It’s been just over three weeks since we left San Diego for Arkansas. I blinked my eyes and now I live in the south. I’ve wanted to come in and write a hundred times. I kept waiting because I wanted to write that we moved and things just magically fell into place. I wanted to tell you that I have adjusted in the blink of an eye; that everything is peachy. But that would be bullshitting you. The truth is that I have struggled. I struggle still. I’ve had meltdowns – some really not pretty ones – and I miss San Diego and the city terribly. I find that I have to constantly catch myself and then stop speaking when words like, “Well this never happened in San Diego!” come spewing from my mouth. This usually has to do with finding a bug the size of my head in or near the house, the weather (i.e. our front brickwork being knocked out by a tree because of a thunder/lightning storm) or hearing racist remarks as though someone is talking about the weather. It’s not San Diego and I have to accept that we’re here. I’m trying to embrace it and I hope I get there; I’m just not there – yet. So here is the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful and the truth. I hope in a year I can look back on this entry and see how far I’ve come. Disclaimer: I am writing about the area of Arkansas in which we live (NOT the entire south); in case it isn’t obvious I can only base my opinions on actual experiences.
The not-so-great stuff
Racism is tolerated here The toughest part of being here is seeing racism so blatantly on display. Within a few miles of where I live, two homes have Confederate Flags flying from a partition in their front yards. We have to pass them each time we go to the store and each time we drive back from said store. It’s like this huge, “You’re not welcome here,” in my face. I’ve seen countless trucks with enormous rebel flags flying from their beds. I know I shouldn’t be shocked, but each time, my jaw drops a little. The same excuse is heard time and again, “It’s just southern pride.” It’s crap; that is what it is. Fly the Arkansas flag instead if you want to show your pride. If the designer of a flag says the following:
NEWSFLASH: IT IS RACIST!! Call a spade and spade. Admit what you are and I’d have more respect for you and your “Freedom of Speech”. “Oh but Heather, the design changed over time.” Yeah, so did the design of the US Flag. It still MEANS the same thing. It was a battle flag. They lost the battle. So did the Nazis. The flag went down. I have a hard time being a Hispanic woman living among people who think this type of display is somehow okay or acceptable. And I know I will never get used to it. It hurts me each and every day to know I contribute my tax dollars to a community that OPENLY accepts this intolerance. It literally makes my heart ache.
Diversity is lacking Suffice it to say, it is very segregated here. When we go into an area of town which is labeled here as “Mexican” I feel more comfortable there than in my own neighborhood. It’s terrible to admit that, but it’s true. I always felt accepted being ½ Colombian up until this point in my life. Here it’s like Hispanics have to prove their worthiness and most who live here work for farmers so it seems the general line of thought is they’re good for hard labor and Mexican restaurants. I know I “look” white, but where I come from; who I am has so much to do with my Hispanic heritage and while there isn’t a need to flaunt it, I hate hearing comments and jokes with racial undertones. It’s like it’s not okay here to be WHO I am.
When I see kids with crazy piercings and spacers in their ears it makes me grin because they walk to the beat of their own drum and it reminds me that there is diversity here even if I have to look really hard to find it.
A lot of people hate California
Of course they’ve never actually been to California or San Diego. I was told, “Oh it is much better here.” I asked, “Oh you think so? How long did you live in San Diego?” “Well, I’ve never been to California, but it is better here.” Uhh okay. THAT makes sense. Very few people with whom I speak have actually experienced California (or much of anywhere else) for themselves, yet they have an opinion about how awful it is! I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that those who HAVE been to San Diego have ALL asked me, “Why the hell did you move here?” I explain and they tell me to give it a year. Seriously. Every single person has told me to “give it a year.” This leads me to…
Many opinions are not based on actual experience or research I find that people here tend to base their opinions on what they’ve been told by other people, what they watch on their skewed versions of the news or best of all, what they read in their Facebook news feeds. They read something negative on the internet regarding, let’s say Obama (NOT a person to bring up around here), therefore it’s true. Most people are happily resigned to live in their bubbles and don’t care to explore or discover anything new; whether it’s people or places. They instill this in their children and I find it both dangerous and sad.
