My three children are Florida natives. For anyone who has lived in Florida for any extended period of time, you will understand the novelty of this. It is easy to assume that no one is actually born in Florida. We all relocate here from other places. Weary of cold, harsh winters or oppressive state income taxes, millions of Americans make the long trek to a sunnier place where are roads are paid for with tourists' dollars and where winter consists of having two long sleeved t-shirts and resorting to sneakers instead of flip-flops. Ah, Florida. The paradise at the end of the journey. Once a person has put in enough time in other states of misery, they come south. They travel deeper and deeper towards the equator. They work their way through the South into a place where they are so far south, it isn't even The South. It is Florida. They ignored that fact that the state itself looks like something that got stuck to the bottom of the country or a flaccid body part. They bring their giant cars, their fifteen languages, their inability to read basic voting instructions and fall exhausted onto our beaches until their skin cracks and wrinkles beneath the pulsing sun.
This is why there are seemingly no Florida natives. The people who come to Florida are past child-bearing years. Or they bring a van-load of children WITH them. Now, the people working at baby-factory hospitals in Florida will dispute this fact. But just go into any elementary in the state and changes are good that over half of the children will acknowledge they are born out of state. And that is what makes the fact that not only are my children native, but that I am also a Florida native so strange. A 38 (almost 39) year old Florida native? Say what? We must investigate. Stop! Before you do, I will do you one better. Like a magician who just keeps on pulling those handkerchiefs out of his sleeve, I have one more. My MOTHER, who is 67 years old, is ALSO a Florida native. That is right. We have three generations of Florida natives in my family. THREE! That is virtually unheard of. I did some very unscientific research on wikipedia and found that there are only five or six families in the entire state that can say that.
Being a Florida native, I have a different perspective on things. I am not as impressed as other people are with our warm sunny winters. I am not pleased by the fact that you can lay out for five minutes on a July afternoon and look like a potato chip that fell to the bottom of the fryer. I don't revel in our underperforming "professional" sports teams, our overly professional "college" sports teams, our cute quirky penchant for wrecking national elections, or our native wildlife that insists on setting up camp indoors. That perhaps is the greatest indication that being outside in Florida sucks. All of the animals that are supposed to love being out there are always trying to get INSIDE. Alligators, roaches, ants, wasps, bees, snakes, rats, mice, burglars, rain, wind, cars, planes. A Florida residents spends a significant amount of time every day trying to keep things OUT of their houses. If it so great out there, they would stay out there.
But, on the other hand, I guess I like living here. We have hurricane days built into our school schedule, but we never use them. So our kids get an obscene amount of time off each year. I have friends up north who have snow days every year built into their schedules, and still have to go extra days in the summer to make up for unexpected blizzards. Sure, hardly any Florida residents ever go to any of the amusement parks in Orlando, wanting to pay for things like rent and gas instead. But it is nice to know that those things are there. And it is nice to know that we all know someone who works there that will someday give our family free tickets so we can experience overpriced food, long lines, smelly foreigners, and animatronic animals for ourselves. True statement: I have never paid to go to Disney. Ever. Every time I went, someone else bought my ticket or a friend got me into the park. We had Florida resident passes to Sea World one year and I paid for Busch Gardens once. I think that every other time I've gone to a park it was on someone else's dime. I certainly have never paid full price for a ticket. I used the magical "Florida Resident" discount.
When my dad died fourteen years ago, he was supposed to be buried in a veteran's cemetery in Vermont (a beautiful cemetery, by the way). But they had to wait to bury him until the ground thawed. What?!? I never had even considered that was an issue. Florida is a great place to bury things. In fact, if the recent proliferation of sinkholes is any indication, the ground here WANTS you to put things in it. This could be why so many criminal enterprises have located themselves in Florida. We have dozens of great places to dispose of a body. Just watch any television show or movie set in Florida (Burn Notice, CSI: Miami, Dexter). Half the time, characters are disposing of bodies in a swamp, in the ocean, in a lake, in cement, in a sinkhole. You can't walk more than fifty feet without tripping over a hastily scraped together burial mound. I guess I took that for granted.
