I met Micha through the community at A Deeper Church and I am so glad I did. She exudes grace in her writing (much more difficult than you might think in our current online climate). She is a bone-deep thinker, with the heart of a poet. When she said she had a few words cooking on the topic of downward mobility, I was thrilled. I identify with this piece on so many levels–just this past week I realized my child was fascinated by COWS IN A FIELD (eesh. we need to get out of the city more). But really, Micha teases out all those tiny transformations that are changing us all the time, in her usual lovely way. You can find her blog here and her twitter handle here.
Accidental Simplicity : Guest post by Micha Boyett
We lived in San Francisco for almost two years, from the time my oldest son was fifteen months old until he turned three. We did laundry in our building’s shared laundry space, sticking quarters in and moving our underwear before the neighbors did. We kept the stroller in our tiny hall closet and my husband’s bike in the hallway.
Raising a toddler in the city was doable. My son was young so he didn’t know the difference between his life of walking ten minutes to the park and his old life of stepping outside the back door to play in his own yard. He didn’t notice the scope of his closet-sized bedroom that hardly fit his crib or remember the big, sunny playroom in the house we left behind in the Philadelphia area. But I did. I remembered.
I loved a lot about living in the city for those almost-two years. I loved the energy. I loved the restaurants and the beauty of the bay, just blocks from home. I loved the mosaic of so many types of people and languages, all smashed into a few square miles.
I also loved our church. It was the sort of church that never assumed that every one in the pew on a Sunday morning was a believer. It was the sort of church that existed because the city forced it to exist. It had to engage doubters and pursue justice. For the first time in my adulthood, I felt understood at church. And I knew it would be rare to ever find a church like that outside of urban life.
But when it came to my toddler, who screamed at the sight of a fly, I felt guilty. I felt like I was stealing the outdoors from his life. I felt like he needed space to play and explore. He needed a yard, a house, an affordable pre-school. The price of living in San Francisco felt unsustainable. (How would we ever save money for our kids’ college?) I longed for something easier.
When we had the chance to get out, to move on to “normal” life, we took it. My husband started a new job for a company headquartered in the Bay Area, but opening an office in Texas. We moved to a smaller, more residential city, where we could afford to rent a three-bedroom house with a lovely backyard and a two-car garage. Our son got a bike with training wheels and a bug collecting science kit. We had friends over for dinner and sat outside under the stars to eat it. We sent our newly three-year-old to preschool for a third of what it would have cost us in San Francisco.
And we were happy. Life was easier. We had a wonderful year in that yard. I wore sundresses and grew tomatoes. We saved money and bought outdoor furniture.
Then, one year later, my husband’s company changed their plans, closed his group’s office in that city, and gave us eight weeks to move back to California. Just. Like. That.
His new office would be an hour south of San Francisco. It made sense that we could move back to the Bay Area, but this time settle near his office. After all, our son would be starting Kindergarten in one year, and the public schools in that area were top-notch. South of the city, the weather was always ten degrees warmer than chilly, foggy San Francisco. We could have a house, which, though it would be a million times more expensive than Texas, was more affordable than an apartment in the city.
The downside? That year in Texas, for all the sundress wearing, outdoor eating, and preschool bike riding, my husband and I had felt the lack of diversity in our lives. All our friends were white. Almost all our son’s friends were white. We missed the simplicity of walking to the grocery store and seeing the same people at the park everyday.
And I realized that though I often claimed to care about pursuing justice for the oppressed, though I often talked about diversity and buying my food and clothes in an aware, compassionate way, it was so much harder to do so in my “easier” life. I had so much space in my closets, just begging to be filled. I had a Target two minutes away full of pretty gadgets that I was sure I really needed. I struggled to practice what I claimed to believe.
Somehow, after those eight weeks of praying and searching for a plan, my husband and I found ourselves downsizing to an apartment in the city, this time with our two kids. It wasn’t because we were super spiritual or even because we were set on taking steps toward living more simply. It really came down to community. We chose the city because we loved our church, because we loved our friends there. We chose San Francisco because we wanted to live among people who inspired us to do more than use the city for our own benefit. We wanted to engage the city for the sake of a holistic gospel: to make the public school system stronger from the inside, to participate in the art and food culture and all the searching souls within it, to strive for justice among the neglected and disenfranchised, to walk among both the poor of the city and the intellectually elite.
This first year back in San Francisco, I’ve wondered, What are we doing here? I’m raising two boys in an apartment, even though I know we could spend the same on a big house in another part of the country. I drive as little as possible (parking is difficult) and when I do, I cram my car in the world’s tiniest garage. (I’ve scraped it about forty-five times in the past ten months.) I’ve had to simplify my wardrobe and keep it simple. (My petite closet demands so.) Fog or sunshine, I’m forced to get my kids to the park in order to burn off their energy (and then forced to get to know the people around me on that playground, doing the same thing). My son has Korean friends and Chinese friends and Jewish friends and he and I have had a lot of conversations about race and beliefs. I live above neighbors who don’t have kids, who don’t like noise, and I have cried tears over our situation with them, but I’ve also been forced to have compassion for them, respect them, and work towards peace with them. In other words, this city is refining me. Challenging me. And in some ways, accidentally turning me radical.
And also? My kid still hates bugs, even after that year with a yard.
Yes, my husband commutes an hour to work. Yes, I’m not thrilled with the school where my son is starting Kindergarten. But, I’m confronted daily with severe beauty and severe brokenness. In the city, I can’t pretend that the world is a simple place. I can’t pretend that we don’t need God.
It’s refining me. But it’s not refining me alone. I’m surrounded by friends who remind me that living in the city with kids is not only possible, it’s good.
Did I choose Downward Mobility? No. I think it chose me. I chose the yard and the two-car garage and the pleasant life on our cul-de-sac. God placed me in the Inner Richmond, where the fog hits first before it rolls into the rest of the city. And I’m beginning to find the fog beautiful, like every other difficult thing about living in this city.
What I’m saying is sometimes you fight against the downward motion of simplicity. Sometimes you fight how it hurts you until you realize that it’s been healing you all along.
Micha (pronounced MY-cah) Boyett is a youth minister turned stay at home mom trying to make sense of vocation and season and place in the midst of her third cross-country move in three years. On a slow journey of learning prayer with eyes open and arms deep in sticky dishes, she blogs at Patheos about motherhood, monasticism, and the sacred in the everyday. Her forthcoming memoir will be released in 2014 from Worthy Publishing. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons.
For the first post in the Downward Mobility series, click here.
For all posts, click here.