Life moves at a snail’s pace A light turns green and you wait. And wait. Speed limit says 70mph, people go 50 instead. IN.THE.FAST.LANE. Lines in stores move slower, too because people talk A LOT. They all know each other so it holds things up. I am generally not a patient person and I am always on the go. It’s going to take some time for me to get used to this slower way of life. Oh and the nearest post office is open from 8am til noon! Noon! Banks close at 4pm, too…
The bugs/creatures I’m originally from South Florida. I thought I was used to bugs. Uhhhh, no. These things are everywhere! We even had small bats fly over our house the other day. The hubs acted like this was totally normal and mentioned they were good to have around since they eat mosquitos. It rained for a week straight when we moved here and I found crickets all over the finished basement. Crickets aren’t so bad. Since I have the lizards I’m used to handling insects like that, but still. I don’t want them in my house! Luckily the exterminator came. I got some sonar plug-ins to keep bugs away and so far, so good. Now I just have to keep them from eating me alive.
The great stuff
MOST people are nice Despite the lack of diversity, the majority of people seem to genuinely care about your happiness. While there are those who I won’t associate with for obvious reasons, others I run across who ask if I’m new to the area (it is glaringly obvious) inquire as to how I’m doing. While some questions feel intrusive, they seem to really want me to like it here. Just the other day I needed to refill my contact lens prescription and the optician went out of his way to help me. I’m so used to having to track everything down myself. It feels like people here look out for each other and will give you the shirts off their backs if you ask.
The cost of living You move to Arkansas and it is going to save you a lot of money. I sometimes laugh out of amusement as to how reasonable everything is here. While my parents were visiting, we went to the grocery store and when the cashier rang everything up and gave us our total we thought there was a mistake or something was missing from the cart. Nope. Things are just cheaper here. Real estate, gas, groceries, even vehicles. It definitely helps when you’re building a business and providing for kids!
It’s beautiful It’s a much different landscape, but I truly feel that as far as beauty and nature go, Arkansas is a hidden gem. The waterfalls, the trees – it’s so lush. I know it won’t be that way in the winter, but I think we’re in for a beautiful fall. When we drive along the roads here, I always think it looks like giant broccoli florets all over the place. I cannot wait for the leaves to turn. It will be the first time I’ve lived anywhere with “autumn” since I was about eight years old.
The creatures I bring this one up again, because not all of the creatures are bad! Deer in the yard, the gorgeous birds – we just had two blue herons fly over the house yesterday, armadillo, tree frogs (SO CUTE) and even a groundhog. Okay, I know groundhogs are supposed to be nuisances, but it was still neat to see him. Of course, I’m also totally enamored with the lightning bugs. I hadn’t seen them since I was a kid. I still love just sitting outside and watching their butts light up!
The local tea/coffee shop We live near a little place called Onyx that makes me feel like I’m back in the city when I’m there. It’s a bit of an escape for me from the country, a paradox I know. Their tea is great; the baked goods are a treat and the people who work there are pretty progressive. I also love to look at the artwork and stare at the funky wood wall upon which it hangs.
The girls I’d totally be lying if I didn’t tell you the transition to us living here has been simple as far as the girls go. I’m still learning how to be a step/bonus parent. We went from life being just the two of us most of the time to having four other people in the picture (plus multiple moms). Sometimes I feel like I am not allowed to admit that it’s not always easy, but I think it would take time for anyone. It’s an adjustment for all of us, but most important being able to spend time with them and turn the house into a home for all of us is extremely meaningful for me. The hubs having three of his four girls here for his 40th birthday meant the world to him (M was out of town for a trip she takes every year). While sometimes I feel like an outsider (I think stepparents often do) the joy the girls have from having their dad home is beyond measure. I’m in awe of my husband. He has been patient and a beacon of guidance for me through this. We’re all learning and getting into our groove and I’m confident we’ll get there.
The Business The hubs already has business lined up and while investing in equipment and a work vehicle isn’t exactly cheap, it will pay for itself. I love seeing him so motivated and outdoors doing what he loves. I know it will take time to be lucrative, and it will be totally worth it.
Learning about myself I’m learning a lot. I’m generally a person who has lived on my own terms without negotiation or compromise. I set it up that way and now at thirty-nine years of age all that goes out the window. I’ve always just been able to walk away if I don’t agree with something. It’s not an option here. We all have strengths and I’ve felt that I could survive anything. But being a blended family isn’t about survival; at least that’s not how I want it to be for us. It’s about loving in new ways; ways I never thought myself capable of. Moving to the country; to the south – I want it to be a growing experience. We won’t be here forever. I don’t want to look back and realize I pouted and sulked away the time I could have been learning from this. There are adventures to be had and I intend to have them…
Of course, while writing letters to the editors voicing my strong opinion about the need for diversity programs in the area. Perhaps I’ll lead one while I’m here. Be the change you want see, right?