"If you hate Florida so bad, why don't you move, then?" That's the retort by all the jealous people who are forced to live in less sunshiny states. Well, I have actually tried. I wanted to go to the University of Georgia for college, but ended up at UCF. I planned on attending George Washington University for grad school, but went into the ministry instead. I actually had been accepted to seminary twice and had made plans to move to Fort Worth and then New Orleans before plans fell through. So I've bounced around Florida instead - West Palm Beach, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tallahassee, Orlando. But it always has been within the appropriately gun-shaped state boundaries.
Come, June, though, we will no longer be Florida residents. As difficult as this concept is to accept for all those relatives trying to escape TO Florida, we indeed are moving to Columbia, South Carolina. This is a bizarre realization for me. I feel like the castaways on Lost when they finally got off the island. "Is this for real happening?" (I just hope I don't end up with a horribly fake looking beard standing on a bridge in a few months.) We keep thinking about what this move will mean. We will have areas with different elevation? We will have the chance of watching SEC sports live? There will be four seasons instead of just two? We may actually see (gasp) snow? We can go to Trader Joe's? The possibilities seem endless. It certainly is exciting.
Last night, though, the truth of the situation began to hit me. We have to find new . . . well . . . everything. New doctors, new dentists, new grocery stores, new Targets, new church, new BBQ places. We lose Costco and Dr. King and Tijuana Flats and Summit Church and Four Rivers. As dumb as that may sound, those are painful. I don't really have a ton of qualms about leaving the state of Florida itself (except for its no state income tax - that stinks). But leaving the life we have here? That's a different story.
We found out on Friday that we officially were going to Columbia. There was a lot of excitement that day. It was the program Heather wanted to match at - a tremendous place where she will thrive. We would be close to Heather's brother Mike, his wife Ria, and their cute little boy Nolan. Lots of things sounded cool about it all. Once we got back home, though, the pain started. We went to church on Sunday and it all sunk in that we had less than a dozen Sundays left there. April 7 would be our last chance to go to Beach Baptism. May 12 would be our last children's BCL program. Other things became real too. This would be the last year we had kids enrolled at First Years Preschool. I had just gotten on a roll with Kaplan and now have to switch regions and managers. I had a job at Florida Virtual School which I can't keep in South Carolina. Heather loses all the contacts and familiarity at Orlando Health that she had spent two years establishing.
It is always hard to deal with change. I hate change. Just ask my wife. You should see me whenever plans get altered for a weekend. I get all agitated because I had prepared myself for a certain path. For months and months, we had planned on staying in Orlando. We had done everything we could to make that happen. And, if we had ranked Orlando first, we would have matched here without a hitch. But a few weeks before the deadline we started to wonder about our choice. Yes, it was the easy choice. Yes, it was the comfortable choice. Yes, it was the choice our hearts wanted. But that didn't make it the right one. As we prayed and evaluated things, we realized that for Heather to be the best doctor she could be, Columbia was a better option. We also realized that moving, as painful as it would be, was better for our family. We would be forced to really be on our own as a unit for the first time. So we held our breath and jumped.
As terrifying as change is, it is also exhilarating. I know that I had many doubts about becoming a stay-at-home dad. And, if you have read this blog for the last four years, you will know that there were moments when I was convinced that I was the worst parent ever. However, now I look at my life and I realize that I would never trade any of that. Things have been rough. We all have had struggles. But I am closer to my kids than ever. I love my wife better and deeper than I ever have. Our family unit is tighter than ever. I am closer to God and understand His love better than ever. And none of that ever would have happened if we hadn't jumped four years ago and gone to Tallahassee. So, looking back, it is easy to understand that this change will also be something amazing. Sure, I will miss being in Florida. I will miss my friends, my church, and my 4Rivers BBQ. Three years from now, though, I will probably be writing a post about how hard it is to leave South Carolina, its seasons, its Little Pigs BBQ, its Trader Joe's, and its zoo. And I'm sure I'll be able to find a place to dispose of a body. I hear that area of the country has a thing called mountains.