Hence my husband's spreadsheet. I continue to ask myself: What do I want from a hometown?
I want to support public schools without compromising my son's education (which, at least until the current governor wins his war, was a safe assumption). I want to regularly see good live music and movies and art exhibits without wrestling with crowds or competing for tickets. I want at any given time not to be the only lefty in the room; otherwise, life is stressful, especially in this time of no common ground. I want evenings and weekends to be devoted to family time. I want to not worry about money, fashion, or what kind of car I drive. I want to comfortably afford to travel and own a nice home and not feel at all times like we need more space. I want to my son to grow up spending time—not just holidays—with his aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
Of course there are people in coastal cities who have all of this—tons of them—but it's just easier here.
Once, a coastal friend told me that he thought living in the Midwest made people complacent. I know what he meant, but I can't bring myself to agree. In smaller towns, the opportunities are limited, of course, but that's true everywhere. In Madison—a university town, the state capital, and home to a ton of health care and high-tech business—there are plenty of opportunities for an ambitious person to be successful without compromising life-work balance.
And when I consider the crowds that have swarmed the Capitol here in Madison over the past months, and the incredible voter turnout in the spring election, I see commitment and level-headedness, but I don't see complacency.
Shortly after moving here, I talked to a friend who had come from New York to Chicago for law school. She observed that at first it seems like Midwesterners dress pretty well, but then you notice their shoes. I'm far from a fashion tastemaker, but I laughed—because, well, it's a little true. Then I chastised myself. Why, I thought, are we scrutinizing people's shoes? Is this the lens through which I want to see the world? Isn't this something I'd like to leave behind?
A couple of months ago my son and I went to a group playdate at a friend's house. At the door we shed our hats and gloves and jackets and dropped our soggy shoes. The last woman to arrive made the comment that the mudroom resembled a giant Dansko clog party. We'd all worn the same brand of comfortable—and decidedly unhip—shoes. There was no one there to criticize. We spent a couple of hours talking about kids and partners and in-laws—about love and family, in other words—and then we all put on our clogs and went home.