It’s 9:15 at night and as I sit outside on the pavement my legs are still being baked by the concrete and my arms and face and back feel the heat from the oven. And yet I’m pretty comfortable. It’s no seventy degrees, but I’m content to be outside right now because the contrast is enough from the climax of the day. After all, it’s only 95F = two digits, totally doable. Gotta get into the elements when I can avoid frying.
And I think it says something about my process of adjusting to a new life. There is so much to adapt to, it’s quite overwhelming much of the time, and the weather seems a trivial thing to pat myself on the back for. But man alive, it’s such a change from what I’m used to so I’m going to do it anyway. Granted I’m also doing plenty of whining about the weather; it’s worlds different from the four evenly-spaced seasons that I’m accustomed to, and my Midwest patience is wearing thin for summer. I’m programmed for 90 days of a pattern and then a shift. In Arizona, I’m being asked to wait things out.
Wait. That is a reoccurring theme for me in Arizona. Wait to know where everything is, wait to understand cultural differences, wait to appreciate the desert, wait to have side-splitting laughter with friends. Wait a (literal) hot minute before letting the children play in the backyard while I scan the area for rattlesnakes or bobcats or tarantulas. (I’ve seen the first two — thankfully neither in my actual backyard). Wait for a time other than evening to retrieve the trash and recycling bins from the curb — ornery javelina might be lurking.
Arizona. The kids have no idea that we live in Anthem, or (sort of) Phoenix. It’s Arizona. Because that’s how we’ve always termed it to them, and unconsciously to ourselves. It’s big, it’s huge, it’s down there in the bottom lefthand corner of the country that I never paid any attention to before. It’s alien. It’s a strange land. The plants will poke you and the animals will sting you and the heat will burn you. It feels harsh, dangerous, confusing, other.
There are stoplights at the end of highway merge ramps. I thought they were cute and absolutely ignored them for the first six months we lived here, until Simon told me I was supposed to actually abide by their red or green lights. You mean I’m supposed to go from zero to sixty in two seconds as I merge on to the highway?! “Well, it’s supposed to help with the flow of traffic.” Well, I think it sounds like a great way to get killed. (I have this teeny-tiny tendency to buck social norms, so I still don’t really stop, but I do slow down).
Also my driver’s license doesn’t expire until 2046. Isn’t it funny that that’s going to be a real year? What if I go blind before then? The government is cool with me driving blind? I’ve also been told you get a new picture every five years or so, which I’m grateful for because my picture is truly ghastly. But doesn’t a new picture necessitate a new license? I haven’t figured this one out yet.
People in Arizona use the phrase “of ____ o’clock.” As in “I’ll pick you up at ten of six,” or “Let’s meet downstairs at twenty of four.” I had no idea what this syntax meant. When a friend from church said “twenty of four” to Simon and me, I asked Simon, wait what? What time? Simon replied, “I think he said 3:24?” That did make sense to our ears, but surely no one would request a meeting at such an odd time. Our friend said, “Ok, see you at twenty of four!” and I just blurted out, “I’m sorry, we don’t know what that means!” And for about thirty seconds we had a conversation in two different languages until it finally dawned on me that he meant twenty til four. “OH! You mean twenty TIL four! 3:40, twenty minutes before 4pm, right?” (because it seemed important to be really really explicit given the confusion that preceded this revelation). I’m sure he thought I was ridiculous but he graciously confirmed that 3:40 was indeed our meeting time.
I’ve only spent three months in the South so I’m not the best person to make this judgement but Arizona feels like the South to me. Hospitality, four different Christian radio stations, and everyone goes to church. But it’s like the South wearing spurs. This is really the Wild West. Open carry — that’s new. People riding horses to restaurants. I’ve heard that one zip code east of mine has the highest concentration of horse ownership in the US. I wanted to buy cowboy boots in an attempt to fit in, but lordy they are expensive. I’ve sent three pairs back on Amazon because shoe sizing online is about the most impractical thing ever.
I’m the sort of person who is finds enjoyment in the most bizarre things. Like filling out online forms with drop-down menus for state, and not having to scroll at all, because Arizona starts with A. So that’s fun.
Houses in Arizona don’t have basements. Hearing this was analogous to a hypothetical discovery that Arizonans don’t have toes or kidneys. How can houses not have basements? Where do you store your Christmas decorations? Well it turns out that Christmas decorations can be stored in a variety of places. Our garage has sick built-in storage with cabinets that go from floor to ceiling and everything we formerly stored in our basement is in there. Also, no basement turns out to be kind of amazing when you have little ones, because if you also have a ranch-style home as we do, that means no stairs! No baby gates, no fear of toppling children, no putting up with the one-year-old’s fascination with going up and down the stairs 500 times. So thank you, Arizona.
