We're sick of Southern California! Should we move to the Midwest?

I'd like to raise some kids in a real community. Does the Badger State have what the Golden State lacks?

Published October 10, 2007 10:05AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My husband and I just got married, and since we started dating, we've both talked about the kind of life that we want for our family. We both really like to be home, like home projects and house-making. We also really like the idea of a community where people and schools are good and we can settle in, make friends and make a life for ourselves.

Recently, I took a work trip to the Midwest and fell in love. I really like the pace of life, the size of the cities, and the people. The whole experience felt so much more like my idea of a great life.

Today, we live in Orange County, Calif. Southern California mostly feels like a struggle to make more money, be thinner, drive a better car, and eat at trendier chain restaurants. Ugh. It's not a great community for us. I have a great job, but my husband doesn't. Even with both of our jobs, we can barely afford a good apartment, much less a home. If we start a family, we'd both have to work to even make ends meet.

My husband just heard that he will likely not get a promotion. If not, there's little point to him staying with his company. If we know we want to move, should we take the opportunity to do so now before we do have kids and it's even harder? Of course, that's a scary leap, and that part of me that loves the idea of settling into a good community and life also likes security, and moving across the country is a big, big deal. Do we wait for a more obvious sign and an easy path to move, or should we pack up the van and follow our hearts?

Wisconsin Dreamin'

Dear Wisconsin Dreamin',

Now is the time, before you have kids, before you have formed ties that will be painful to break. You will miss certain things but not that much. Not yet. In five years you will miss them more. So pack up the van and follow your hearts.

But here is the tricky part.

Be careful where you go, lest you make it into where you came from.

How can this happen? Well, people like yourselves, weary of California, look for a place that seems to have community. But it has to have a few other things too, because you have become accustomed to these things. It has to have some good jobs and good schools and maybe some good restaurants and good clothing stores, and perhaps a charming cappuccino place, and, Wow, this taco stand is just like one I used to go to in San Diego, and I'll be darned, there's another one, and why do people now look at me like I'm the devil?

We change places by changing places. People follow us and change it even more. They miss what they thought they hated, so they re-create it. We're just being ourselves but we change the place. We make new friends and say to our new friends, Come with me to Target and buy a cappuccino machine! We say, Remember when we were in Italy? Wouldn't it be great if instead of that old print shop, there was a cappuccino place there?

That's how we ruin a perfectly good town. We say, Remember when we were in Italy?

You see a nice little downtown and you would like to live near it. But there are no houses available in the nice downtown. So you find yourself living in Casa del Maize, or the lovely Queso Rio, or maybe the very upscale Carmel by the Field. And one day you say, I still like Wisconsin, but this town isn't the same. Where did that small-town feeling go? Who is that couple next door and where did they get that car? What is that thing? It runs on hemp? Really? Who are these people? They seem like they're all from California. What happened?

What happened was that many members of a group independently took the same action based on the same needs and the same economic situation. Without meaning to act as a group, you acted as a group. Your tiny little individual decisions added up to a big group decision that changed a whole town, and now people hate you because you're Californians!

You may be Californians but you are also Americans. You don't need a passport to go to Iowa. Not yet anyway. So go. Find a nice-size town and get some work and make some friends and have some kids and get them into some decent schools and just don't open a restaurant. Eat at the counter of the restaurant that's already there. And beware of housing developments called Queso Rio, and Carmel by the Field.

Oh, and do this too -- I was going to say this and then I moved things around in the column but it's still important so I'm just going to throw it in at the end here: Think 30 years ahead. How old will your parents be? Where will they be living? What kind of help will they need? Will they be able to come and live with you, or you with them, if they need to? How will your move affect your ability to visit, and their ability to visit you? Think these things through, and try to make a decision that includes a long-term strategy for maintaining ties with immediate family.

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