How Can I Make a Home After Moving Again?

In T’s advice column, Culture Therapist, either Ligaya Mishan or Megan O’Grady solves your problems using art. Have a question? Need some comfort? Email us at advice@nytimes.com.

Q. Dear advice-givers: My husband and I and our two young kids are moving to Sweden. I’ve been thinking about moving there for years and, for many reasons, it’s finally the right time. I was born in Russia and moved to the U.S. when I was 4. I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, but never felt at home there and was thrilled to escape to New England for college. I’ve since lived in New York and the Bay Area and L.A. again — and while I liked aspects of each place, none felt quite right as a “forever home.” I’m excited about the move to Sweden (democratic socialism!) even though I don’t think of it as a permanent destination (darkness, homogeneity). I love travel and adventure, and I’m good at maintaining friendships over long distances, but I feel like I’m missing out by not really investing in one community for decades. I worry that my own rootlessness will leave my kids in the same predicament. Can I (and my kids) lead a meaningful life if we don’t put down permanent roots?

A. Ah, a “forever home.” Where, I wonder, is that place? As I write this, I’m unpacking from my eighth move in 10 years. There’s a bear in the yard and ash in the air, and the cardboard boxes in my office are still full of things, but of all the wrong things. Somewhere in my brain, an old Talking Heads song plays:

Home, is where I want to be,
But I guess I’m already there.
I come home, she lifted up her wings,
I guess that this must be the place.

For many of us, the true fairy tale isn’t about landing the right partner but the right coordinates on the globe. I have the same question you have, about what exactly is lost when one is a serial monogamist of geography, when the very concept of home is ambivalent. We leave home for all kinds of reasons — seeking security, opportunity or a different scale of existence — and, once we do, we can never really return in quite the same way. I doubt I’m the only one unconvinced by the ending of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, “The Wizard of Oz,” when Dorothy awakes in her bed, back on the farm. “There’s no place like home,” she says, but we — at least, any of us who have fled our equivalent of a farm in Kansas, uncertain where the tornado in our hearts might land us — know that Dorothy, having had such adventures in courage, won’t be happy there for long.


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