I’ve officially banned myself from Zillow.
I’m serious. If you see me on my phone looking up houses or researching comps or chewing my fingernails over school scores, punch me in the throat. Then I need you to take my phone and change the passcode. Give the code only to my husband. Tell him to withhold my allowance until I get my life together.
Zillow has been the source of several freak-out moments the last couple of years. The value of our home has dropped quite significantly since purchasing it six years ago. Test scores of schools in our area have begun to dip. More and more homes have gone up for sale or been foreclosed on. Friends and neighbors hustle to get their kids into better schools by either putting their homes up for sale or opening their wallets to private schools. There are times I sit and think that everyone else is seeing something I don’t.
Why are people leaving? What are their motivations? Am I missing something? Am I so far in my own little bubble that I don’t notice the community crumbling around me? Should I be more fearful? Am I a bad mom for putting my kids in public schools that I know are struggling? These are questions I have been asking myself over and over.
In the midst of my worry comes a knock on my door. It is our neighbors. Linda tells us that Tom’s cancer is back. She is stoic while explaining it all, but we see the fear in her eyes. Tom has battled cancer once before. His vocal cords were removed and weight was lost, leaving him unable to take care of his yard. So my husband mowed their lawn and gathered a team from our church to help with weeds and mulch. Less than a year later, the cancer is back. Tom shrugs and shakes his head. He is confident he will beat it again. With an animated face and big arm gestures he lets me know he is tougher than he looks. I believe him, but part of me wonders if he is just being brave for his wife.
It was in that moment that I realized why I don’t see what others around me are seeing. I am not scared of my community because I know my community. I know that Linda needs Tom. I know that Tom needs rest. I know that we can help with that.
But again, the fear and doubt creep back in, and I let worry take over. Why are we here? Why does everyone else want to leave? What am I missing?
One of my son’s friends comes over to our house once a week. He is the rebellious kid in class; the kind that acts out for attention. Initially, I hesitated to allow the two of them to form a bond. I don’t want my child around kids like that. I’m fiercely protective. But after a while, I gave in. The boy would ride his bike down in the dead of winter. It would be 17 degrees out, and this kid would brave the weather in a lightweight jacket and no socks. One evening as he was leaving, he flipped off his bike and hurt himself. My husband loaded up his bike and drove him home. His mom answered the door scantily clad and completely trashed. We shrugged it off. Who doesn’t want to be comfortable in their own home and have a drink? Weeks later, she rode her bike to my home looking for her child. Again, she was drunk. Every encounter I have had with this woman, she has been intoxicated. So, I let the boy come over more often. My heart breaks as he tells me he eats pasta every night because that is the only thing he knows how to fix himself.
Again, I remember why we haven’t left and why I don’t see what others are seeing. This boy takes care of himself. While I do not know all of the details of his home life, I do know that I can make him something other than pasta. I can give him a coat and some socks. I can love him and open my home to him. I can pray that one day his mom will ride her bike over with him. Maybe I can feed them both. Maybe we can be friends. Maybe we can help.
To be fair, we have discussed moving several times. My husband’s job is 45 minutes away. My kids see him for only an hour or two on weeknights. I lose my sanity because I only interact with kids for most of that time. Moving would alleviate that. If we moved, we would save money in gas. If we moved, I wouldn’t have to worry about the DEA swarming my neighbor’s home. If we moved, I wouldn’t have kids knocking on my door asking that I call 911 for them because their dad is beating their mom. If we moved, I wouldn’t have a neighbor drunkenly mow half of our lawn (I didn’t mind, but my husband was not cool with it). If we moved, I wouldn’t have to see grown men fist-fighting in the street at two in the morning.
Packing up and shipping out sounds very tempting at times. Tom and Linda, my son’s friend and his hurting mother, the struggling schools, the dozens of foreclosures, they can all be someone else’s burden. I can’t fix these things. I’m no savior. I don’t have to fight for everyone’s cause. We could head out west and buy a bigger home. One with two bathrooms and more square footage. We could send our kids to schools where we wouldn’t have to worry about fights and poor test scores. We could do all of those things. But then I would have to clean those two bathrooms. My family would hide in all of that square footage and we wouldn’t be burdened with each other’s company. Our kids could focus more on popularity and peer pressure as opposed to test scores and lunch room fights. There are cons to everything. For my family, moving would only replace current problems with new ones. So, we choose to stay.
In a week or so, I will freak out. I will check Zillow and lose my mind about property value. I will mention moving. I will worry my son will join a gang, if he hasn’t already. I’ll worry that my daughter will end up a teen mom. I will fret over standardize testing. I will worry about bullying. I will worry about crime and gun violence. I’ll vomit up all of my concerns to my husband. He will hug me and tell me to go take a long shower and relax. I will because he is the boss of me and stuff. After I calm down, I’ll look outside and find a dozen kids I don’t know in my backyard. My daughter will be helping a little boy hit baseballs off of a tee, while a bunch of little girls play with her Barbie Jeep. My son will be playing soccer with some boys he has never met. They’ll all be smiling. I will go outside and sit down with some of the kids. They tell me all about their school and their favorite songs. They explain their nicknames and the things they worry about. My heart will swell, tears will sting my eyes, and I will think, “This is why we will stay.”
**This is a story about my family’s journey. I believe everyone is called to something, somewhere. We don’t all have the same passions and desires. If God has called your family to Africa. Go. If He has called your family to Wentzville, Missouri. Go. If God has called you to some corn-fed, hillbilly town in the heart of the Bible Belt. GO. Again, this is a story about my family and our calling. Go be you. I can’t be mad at ya for it.**