We are moving to Philadelphia.
After a draining, exhilarating go on the academic job market, my partner landed a new gig in the City of Brotherly Love. We’ll move sometime this summer.
For me it will be another return. Three years ago I came back to Ohio, not too far from where I grew up. This summer I will return to Philadelphia, a city I explored often—and at times commuted to—from my college’s suburban enclave. Philly was my first city.
The desire to move has been growing in recent months, but it’s not without its uncertainties and tradeoffs.
Even now, as I begin to imagine all sorts of new possibilities, I am thinking about the gargantuan, sublime tulip tree that towers over our house. My garden and my dirty fingernails. The quiet and cultivating and creating and caregiving that have marked my time in Ohio. Moving here gave us the chance to drop out of a more bustling, distracted world. We had time and space to host many, many friends and family. Living here gave me the chance to face myself in a way I think I only could have as a stay-at-home parent.
Our decision to trade life here for a new one in Philly is largely about race and some about gay. I wanted so badly to believe I could live wherever I want (which would not be a city). But I’m not just me any more, apart from any other. I’m fused with my kid and his possibilities.
Again and again I considered and weighed the advantages of life here: the ability to prioritize a lifestyle of time together, leisure, greater attentiveness to who we are and how we’re treating each other, the better likelihood of a good education without going into debt, easier access to nature, slow mornings, and the warmth of an oven baking in the middle of the day. I placed these on the scale opposite the deficits.
Yes, it’d be nice to go to an exciting restaurant without driving an hour. Have a community of stay-at-home parents with values in common. Or see more art. However, those sorts of factors didn’t tip the scale. I’m pretty sure if it were just those things, we wouldn’t move.
What weighed heavily was knowing my kid, a child of mixed African-American and Latino origin with two gay dads, will always stand out here. He’ll be forced to blaze trails without having chosen that for himself and without the promise of regular contact with others like him.
It’s not that I couldn’t imagine a way through for him here. We were already connecting him to more people of color, being more conscious about which old friends we visit, who babysits him, cuts his hair, and comes over for dinner. We were planning to use my partner’s academic leaves to temporarily relocate to more diverse communities so Miles could attend an integrated school, hopefully get to know other transracial queer families.
I could imagine a life here in which, supported by these other interventions, Miles becomes known and well liked. We could forge a community in which we’d be respected for our differences yet welcome. Who knows? Miles could emerge as the kind of kid with resilience and natural charisma (not the kind you have to feign in order to survive). What if ultimately he didn’t struggle much with race and being part of a queer family and benefitted from the quality of life here?
It was possible but not likely enough. To make things work here felt too much like threading a needle. It seemed too risky, the stakes too high. If we had an opportunity to surround him with a community in which he might not feel like the only one, we decided we better take it.
The next time he tells me he wishes he had light skin, I want to know the only kids of color he sees aren’t just the ones in his books. I want to know he’s going back to school the next day to friends and classmates who have darker skin too.
Of course, the decision to move is not just about Miles. Just like race isn’t exclusively his issue and gay isn’t exclusively my issue. As you know if you’ve read other parts of this blog, I can get tired of sticking out all of the time too. We’ve made some excellent friends here, but I would love the chance to be around more diverse people and families too–transracial families, people parenting off the mommy-daddy axis, parents with adopted children, etc.
So for weeks on end Travis worked his ass off while I spent a lot of time solo parenting. His work paid off, and new options opened for us. Philadelphia became the obvious choice once we started looking at it more closely, plotting out potential futures in specific neighborhoods, armed with insights from blogs, the New York Times Census Project, and friends.
We now have in front of us the opportunity to live in a highly integrated neighborhood where queer people are also visible. With good coffee and coop groceries nearby, of course.
I’m feeling very lucky that we are even in a position to make this change.
Moving won’t solve the challenges of race or being a queer family. Living in a big city will undoubtedly present new problems. I will mourn our life here, yet I know the decision is right. I know we will feel less alone.
Now comes the planning and imagining about what’s next.