All my life, I loved where I grew up. My home was Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida and I was proud of that fact. After graduating from UNF, and my entire family having migrated north, I decided I wanted to try something different and move closer to them. So, I left behind my beloved sunshine state, where I’d lived since I was three years old, and began a new life journey in the cold tundra of the Midwest, just a few hours from my family.
Then, in the spring of 2013, I found out I was pregnant and immediately felt a yearning to be even closer to family. As the youngest of three girls, with sisters seven and eight years older than me, I hadn’t always had much in common with them. But the idea of having my sisters and other relatives near, being able to share this experience with them and raise my child with a village of support sounded ideal. So, at 40-weeks pregnant, I packed up and moved further north, to be as close as possible.
Initially, I was elated to be close enough to go to family functions and see my sisters, nieces, nephew, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Knowing that I had family close by was comforting during my pregnancy. I felt confident that this was where I was supposed to be. And once I had my son, I continued to relish in the sentiment of having family near. Even their inevitable, unsolicited advice felt like a rite of passage I didn’t want to miss out on. But it also began to sink in that I was in this alone. I was now a new, single mom living in an unfamiliar place with no friend base for support, and my sisters were busy with their own kids and their own lives. No one was going to be there to help with nighttime feedings, diaper changes or doctor’s appointments. As a fiercely independent person, I was more than up to the task, but that feeling of loneliness was sobering and setting in quickly.
As a work-from-home mom, I sought out different avenues to meet people by joining a breastfeeding support group, mommy-and-me classes, and when my son was old enough, I enrolled him in preschool. We were fortunate to meet some great families—as many of us know, making friends in adulthood, and especially motherhood can be particularly challenging. I bought a house and tried to establish roots. But more than five years later, despite making a few great friends and being near family, this place still didn’t feel like home. I was still living where the sun wouldn’t shine for weeks at a time, where the harsh winters seemed to endlessly stretch for eight months of the year, and where I felt more alone and less connected than I ever had in my life.
After a week-long trip to Orlando to introduce my son to the joys of theme parks, I cried when we had to leave, dreading the awaiting cold and impending winter and solitude. Sure, the end of vacation is always sad, but this was more than that — the Midwest felt no more like home to me than it ever did and I didn’t want to go back there. It occurred to me that I was living there only to be close to my family. I was basing our entire lives around being near people who were busy with their own lives. Even when I did have to undergo two surgeries, asking for and receiving help from them was harder than I felt like it should be. I determined that it wasn’t enough. Family was not enough to keep us there. I wanted to live where we could be happiest, be outside, where sunshine was abundant, the schools were great, where we could have a better quality of life and be surrounded by friends, new and old. I wanted to be back home, in St. Johns County, Florida.
So, I sold our house and my son and I moved cross-country, back to the state I call home, into the sunshine and a new chapter in both our lives and we have never been happier. We live in a great neighborhood with great schools. We’ve made new friends and reconnected with old ones. I get to revisit my favorite places and introduce my son to them, as well as explore new places together. Not all of my family understood the move, but most accepted it. My sisters are still just a phone call away and now they have a winter getaway in St. Augustine available to them anytime. Moving back to Florida was, without question, the best decision for both my son and me, and I’m so glad I followed my happiness.