The typical American lives within just 18 miles of his or her mom, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan, with 40 percent living within five miles.
That news hits home for us this week, with our kids (and their families and significant other) under one roof (if you include the roof across the hall) for several days between Christmas and New Year’s. This happens for us just once a year, and it’s a good occasion to reflect on the role of geography in the way we’ve lived our lives.
When Carol and I got married in 1970, we were pretty open about where we might live. We did rule out at least a couple of places: Florida and California. Funny how we ended up spending about a decade in each state.
We were each encouraged by our parents, especially our mothers, to seek our dreams wherever they took us. In Carol’s case, that meant living near home (Louisville, Ky.) for the last time at age 17, when she went off to college. Same with me, living in Groton, Ct. for the last time at age 18.
In retrospect, it’s clear I was never very intentional about the role of geography in my life. I’d never even visited Detroit when a Free Press alum in the New York Times Washington bureau (where I was an intern in 1971) set me up with my next job. Our next several moves were also the result of opportunities more presented than sought (in Washington, D.C., central Europe, Detroit (again), Silicon Valley and Florida).
We considered opportunities to live closer to my folks in Connecticut only a couple of times — Boston in 1975 and New York 20 years later — but neither job worked out and we ended up staying put in Michigan and California.
Ah, how the tables turn! This week we’re joined by our daughter and her family visiting from their home 700 miles away in Michigan and our son and his girlfriend visiting from — wait for it — 3,155 miles west in California.
The pattern is broken, of course, by the daughter and family who live about eight steps north of us, across the hall. The arrangement doesn’t bridge all the gaps between grown children and their parents. But thanks to SKYPE, our son-in-law, Marton, was able to include his Hungarian family in our Christmas morning festivities 4,162 miles from Budapest.
Our almost three year-old granddaughter, Leila, reminds us that distance is all a matter of perspective. “Amma and Papa live too far away,” she told Kate over the weekend, “it’s too far to walk — I’m gonna scoot.” Whereupon she donned her new orange helmet, mounted her Christmas scooter and rolled across the hall.
Since returning to Boston three years ago, I’ve been struck by the choices most of my cousins made to remain in or around Quincy, just south of the city, their entire lives. My family left in 1955, when I was six, so my dad could take a new job at a different shipyard, Electric Boat, 100 miles southwest of the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy.
Some of my cousins’ grown children have stayed put, too; others have moved away. What they all share is something our kids don’t: A place to return to (or remain) as adults that really feels like home. We’ve lived in some places long enough to get a taste of what it must be like to be lifelong residents: If not exactly the Cheers experience of everyone knowing your name, at least the occasional delight of bumping into someone who does.
The University of Michigan study, reported by the New York Times here, explores the implications of proximity when elderly parents need closer contact and care. A lifelong New Englander, my mom lived her final days in California, where we brought her for excellent medical care that ultimately fell short. She died at 89 in our home in Fremont. Carol’s mom was still relatively young when we moved from California to Florida and she decided to join us, living a few miles from us before age and illness caught up. She spent the last year of her life in our house in St. Petersburg.
This morning, I was the first one awake of the seven family members packed into our place (which still seems spacious after two years in a room). So I ventured across the hall and spent some time with Kate and nine-month old Mateo (while four other family members slept over there).
Noting the pluses and minuses of life on the move, Kate said she hopes for a middle ground for her family: A place they’ll regard as home — maybe Boston or Brookline — as they move around the world as opportunities arise.
Carol and I realize we won’t have Kate and family across the hall forever. But boy are we enjoying those eight steps while we can.
How many miles do you live (now or previously) from your Mom or Dad (or your grown children)? It’s a question easily answered with a Google query along the lines of “How many miles from 26 Nicholas Avenue in Groton, Connecticut to Sieveringerstrasse 181 in Vienna, Austria? Any stories prompted by that geography that you might be willing to share?