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I Didn’t Grow up Anywhere

I Grew Up Everywhere

When I was 18, I decided out of curiosity, to count up all the different houses I had lived in. I was, of course, aware that my family had been in constant motion the entire time I was growing up, and that I had suffered piteously from being uprooted so many times; having to start all over again with making new friends, new routines, new schools - everything. In fact, the only certainties in my life were spending the three summer months of the year with my maternal grandparents on their ranch in the Black Hills of South Dakota (and later on, at a lovely lakefront camp in Minnesota, a very competitive setting where the only thing I excelled in was singing.)

I knew the number would be high, but when it hit 12, even I was surprised. Only two of those houses were in the same town. All of the other moves were not only to different towns, but usually different states; every move representing a complete break with my previous life. And every move triggered what I now recognize as “separation anxiety”.

Unsurprisingly, I vowed that my own children would NEVER have to leave everything they knew behind so many times (let alone every two or three years), and promised myself that they would attend the same schools for all 13 years and be allowed the luxury of having the same friends throughout their childhoods. I didn’t quite make it, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

Although we moved frequently during their growing-up years, the only times they actually changed school systems were when we sent them to a private, progressive school, with a good many of their former classmates (alas, the school was a little too progressive for South Dakota, and couldn’t make it financially.) They also each went to Catholic schools at one time or another, for which I paid dearly at my Synagogue. But I stuck to my decision and declared that I was endeavoring to provide the very best education for my kids - and at that time it happened to be provided by the Catholic diocese. Again, many of their former school friends peopled those classrooms, preserving my vow to maintain the childhood friendships that had eluded me.

My kids have many lifelong friends, and have chosen to remain right here where they grew up - which always warms my heart. By contrast, I don’t have a single friend from childhood (with one notable exception: the daughter of my mother’s best friend in Chicago, but we never went to the same school). I lucked out in college though, and my later years in the theatre, and today keep in touch with dozens of dear friends from those experiences.

I really don’t know if my kids appreciate my efforts to spare them the trauma of constant moves growing up, but I privately take pride in the fact that I made the effort to prevent unnecessary distress in their tender lives. Growing up is hard enough without having to start over every few years in a totally new physical and social environment.

The sad part is that each of my parents admitted separately to me as an adult that they regretted pursuing their careers so single-mindedly during my formative years. It’s a little late now.... but as Tevye sang to his wife, Golde, in Fiddler on the Roof, “it doesn’t change a thing, but even so, it’s nice to know.”

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