Becoming “Stay at Beach Mom” (Part 2)

Last Friday, I started to share with y’all my story of becoming “Stay at Beach Mom.”  When I left off in Part 1, we were still in Williamsburg facing potential unemployment and not sure what career to even pursue or where to move.

In high school, as I visited a friend who lived in Northern Virginia (outside Washington, DC), I swore I’d never ever live in that area. In fact, a month before Beach Dad lost his job, we were visiting family up there and as we waited in endless traffic, I said “Thank God we do not live here.” My sense of the area as a whole was that it was very expensive, very traffic-y, and a place where people were over-worked.  It didn’t feel very people-friendly to me.

I’d also sworn I’d never marry anybody who was in ministry.

Can you see where this is going? Once again, God had a good laugh at my expense.

In March, Beach Dad was offered a job in Northern Virginia doing IT work that he was really excited about for a company that seemed great. I was on board with it, even the moving to Northern VA part. I was glad for him to have a chance to do a job he was excited about… really, I was glad for him to have a job at all… and I was excited to try out a more “urban” life style, looking forward to the many things the DC area has to offer. I pictured metroing into the city to tour museums with Beach Girl every week and eating out at yummy restaurants every weekend.

A couple months later, when Beach Girl was 8 months old, we moved to Fairfax, VA and settled into our “new normal.”  Life outside of ministry turned out to be a good fit for us. A few months into it, we decided that this “break” from ministry was probably permanent, at least for the foreseeable future. We were – and still are – excited to serve at our church, but felt like, at that point, God was calling us to do that informally rather than vocationally.

We went to a wonderful church in Northern Virginia that offered us the chance for healing after our hurtful time leaving Williamsburg and we made a few great friends while living in Fairfax.  But, overall, those two years were really challenging for us… well, for me, in particular. I tried as hard as I possibly could to get out there, meet friends, get involved, and make the most of Northern Virginia. But, we felt completely strapped financially – our housing alone ate up about 60% of Beach Dad’s take-home income – and the traffic drove me crazy. It felt like almost everyone we knew who didn’t stay at home worked insanely long hours and then spent hours commuting each day and we had a really hard time connecting with other people. I made great friends with a few ladies who were home during the day, but we found it especially difficult to make friends as a family because Beach Dad and all the other working husbands were so busy commuting.

I hoped that we wouldn’t stay in Northern Virginia for long, but was willing to wait as long as we needed to and trusted Beach Dad to guide us. Meanwhile, I just tried to make the most of it.

One night last October – exactly a year ago this week, actually – right as I was about to fall asleep, Beach Dad said to me, “I think it might be time for us to move on.”

My heart skipped a beat. “What do you mean?”

“Well, something just sunk in for me today. It’s really expensive to live here.”

(Um… No kidding…)

“I mean, we’ve known that. But, somehow today, I just realized it’s really expensive. Why do we live here? We’re paying so much extra money to live in this place and my commute is still really long and you don’t like it here. What exactly are we paying for?”

(Oh, Hallelujah. Thank you, Lord.)

We stayed awake for hours that night, talking. Talking about how sad it would be to leave behind family and friends. About how wonderful it would be to live somewhere that had less traffic, lower housing prices, shorter commutes, and allowed us more time for connection with each other and with other people.  About how excited we were at the idea of a new adventure.

I could hardly sleep that night, thinking through it all. Wondering where we could possibly go. Hoping that he didn’t wake up in the morning, having changed his mind.

The next day, I got an email from Beach Dad. On his lunch break, he had read this post from one of our favorite money/lifestyle bloggers, Mr. Money Mustache – “Get Rich With Moving to A Better Place.” He was saying everything we had said the night before. Amazing.

[I’ll wait while you read that post. Really… Go read it. If you’re like us, it could change your life!]

It was just the confirmation we needed and over the next couple weeks, we obsessively talked about what we could do. Where could we go? What type of job would he look for? What would be our requirements? Were we crazy to look for a new job in this economy? Could we handle moving away from everything and everyone we knew?

We decided to take as long as we needed to find a great job and situation. Beach Dad’s company in Northern Virginia was great and as family-friendly as we could have hoped for. We wanted to make sure we found a company like that again. And, we wanted to take our time to move to a place we really wanted to live so that we hopefully weren’t looking at moving to a whole new city again in another 2 years.

A lot of people we knew in Northern Virginia thought we were absolutely bonkers.  (Well, I had a few friends who said they were jealous and had been trying to move for years, but it had never worked for them.)  But, then, other people told us we were nuts. That, in this economy, he wouldn’t be able to find a job anywhere else, and if he did, it would include a major pay cut.

But, as we looked at housing in other places, we realized some parts of the country had housing for 1/4 the price of that in the DC area. So, we figured even if his paycheck was cut in half, we’d still be coming out ahead, so we decided to keep looking and praying anyway.

Meanwhile, we were thinking we probably were absolutely bonkers.  We just decided on a whim to up and move? To just leave everything we know behind and go… who knows where? We normally resist change for all it’s worth, but this time, we felt excited to take our family on an adventure!

