I’ve had a lot to process. Mr. 70 Percent has gone all out and gotten himself a new job. In Vermont. And so our gradual withdrawal from civilization continues. We left the New York area in 2005, beaten down by three kids, years of train commuting, and the inescapable ghosts of 9/11. We landed on the green and cultured north shore of Massachusetts, a quick 30-minute drive from downtown Boston. Sure, we had to make a few adjustments–all that Red Sox paraphernalia!–but overall the transition was quite smooth.
Now, for the first time, we will be living not in a city or a suburb, but in a town. With a college! And an independent movie theater AND bookstore–you know, the kind of place I have always fantasized about settling. Only now that it’s become a reality, I don’t actually want to go. Partly that’s because change is hard, and we’re leaving a place I love, and the seasons up there are defined primarily by cold, mud, or big-city leaf peepers. But I’m also worried about the small and remote factor. After all, we are moving to a state whose entire population is almost exactly the same size as Boston’s. A state so small it warrants only three electoral college votes (though in the plus column, it re-elected Obama by the biggest margin of any state in the union). A state without a single Target, Apple store, or Whole Foods (though I’ve been assured that Vermont’s whole-food markets blow the chain away.) When we move, we will need passports to visit the nearest big city: Montreal. We will live among people invariably described as either “nice” or “really nice”–a characteristic I consider about as useful in a good friend as “left-handed” or “argyle-sock-wearing.” When we drove around with a realtor just to get a feel for the area, pedestrians on the rural back roads routinely waved at us. “Do you know them?” I asked her. “No,” she replied cheerfully. “Everyone’s just friendly!”
That I find such answers unsettling no doubt says more about me than about Vermont–mainly that I’m fearful that none of those nice, friendly folks will like cranky, cynical me. And that as a solidly middle-aged woman with a peripatetic career and three increasingly independent children, I already feel peripheral enough without moving to the far reaches of New England. Also, that I’m a big, fat baby.
Perhaps I should take a lesson from my children, who accepted the news of our impending move with calm good cheer and a spirit of adventure. For our eldest, who will graduate high school in June, the move coincides beautifully with her own next chapter, whatever it may be: college or gap year, west coast or east, U.S. or overseas. Our 14-year-old outdoorsman, always seeking a thrill, sees nothing but promise in the Green Mountains. Only our little one, 10, instantly teared up at the news. Unlike the older two, she doesn’t remember living anywhere else. Through her sniffles, she asked with a smile, “Am I coming, too?” This was a joke: as we have reminded her countless times, that was the question she innocently posed the last time we told her we were moving, back when she was three. Then she mournfully invoked the name of her beloved best friend, and I started bawling. How could we do this to them?
I had to recover quickly, though, because my whole family shrewdly began bargaining. The eldest vowed she would attend college in Vermont–if we bought her a horse. “Done,” I said. (It sounded cheaper than the new car I had already considered dangling in front of her.) “It can live on the big farm we’ll get,” my son chimed in, which would also include waterfront access and steep cliffs for rock climbing. “I call the biggest room in the new house,” said the baby, who might have you believe she has spent her childhood languishing in a tiny shoebox under the stairs. “AND a new puppy, and a trampoline.” Mr. 70 Percent wants the farmhouse on 100 acres, with chickens and a two-story library for all his books. But when you come visit us in Vermont–and I certainly hope you will–I suspect you’ll find us living the way /I/ want: in a cozy house with a wood-burning stove on a manageable lot, close to town and in view of the nice neighbors. Otherwise, I’ll be the raging alcoholic on the side of the road, dressed in hemp and selling hand-crafted goat cheese, waving gleefully at every passing car.