Four years ago, I was lying on the floor of our newly built home in a state of panic. Nothing bad had actually happened—on the contrary, we had decided to take a two-week respite from life in Brooklyn to test drive living in rural Vermont. Enduring the dead of winter was the truest test of whether we could hack it long term.
The country life was a far cry from our urban ways. No doubt our family of four with a dog was busting out of our 900-square-foot rental but we also had a certain groove living in the city. We valued the diversity, the culture, the pedestrian lifestyle, and the take-out. Plus, our kids loved the playgrounds. Having spent over a decade of my adult life in NYC, it had become home. However, with young kids in the picture, the call to greener pastures was growing stronger.
Five years prior, we had come across a plot of land with ten acres of woods and an open meadow in the Champlain Valley. There was no practical reason to buy the land, it had no electricity or well, no structure or neighborhood, and definitely no take-out. Naturally, we loved it and placed a bid. The first night we spent on our new property, we pitched a small tent on an outcropping of ledge padded by moss and pine needles. There we admired the afternoon light raking across the open field and into the trees. We imagined our future living room on the very spot we sat so that we could always enjoy this particular nuance, and in that moment we seeded the dream of our home.
We were not set on leaving the city at that point, but like many urbanites, wanted to balance the high intensity of our hard-edged lives with the rounder ways of the country. I had always loved the pastoral beauty of the Green Mountain State, the way of life, and the politics. Luckily, when I introduced my future husband to Vermont, he too was drawn to the landscape and by the prospect of rooting down there in the future.
For two summers we hosted party after party involving fireworks, campfire fare and tents scattered throughout the property. Eventually we upgraded our tent to a 70- square-foot gardening shed outfitted with a pullout bed and flea-market farm table. My husband proposed to me on that land and a year later we celebrated our wedding under yet another tent that fit 150 of our nearest and dearest. By that point we were fully invested. The land was endowed with our happiness and commitment.
When our first baby arrived, glamping had long lost its mystique. I was adamant that if we were going to keep coming to Vermont we needed hot water, a kitchen, a bathroom and a king-sized bed, for goodness sake. After a few phone calls we were convinced that a construction loan was manageable and hired a local architect and contractor. With blind optimism we signed off on building our home, and soon after were expecting baby number two.
I won’t go into detail but the building process was tough, to say the least. In the first phase of construction, bringing in power was four times the cost of what had been estimated, thanks to the rock ledge we had so admired up until that time. Around every turn there were challenges and critical decisions, all dealt with from three hundred miles away.
The worst part was an ornery neighbor flooding my inbox with emails threatening to arbitrate over the placement of our septic mound. Coming from NYC where neighbors live within arm’s length, I was baffled that this man who lived quite literally over-the-meadow-and-through-the-woods was hell-bent on antagonizing us over a pile of dirt. When all was said and done our savings, our energy and our morale were wiped out. I was even put on bed rest weeks from my due date, due to the effects of stress on my pregnant body.
Finally, the day came. The construction was complete, the loan was refinanced, our neighbor was placated, and our family—now of four—was able to start living in Vermont. By “living” I mean driving six hours back and forth from the city to the house with a newborn, a toddler, and a carsick dog any chance we got. It was surreal to see our dream come to fruition but the reality lacked the romance from our early days. We were exhausted thanks to the new additions.
Now, fast-forward to that winter: me, lying panic-stricken on the floor of our barely furnished home. I had a decision to make: move or stay? Yay or nay?
My husband was already on board and on paper the move made sense. Not only had we invested every ounce of what we had into building our home but we also wanted to raise our children closer to nature, to give them the space to run free, in their birthday suits if they so wished. We were also increasingly freaked out by the puzzling New York City public school system. Given the flexibility of my husband’s work, he could commute back and forth from Vermont, as needed. At the time, I was the SAHM so when he travelled for a job, I’d be running the ship solo. That was the deal.
Loved ones and acquaintances started to raise questions: Won’t you feel isolated living so far out in the country? Won’t you miss New York? Do you know anyone there? What exactly do people DO in Vermont?
I had all my answers perfectly rehearsed: No way! Burlington is only 30 minutes from our land not to mention the cute towns in between, besides I’m used to sitting on a subway for a half hour to get anywhere, only now I get to drive on pretty country roads and listen to NPR… And sure! I’ll miss New York but I’ll visit every chance I get and I’ll bring the kids down to the MoMA, the Bronx Zoo and Lincoln Center twice a year… And yes! I have friends from college in the area and believe it or not people in Vermont do lots of things like garden and ski and vote democratic. . .
When the hundredth person expressed concern, my confidence was shot. Maybe they were right. Maybe I would feel isolated. Maybe I would miss New York. Maybe terribly. I was leaving what had been the center of my universe. Would I, in turn, cease to exist? My existential dilemma may have been dramatic but this gives you a picture of my mental deadlock.
Hence me, lying there on the floor in an existential crisis.
All of the months of stress had reached a crescendo. I imagined the children happier in the city. I imagined I might lose my mind alone in the woods with two small kids while my husband travelled. I imagined drinking too much craft beer, and eating my weight in Ben and Jerry’s and cheddar cheese. I imagined wearing chunky knits, neglecting to shave my legs and losing my head-to-toe-in-black aesthetic. All valid concerns.
My husband stood above me, not knowing what to do or how to console me. “We can make the house a rental property and stay in the city another year, just to be sure. Or, if you really don’t want to do this we should just sell the house and take the hit.”
I was paralyzed. I didn’t know what to do. So I did what any anxious New Yorker would. I called my best friend living in San Francisco for some outside perspective. Thankfully, my personal soothsayer picked up the phone and I was able to vent. She listened, thoughtfully until I had spewed out every ounce of worry. Finally, when I exhausted all verbiage, she paused for a moment and said:
“I think you already have your answer. You just need to accept it.”
Those simple words mercifully cut right through my all of my bullshit. It was true. The answer was obvious, and I already knew it. We were going to move to Vermont. This is what we had been planning on, working towards, preparing for over the last five years. This was our dream and the time had finally come to own it. We were going to do this. And as scary as that was, I was relieved to finally accept our choice.
I hung up the phone and got up from off the floor, standing in the very spot we had pitched our first tent. I felt better. More than better. I felt what was underneath all that panic the whole time. It was excitement. It was appreciation. It was courage. I still had all the same questions about what our life would really be like living in the country, but I wasn’t going to get answers by lying on the floor. We’d have to do some living first. The answers would come in time.
Photographs by Dylan Griffin.
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