Ah, the prism of a six-year-old’s eye. “The boxes are cool! They’re like square mountains.” His Star Wars figures were already scaling the cardboard heights. Pew! Pew! A mixed unit of Stormtroopers, a Batman, an Iron Man – “No, it’s WAR MACHINE, Dad.” – excuse me, War Machine and a headless GI Joe held the high ground, but were being systematically picked off by a crack team of Jedi Knights and a Transformer. I thought about cueing up Barber’s Adagio For Strings to add to the mood, but packing was already depressing the shit out of me. The other battle we’d been fighting – dealing with his struggles over being uprooted, struggles manifested in mood swings and the occasional difficulty falling asleep – was still being fought, but I could see a resolution. Home’s not so much about place, I had told him a few weeks ago. He seemed to be adjusting, recalibrating himself. Now there was just packing. We’d been at it for over a week and there was still no end in sight. Any wistfulness about leaving the place that had been our home for the past five years was drowned out by my desire to just be done with it, to have all of our stuff boxed up and shipped out, to get the next stage of our lives going.
Where we’re going: the suburbs. The true suburbs, rows and rows of houses, little boxes on a hillside. Literally. Well, mostly literally – our new place is tucked into the hills of Carlsbad, just far enough away from the coast that the ocean’s beyond the horizon, but close enough to catch the sea breezes. “Little”? Hardly. The new place is big: four bedrooms, an office, and an attached one-bedroom flat (with full kitchen). Plenty of room for us, for guests, a place we’d never outgrow. A dream home. The idea of leaving our little beach town: mixed emotions. Leucadia has character, not so much a place as a state of mind, a Brian Wilson song come to life. But our neighborhood had begun to irk me, from the constant speeding cars to the stray dogs to the weird solicitors that showed up at all hours to the never-ending construction. One’s tolerance for such randomness deteriorates when one becomes a dad. But the suburbs…round and round the thoughts went. Encasing dishes in bubble wrap helped silence them.
We swung by the place one evening, for no other reason than to make sure it was still there, that this was still going to happen. Lucas was with me. We decided to take a walk through the neighborhood. It was quiet; people were likely still on their way back from work. All of the houses are huge, new, slightly uniform. The landscaping is perfectly manicured. The street’s wide and ends in a turnaround (a perfect skateboarding road; I’d brought my Sector 9 with me when we spent a day with the house inspectors). A definitive Nice Neighborhood.
We turned down a sidewalk that ran between two of the houses. The sidewalk led to a gate. The gate opened up upon a trail. The trail runs along the rim of a small canyon, a two mile loop. “Whoa!”, Lucas said. He’d seen the trail – our house sits just above it, but he hadn’t set foot on it, wasn’t aware that it was “this close, Dad! Cool! We can take Mick for walks or we can run on it or maybe I can ride my bike! I bet there’s snakes. And maybe hawks!” Indeed. Of course, I’d seen it as well, but it struck me how open it was, an oasis of grass and trees, of space and quiet. And was that the ocean I smelled?
We walked a spell – Lucas complained that he had to pee, and so we pulled off the trail and into a group of trees, and there he took his first bona fide Nature Break, a rite of passage, of sorts. (“I peed on a bush. OUTSIDE. Heh.”) Soon the sun would be setting, so we headed back to the house. I gave the new place a quick once-over; we checked out the backyard, making sure that all of the gates were closed. The grass would need to be mowed, leaves raked, patio swept. But the house seemed ready for us. Lucas stood at the fence and I joined him, contemplating our canyon and all of its promises.