Take a United States map. Place your index finger at the tip of Florida, and then, moving northerly and to the west, trace the Gulf-side border of the state. You’ll trail your pointer finger along a series of coastal cities: Naples, Cape Coral, Sarasota (a place to which I once seriously considered moving, before settling on Chapel Hill, North Carolina instead). You’ll encounter St. Petersburg and Tampa, nestled on either side of Tampa Bay, then Clearwater and Spring Hill, and then follow the relatively undeveloped coastal section the hugs the “armpit” of the state, before reaching Panama City and Pensacola in the panhandle. Following a little more slowly now, your finger will trace the thin sliver of barrier islands that most New Orleanians frequent for their summer beach vacations: Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Dauphin Island.
Now pretend that your finger is a blue water steamship, carrying cargo from some distant port city, and thread the needle between Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan, through tiny Pelican Bay, and into the sheltered, open water of Mobile Bay. Steam your little pointer finger straight on up the middle of that open expanse, which in most U.S. maps is the tiniest little divot in the relatively even coastline between Florida’s bulk and Louisiana’s feathery southeastern deltas. Once your finger hits land, near Grand Bay, you’re smack in the middle of where I worked this summer (Mobile, to the west) and where I lived this summer (Daphne/Spanish Fort, on the Eastern Shore).
If you (like me) are actually doing this with your google maps, then you can zoom yourself right in and, with a clear map of the various bays and deltas, perhaps picture the relaxed and salty ambiance of the seafood restaurants that dot the causeway, a low-lying road that crosses the marshy expanse between Spanish Fort and Mobile. (I-10 is an elevated alternative – quicker, but sans shoulders – brutal when an accident blocks the lanes and drivers have no way to drive around.) At the end of my summer stint at the Mobile law firm, we all went to a work function at one of these joints – rough hewn wooden beams, ridiculous sea-themed decorating, tiki bar, steel drum band playing Jimmy Buffet outside. After enjoying a meal of oysters and seafood pasta, I stepped off their back dock and into a flat-bottomed boat, powered by an absolutely enormous oscillating fan. Once seated, I donned some serious ear protection, and then grabbed my seat and swallowed my heart (along with quite a few bugs) as we zoomed along the silty water of the twilit marsh. I saw alligators’ eyes gleaming and bullfrogs’ white throats glowing out in the dark of Chacaloochee Bay, and spent the entire ride certain that at any minute our driver would take a turn too quickly and dump us into the drink. It would not have been a catastrophe if he had, since the water was about 3 inches deep in most places – proven when one of our more jolly (read: drunk) passengers dropped her sunglasses overboard, and was able to pluck them out from the earpieces, sticking out of the water while the lenses rested on the muddy bottom.
Somewhere along this little divot in the southern border of the U.S. map is where our sons will grow up. Because I got the job – a really, really great offer, and I’m accepting it first thing Monday morning. We love this area of the country, all of us. I’ll admit I’m a little leery of teenaged boys and alligator-filled marshes . . . I recall (with a maternal shudder) those times years ago when my brother would go wading in the Slidell swamp near our former family home, hunting for a big ‘un that was eating people’s dogs at the time. I’m a little curious if the boys will end up with Alabama accents. But other than that, I am so pleased that this will be the place my sons will call home. We’re trying to decide the incredibly important question of whether to be Auburn fans or Alabama (I’m leaning towards Auburn, since we already have a bunch of tigers because of our ACC college football allegiance, but everyone at work is for Alabama and I’m not sure if I have that much backbone). We’re daydreaming over homes for sale on Trulia. We already know where the best schools are.
We have a long-term home for these boys, and for us. It’s not where I ever would have expected, not ever, but it’s going to be an amazing place to raise these turkeys. A handful of miles from really beautiful, little-known beaches, a few hours closer to our parents and siblings, a relatively safe place with a mild climate, established arts and music scene, and city council that is actively and skillfully seeking ways to grow the economy. It’s a small city, but a city, and within spitting distance of the much more varied and exciting (and dangerous and expensive) New Orleans, where we will also keep a small apartment for the Professor to use three days a week, when he is here teaching classes. We will get the best of both worlds – riding bikes in the cul-de-sac, playing Capture the Flag with the neighborhood boys, meeting friends at the soccer fields on a Saturday morning, going to Mobile’s (smaller but still fun) Mardi Gras parades . . . and also having access to New Orleans’s Jazz Fest, its fabulous restaurants, its aquarium and zoo, its gorgeous uptown neighborhoods and its vital live music scene. The offer is generous enough that we will be able to maintain two (modest) households without too much struggle, will be able to save aggressively for retirement and the boys’ college funds, will be able to pay off our student loans, and will still have enough to hit NOLA once in a while for a fancy dinner at Galatoire’s.
So, yeah. On the Tuesday after Labor day, 2012, we’ll be breathing easy at last. We met in the fall of 2003 . . . so just 9 years later, our ship is finally coming in. I’m aware that for many, it never does, and I can barely believe that it has for us. I can finally look at our two kids with glee, knowing that at last, in addition to being a loving, firm, fun, fantastic mother, I’m also going to be able to financially provide for them in the way I’d always hoped. I know their father, only just now recovering from the shock of his own job offer, feels the same way.
It’s not all wine and roses – the billable requirement at this firm is pretty reasonable, but it’s still there. I realize that my days of taking a vacation or relaxing on a long weekend are numbered, and that job stress will take some of the bloom off the rose. But, for now anyway, I’m happy for finance-related stress to be replaced with job stress. I love my coworkers – really, almost to the man, they are awesome. I love the office – full of natural light, about as outdoorsy as a climate controlled twentieth floor of a high rise can be. I deeply enjoy the work, scary as it is to imagine having my own clients and making my own decisions about how to handle a case.
I’m ready to move my boys to where they’re going to grow up, and start this new life. I’ve just got 9 months of classes, and 2 months of bar exam related torture, to get through first. I’m very blessed that I get to maneuver through those months knowing that a job is waiting for me.
A JOB! YEE-HAA!