12/10/2013 08:15 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2014

Coming Home to Small Town, USA


Like millions of American kids, I grew up in Small Town, USA. My family moved there from a bigger city when I was quite young, and as a result, we went from a place where I couldn't ride my bike around alone to a place where I could ride for hours, uninterrupted. Green grass, new friends, warm summers, and snowy winters made growing up in Small Town, USA, the idyllic childhood, especially as one fortunate enough to come home to a full family at the dinner table every evening.

As I got older, though, entering the rebellious stages of the teen years, my love of the community quickly wore off. The charm was gone, and instead of seeing safety and relative freedom, I saw a pitiful little place choked by tradition and a set of institutional values that I didn't necessarily want forced upon me. Small Town, USA, was not the charming home it once was: It was now stifling.

The people, all wrapped up in their pathetic, small-minded gossip. The normal being so prized over the extraordinary. As a teenager hungry for new thoughts and ideas, Small Town, USA, was not the place to find them, and it left little to the imagination. With the borders so frustratingly close together, there was nothing left to explore by the time you turned 16 and got behind the wheel of a car. The lush, surrounding woods lost their mystery, and the routine became dull and tedious.

Then, by the time you reach age 18 and are perhaps forced to go to a local college, enduring the loss of your friends who move on to bigger, better things (and places), Small Town, USA, becomes even more difficult to bear.

So when my time finally came to leave and I relocated to a much larger and exceedingly unfamiliar place, how strange it was to find myself aching for the home that I had so admonished in my youth. Walking down the street of new Big City, USA, with uncertainty lying in wait around every corner, you have no choice but to prize the security found in the familiar: places, faces, sidewalks, and trees. Somehow the crunching of snow beneath my feet didn't feel as harsh there as it now seems to in my new home.

Placing greater distance between oneself and that oh-so-frustrating family does not prepare you for the starkness of actually being separate from them. Perhaps you draw more strength from that sometimes-aggravating familial bond than you realized.

Change is inevitable, and sooner or later it comes for us all. That does little to stop our nature, though, and the re-evaluation of our lives that comes hand-in-hand with significant personal change. As someone who swore never to look back and romanticize my formative years in Small Town, USA, I have fallen into the tired cliché of seeing those days as bright beacons, standing in stark contrast to the dark road of uncertainty lying at my feet now. Maybe your time there was more valuable than you thought. Even if you didn't recognize Small Town, USA's inherent value to the person you've become while you were there, maybe it's okay to recognize it now.

Maybe that's also the very reason that you can return home to be with your family in this special time of year, treasuring each new moment you make there before leaving once again. Life goes on, but it's never too late to look back at home and draw strength from it as you sail into the uncertain waters ahead, waters you likely first learned to navigate within the borders of Small Town, USA.