The next few months were ups and downs – for awhile, he was up for a promotion, so he took his resume off of job search sites, thinking we’d stick around for another couple years and then move on. Then, the promotion’s position was eliminated and the company changed his duties to include things he really didn’t want to be doing, so he promoted his resume as much as possible. Meanwhile, I just tried to be patient and let things shake out (which was really, really hard!).

Finally, late one night in early Spring, Beach Dad checked his email and mentioned that he’d gotten a random email from a company in Charleston, SC responding to the resume he’d posted on a job listing site.

“Yes. That. Respond immediately. Please.”

I’d never been to Charleston, but some friends honeymooned here and I knew it was the type of place I’d want to live. It seemed sort of like a beachy Williamsburg to me.

He interviewed, we came to visit, fell in love with the city, found housing, hoped he got the job offer, missed the phone call from the interviewer, frantically called her back, got her voicemail, waited hours, waited overnight, waited all morning, and finally, finally, finally heard back. He had gotten the job offer!

And, the salary was actually higher than it was in Northern Virginia!

For the first time in our marriage, our housing expenses had the potential to be less than 50% of our take-home income.

And, we’d be living in Charleston, South Carolina to boot.

As we prepared to move, I joked that we were moving to Charleston so that I could become a Stay at Beach Mom… Oh, and he was going to have a new job too. But, mostly, it was so I could take on my new job as Stay at Beach Mom.

We moved at the end of April (Beach Baby was also 8 months old – that’s the same box!) and, y’all, it’s everything I could have hoped for and more. God has been so gracious to us. We all absolutely love living in Charleston. For the first time, we really feel like this is where we belong.  In both Williamsburg and Fairfax, we knew we’d be moving on eventually. Things always felt temporary there, because we didn’t know when we’d be moving away, but we thought we probably would be eventually. Here, I can’t picture ever moving away.

It’s hard to be in a new place. It’s lonely hardly knowing anyone. It’s awkward to show up at church things or MOPS things or whatever other things and feel like the only person in the room who doesn’t already know everyone. It’s hard to try to start up conversations with other adults while my children run away in opposite directions or ask me questions at every pause. And, I really hate small talk.

But, we’re getting settled. We have found a church we love and we’re planning to move to be right near it next summer. We’ve already connected with a few new friends. And, meanwhile, we’re loving this city. We go to the beach whenever possible, we love going downtown to the children’s museum, the aircraft carrier, the aquarium, and more.

And, the idea of being a “Stay at Beach Mom” is more and more appealing to me all the time, and more fitting for me than I had originally thought.

Not because I actually stay at the beach with my kids.  I’m actually a chicken and haven’t taken them there without another adult along to help me yet. In terms of geography, “stay at home mom” is much more fitting of a name for me.

Rather, “Stay at Beach Mom” is the type of mom I want to be.  When I’m at the beach, I’m the mom I wish I were all the time.

I’m undistracted – I turn my phone off, I’m nowhere near a computer, I’m not constantly thinking about my to do list or the laundry all over my living room. My job at the beach is to relax and enjoy where I am and to love on my kids and husband.

I’m fun – I’m goofier at the beach, I roll around in the sand, build sand castles, jump waves, and don’t worry about who is getting sand where or how ridiculous we look.

I have perspective – Often, at home, I feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by my to do list. Overwhelmed by the many choices I have to make in parenting. Overwhelmed by the mess. Overwhelmed by the shrieking coming from my children’s mouths way too many hours of the day.  But, at the beach, I just sit back and have perspective. I don’t know what it is about sitting with sand between my toes and watching the ocean, but as I sit there, I start to feel overwhelmed in a good way; I feel thankful. I realize that these shrieks, these messes, these chores are all just signs of my many blessings. That these exhausting and wonderful days are going to fly by and that I am extraordinarily blessed.

Stay at Beach Mom is essentially the mom I want to be – a mom who plays with her kids, who relaxes with her husband, who takes a deep breath and simply feels grateful… even when there is chaos all around and sand all over everything.

So, that’s our story. Looking back over these past few years, it’s been a wild ride. There have been quite a few ups and downs. 3 years ago, I never would have guessed we’d be where we are today.  It seems incredible that things would have changed for us this much in 3 years, and on the other hand, it’s a cool testament to God working in our lives to bring us where we need to be.

And, it’s neat to see how God has worked in our hearts and our marriage.  Through the difficult spots, God has helped me and Beach Dad to trust Him and to love and support each other more than I can imagine we would have if the past 3 years had been smooth sailing.  If we hadn’t had the experiences we had before living here, we wouldn’t feel so grateful for where we are now. If we hadn’t tasted rejection and the possibility of unemployment, I don’t think we would feel as grateful for our church home and Beach Dad’s job as we do.

Every time I see the ocean or drive across a bridge (which is every time I get in the car here), I’m reminded of how glad I am to live here and how far He has brought us.

I hope this might be encouraging to anyone who might be going through your own major life changes. Leaving it all behind in search of adventure isn’t always for everyone, but in some cases, taking that leap of faith can be a really fabulous, life-changing adventure.

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