I spent the first three months of college simply existing; I was incredibly homesick and constantly daydreaming about how glorious my life would have been if I'd taken the University of Wisconsin up on their offer to accept me as a Badger. Through rose-colored glasses I pictured myself on the UW campus, surrounded by friends who'd known me since kindergarten and supported in the transition to college life by my parents who'd walk to campus and take me out to lunch every week.
Meanwhile, I was completely oblivious to the fact that I'd developed new friendships - strong bonds with kind young men and women who introduced me to their friends, distracted me from my homesickness, encouraged me to participate in extracurricular activities, and even carried (quite literally) my spasming and tear-stained body to the emergency room when an onset of shingles nearly knocked me unconscious on the floor of my dorm room.
At the end of November I headed home for Thanksgiving break, eager to reconnect with my high school friends and pick up where we'd left off just a few months prior. I was shocked when, on that first night, surrounded by familiar faces and in a familiar place, nothing felt familiar. My friends had changed. I had changed. Our community had changed, and would never be the same again.
That evening was one of the single most life-changing and eye-opening of my life. For the very first time I clearly understood and appreciated that just because the past is familiar, it isn't necessarily better than the present or the future, and that clinging to the life behind me served only to limit my access to the opportunities, adventures, and love in front of me.
I returned to the University of Iowa the Sunday after Thanksgiving and threw away my rose-colored glasses.
Until I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan and bought another pair. Just as Madison had appeared perfect when compared to Iowa City through a rose-tinted veil, Iowa City appeared perfect when compared to Ann Arbor through that same veil. Long story short, the cycle repeated itself: I realized Iowa City wasn't perfect and grew to love Ann Arbor. Long story even shorter, the cycle repeated itself again: I realized Ann Arbor wasn't perfect and grew to love College Station. I'm fairly predictable, you see.
The one constant through all of this change was my love for the CITY of Madison. Yes, my close friends from high school moved on. But everything else about Madison remained perched atop a nearly-unreachable pedestal.
Before this summer, our visits to Madison have lasted between three and 10 days, which is long enough to visit family, take the boat out on the lake, check in with the animals at the zoo, and enjoy a beer at the Yumons. I always felt like a visitor and left town wanting more.
This summer, however, my visit to Madison spanned 25 days, which while still not long enough to accomplish everything on my summer bucket list - we missed the neighborhood 4th of July parade, couldn't fit in miniature golf at Vitense, and somehow completely forgot to walk to Michael's Frozen Custard for a banana shake - was plenty long enough for me to sink back into life as a Madisonian.
It's not that my life itself was that much different in Madison than it is in Texas. My kids still roused me from slumber before I was ready to face the day, I still broke a sweat every single time I set foot outside, and I still spent my free time
I was surprised to discover that, as a once-old-but-then-new-Madisonian, I didn't love the Capitol City quite as much as I remembered.
And it wasn't because I spent time doing yard work, laundry, and running errands while I was there. I didn't love Madison as much as I remembered because I FINALLY took off those rose-colored glasses. Because besides my family and friends, people weren't that polite. Because I read about serious crimes in the newspaper and witnessed extreme poverty on the streets. Because like any city, Madison isn't perfect.
Don't get me wrong, Madison is a great city. Poll after poll places it in the top 10 "best cities for raising kids" and "best cities for entrepreneurs" and "friendliest to bikers", and a couple of weeks ago a USA Today Reader Survey named Madison the "best college football town". (As long as you're not a fan of the opposing team, I still say.) I absolutely loved growing up there, and I still appreciate the cultural, religious, and political diversity; the wide range of available outdoor activities (especially those in/on the lakes); and the city's commitment to and support of public education, community health, and the arts. If the right opportunity presented itself down the road, we'd probably move back.
But again, Madison is not perfect. Its grass is not any greener than the grass in Iowa City, Ann Arbor, or College Station. (Actually, the grass in College Station is probably the greenest, because while it's as hot as the inside of a volcano here, every lawn and field and park has its own irrigation system. :))
"The grass is always greener where you water it."
It only took me 15 years to realize this, and now that I'm "there", I feel so incredibly free. I know that as long as I have my family, I can go anywhere in this country and BE HAPPY.