Also, thank you for the rocks. My vehicle and construction-obsessed child is all about the rocks. He can bulldoze and excavate and dump rocks with his toys for days (weather-permitting). THANK YOU for not participating in daylight savings time, oh my gosh; this mama of small children is eternally grateful! Thank you that because my house is always over 80F I can squirt coconut oil out of a ketchup bottle because it will never, ever, ever harden (til winter, which I proclaim by faith will indeed come again). Thank you for allowing me to vote by mail. Thank you for being on Pacific time (March-November) so that I can watch late-night comedy not late at night. Thank you for being midwife-friendly and respecting my right to make my own choices about the type of maternity care I desire (I cannot get over the shock of SEVEN birth centers just in Phoenix. How amazing!). Thank you for being so hot here right now that anyone who is unsure about global warming need only to pop into Phoenix for a crash course. Thank you for not having mosquitos here!
Did you know that Arizona has more national monuments that any other US state? Did you know that northern Arizona has pine trees and mountains and snow? I knew about the Grand Canyon and Four Corners, of course, but those are just two of many many gorgeous places that I’ve been told I just must visit. Glen Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Havasu Falls. Flagstaff is just ninety minutes north of us and is the most adorable college town where we can take the kids to go sledding or grab a cup of joe at a crunchy hookah lounge. I’ve heard they do a great Polar Express event for the holidays.
It’s easy to write off the new as wrong and to scorn the unfamiliar as inferior. I’ve done plenty of that. It’s homesickness, it’s immaturity, it’s human nature, it’s something I’m working on. It’s not the whole story. Arizona is a different place from what I’m used to, but it’s a place all the same. It’s full of history and complexity and beauty and lives lived and loved. And underneath the cultural differences (I’m not sure I’ll ever understand wearing pants when it’s over 70 degrees) and operational differences (assuming no blindness, I’m thankful to the Arizona government for relieving me of many hours that would otherwise be spent rotting in the DMV), people everywhere are just the same. Looking for love, looking for hope, looking for purpose. And just like we worry when we’re having a second baby that we couldn’t possibly love that child like we love our firstborn, we discover we’re wrong in a flurry of hormones and emotions when that newborn is placed on our chest and we do instantly love two babies, equally and differently, without the first losing anything. Your heart just gets bigger, say the wise women who came before us. And what Jake Perry said to Melanie Smooter in Sweet Home Alabama is absolutely true: “Since when does it have to be one or the other? You can have roots and wings.”
Baby one, baby two. Roots, wings. Childhood home, adult landing place. Missouri, Arizona. Since when does it have to be one or the other? Can we live in the tension? A few days ago I was sitting on Gabe’s bed with him as he fell asleep for the night. He rolled over and said to me contemplatively, “Mom, it’s really hard to move. I didn’t want to move. It’s hard being in Arizona.” And my heart swelled with love for that little boy who is so much like me, all feelings and melancholy and dreams and a need to wade through despair. “I know, sweetheart. It is really hard. It’s hard to get used to a new place. Do you miss St. Louis?” He nodded. “I miss our house,” he said as he started to cry softly. “And I miss my room.” I joined his crying and nodded back. We talked about how everything happened there. “When will we move back to our house?” he asked me. I explained as gently as I could that Arizona was our new home, and added that even if we had never left St. Louis we would have a different house anyway because our family has outgrown those thousand square feet. He just looked at me, eyes unsure and spirit questioning. I told him that Daddy and Mommy will be with him in the hurt, in the new, in the different. And I didn’t put a bow on it. His adjustment journey is as sacred as my own.
So we go forward. I attempt to moderate some sort of balance in my heart between optimism and enthusiasm verses honesty and hardship. One day I sunk to the kitchen floor and spontaneously started sobbing while my children danced around me and my husband walked in the house to quite a scene. And then I get excited about meeting the other parents in Gabe’s pre-K class and connecting with moms at MOPS. It’s one heck of a zig-zag.
Hello, Arizona. I’m still saying hello. It seems like greeting time should be over and done with by now, but it’s just not. You still catch me off guard and behave in ways I’m not used to and the acquaintance phase continues. But I like the flowers on the cactuses. It was cool when I had to stop my car to yield to a passing coyote. I loved trying fry bread on the Navajo reservation and learning about the native way of life. I can’t wait to get back to those winter days of Simon grilling my favorite foods and those winter nights of sitting in my backyard roasting s’mores with my family around the fire pit. It’s 10:35 on this summer night now and the sweat is dripping between my breasts and pooling under my gravid belly and my bangs are plastered to my forehead. But it’s a dry heat…sure.
Photo credits in order:
https://bigcatrescue.org/bobcat-on-cactus/ (bobcat on saguaro)
https://www.national-park.com/welcome-to-saguaro-national-park/ (saguaros in daytime)
http://horsebackridinginarizona.com (cowboy boots)
http://flagstafffieldinstitute.com/about-us/ (Flagstaff mountains)
Personal photo of Gabriel and newborn Phoebe 🙂
https://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/scpn/parks/nava.cfm/ (map of Navajo reservation)