for sale" sign.

Hello, Ohio

So here I am in Columbus again. It certainly has its down sides. I never told my parents about my job interviews in Chicago until they were in the bag. In Ohio, I told everyone I was looking for a new job because I needed a good network. Soon enough, every distant cousin would ask how the job search was going. On the days it wasn’t going well, this constant surveillance was unnerving. Now that I have a good job, as associate editor of a monthly magazine, those feelings have subsided.

Still, I miss the anonymity of the big city. I miss getting to choose what I tell my family and when I tell them. I miss the feeling of being totally on our own. I miss the prestige of Chicago. I worry about running into some jerk from high school and feeling like I haven’t done much with my life.

But my professional life is rewarding and my home life is great, too. I can ride my bicycle to work. If I want to hang out with my sister, I go to her house. If we want to see a movie, we drop off our little girl with his parents or mine.

Culture here is surprisingly accessible—I bought tickets to six symphony shows for $100. I’ve already taken my daughter to one of the best zoos in the country, and I didn’t have to pay through the nose for parking.

It’s not the right choice for everyone. But I think I’m doing the right thing for my family. Even if I’m not doing it all by myself.

Alice Hohl, a former Chicago-area mom, lives in Ohio with her husband and 15-month-old daughter.


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