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April 27, 2017

Seven Unexpected Benefits of Childhood as a Northeastern Nomad

I have mostly fond memories of high school.

I realize this is not normal. Many people regard their school careers as the worst, most awkwardly painful time of their lives. I have started to suspect that my good feelings come from the unnatural amount of inter- and intrastate moving and traveling my family undertook while I was growing up.

I would imagine my experience is comparable to that of people who grew up with military parents. Maybe you’ll agree.

Turn Eight, Move Upstate

The defining shift of my life came at age eight, when my family moved to upstate New York. Here’s a breakdown of my moves until “adulthood”:

Kids have a warped, elongated sense of time – especially of summertime – so those two-month stints at ages 8 and 9 at a ranch-themed camp and on Long Island felt as long as any of the school years. Also, it’s worth knowing that I spent my four summers from ages 14 to 17 upstate at an island camp where I learned to work and make many friendships and fun adventures, and I traveled to Paraguay and Argentina for three weeks in the summer of 1998.

Trends With Benefits

Looking back, here are some benefits of my transient early life I have come to appreciate:

1) Traveling is not a big deal.
It was nothing to my family to have to pack up and drive 2-6 hours to get somewhere for Dad’s work. I’ve become more of a homebody now in my old age, but I can still go for spontaneous road trips, driving hours on end to reach fun events and people.

2) Meeting new people is easy because it was necessary.

3) Friendships pick up where they left off.
This sometimes turns strange because I tend to feel artificially close to people who occasionally cross my mind whereas they haven’t given a thought to me in years, but usually this ability to familiarly reconnect with little interruption serves me well.

4) I learned to sing, partly thanks to time (spent) traveling.
“Getting in touch” with one’s voice to learn the control needed to sing well takes hours upon hours of practice. I logged hundreds or even thousands of these hours singing along to music in the car. I was lucky to have parents who encouraged our singing instead of (or perhaps in spite of) getting annoyed by it. Singing would become the main catalyst for my social life when I switched from home to public school, and it has been a source of income for many years.

5) I have a hardly discernible accent.
The Adirondack Park must be one of the most accent-neutral places in America, and this is where I picked up most of my vowels. As a result I don’t pronounce “laundry” as “l-wun-dree” or “bad” as “beeyad.” My youngest sister, on the other hand, says both of these words those ways. I find accents fascinating, but I appreciate not having much of one.

6) I can negotiate regional differences.
What people value varies wildly between North Jersey, the Adirondacks, Long Island, and Pennsylvania. Even moving from Riverhead to Southampton can give one culture shock, so moving a lot has been a good exercise in empathy.

7) I know what it’s like to be private, home-, and public schooled.
This experiential perspective is unusual, and I love having such an overview. Side note: the most pervy friends I ever had were at a Christian school in Paterson, NJ when I was in sixth grade.

High School Hypothesis

The above reasons don’t explain why I enjoyed high school. I’m not sure I fully understand it, but I believe the biggest factor was newness. It was new, and I was new.

I was shy when I entered Riverhead High School in tenth grade, largely thanks to other Christians’ scaring my parents into regarding public school as “the debil,” but I was mostly welcomed, especially in Biology and Global Studies where certain kind people took me under their wing a bit until I branched out on my own. Eventually I settled into the music wing and onto the stage, and it got fun.

But high school is quite a painful experience for many, and I attribute this to broken relationships. Every day, most of my classmates saw people with whom they had been friends in childhood, and while some of their friendships remained strong, many of them were altered or broken through middle school as personalities evolved. I’m sure friends who have turned into acquaintances (or even enemies) still retain some shameful secrets from the gawky years – future blackmail fodder waiting to be unearthed – but I had no dirt on anyone, and no one had dirt on me (yet). Sure, there was some unavoidable emotional turmoil from unrequited crushes now and then, and I’ve lost friendships, but I enjoy my memories for the most part.

I guess if there’s any principle to glean, it’s that life is better when we do not define people by their worst traits or the most terrible memory associated with them.

I once robbed a friend of his prom date in the middle of the night – and by “once” I mean “twice” because I did so again the following year with the same girl. About a month ago, his family and mine got together to catch up over a pleasant lunch after my church’s worship service.

Additionally, I recently got great professional advice from a high school acquaintance who used to make erotic hand gestures at me and once gave my hindquarters such a vigorous, unexpected squeeze that I turned around with a blind swing and punch-slapped her in the boob.

I’m glad we’ve all grown up.

Holding a grudge requires stagnation, while forgiveness and making moves demand flexibility. May we have it in ample supply.

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