The Definition of Home


This summer has been the most profound learning experience I have ever had.

I totally burst my comfort zone. I left home…and by “leaving home” I mean, I left home to the point where I couldn’t just drive home anytime I wanted to. By “leaving home,” I meant I moved seven states and a few time zones away. I am working the most demanding internship I have ever had. I love this summer, for all of the ways it has shown me my own potential.

Because of this summer, I face the future’s uncertainties with much more confidence. I may not know where I will be in a year, but I do know that I am more than capable of handling it.

One of the first things I think of when I think "home" is this...my siblings. We're arranged youngest-oldest from left to right. Myself, Kim, Andy, and Matt.

One of the big changes that occurred for me this summer is my definition of the word “home.” There are multiple connotations of it. I can say, “I am going home,” and mean that I am going to my current place of residence, or back to Illinois. Home can be a physical entity, or a feeling. It can be a mentality or even a group of people. The word “home” has never had a definite meaning for me.

When I started college, “home” tended to mean the basic geographic region where I grew up; Kankakee County, if you will. Many of my friends lived in different parts of the county, and we often had to drive “to town” to do anything of consequence, so home encompassed Kankakee and the rural areas surrounding it. Home included my childhood friends, my family, and my high school sweetheart. Home also included 4-H, FFA, the farm, and my dog.

The people I attended Momence High School with. My friends from other schools are missing, but these people played a big role in shaping my childhood and adolescence.

Now, after experiencing a sort of introductory homesickness from school, and now the “real deal” here in California, I realize that “home” is so much more than just the area where I grew up and the people I spent my childhood and teenaged years with. Home is where I make it. “Home” happens anytime I take my settings and develop them into my own environment.

It really hit home today. I had just returned to the office from the farmers market across the street. I had been looking for lunch, and some pistachios. I sat down at my desk, started to eat my lunch, and realized, “I would have never done this at home.” I would have never walked by myself to a park in a busy metropolitan area, to buy lunch and produce. I never would have considered taking the bus to work. I never would have worked in a high rise. (For those of you who don’t know, I despise elevators. They make me whoozy.) Suddenly, it was a part of my routine. And, surprisingly, it was a routine I loved. Then I had the true revelation: I actually felt at-home in this new and strange lifestyle. Suddenly, Illinois wasn’t the only place I could ever be comfortable. In fact, I didn’t think Illinois would ever be “home” again.

I was feeling very confident about my impending permanent move away from my home region, following college.

This was senior prom. My high school soccer team was split up between two schools. The girls in this picture are all of the Grant Park Dragons that went Momence Senior Prom that year. Both of my proms are among my favorite memories from my time at home.

Only hours later, I received a picture text from my sister. It was from our county fair. It was of the buses before the bus demolition derby. Anyone who has ever been in 4-H and FFA understands the deep connection that the organizations form with the county fair. It isn’t just a place where ribbons are won and livestock are put on display. It’s a place where hard work comes to fruition and memories are made. Character is developed.

I would not be who I am today without the hard work I did in 4-H. That sticks.

The Kankakee County Fair is going on right now, and it’s the first time since I joined 4-H that I won’t be there. If I were in Illinois, I’d be volunteering with 4-H every night and probably judging projects. It struck a chord in me…then, furthermore, I realized that next week is the Gladiolus Festival (Glad Fest). I have been heavily involved in the Glad Fest since my birth. I have been in every parade since I was a baby. I was runner-up for Glad Queen. My father served on the Glad Fest board for years. Glad Fest is in my blood and is a very large part of my life. And it’s happening next week, whether I’m there or not.

I was even runner-up for Gladiolus Queen when I was 17. That is myself and that year's winner, Alyssa. Another great memory from "home" that I will never forget.

I broke down. I cried. I burst my own bubble. I had been so confident that I was ready to pick up and leave home for good after school. However, that shocking realization helped re-center the perspective some. Now I understand the situation better.

Home isn’t just “here” or “there.” It’s not Illinois, or California, or necessarily anywhere in between. Home can still be all of the various definitions I mentioned before. Above all else, home is an internal thing. Home is wherever it needs to be. Whether I crave the longstanding, sentimental comfort of my childhood haunts, or a sense of confidence in a place I never thought I’d be…I always have a home.

And I will always have the people that make a certain place feel like home. These are the girls I grew up with. They helped me through the hardest times of my life. From left to right: Alyssa, Lineah, Kourtney, and myself.

Afterword: I am still horribly homesick. I will probably be inconsolably blue next week during the Glad Fest. Understanding this helps, but it doesn’t remove the pain of missing big events. Regardless, I will do my best to keep on keepin’ on, because the opportunities for me here in California are much too large to take for granted.

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16 thoughts on “The Definition of Home

  1. I had one of these moments sitting on the couch at home-home (as I like to refer to the place I grew up) over Christmas break. Sitting in front of the TV for what seemed like the millionth day in a row and complaining about the fact that there was nothing to do, my dad looked at me and said, “Home isn’t really ‘home’ anymore, is it?” And he was right. All of my friends from home had moved away for their big-kid jobs and all my other friends were in East Lansing. I got all sentimental and apologized for feeling that way when my dad said, “No need to apologize! It’s something every adult goes through.”

    I think you’re at that point.

    Keep you’re chin up (and by the way I wasn’t as homesick until you started talking about the fair! Thankfully, I get to volunteer at the Minnesota State Fair later this month!) and you’ll survive. It’ll make going back home all more meaningful, now that you know what it’s like to be away.

    • I think my approach to the concept of “home” was a lot easier when I thought that my destiny was to move back and become a farmwife. It was easy to always consider Kankakee County home, since that was where I was going to end up no matter what. Now that I know I could make a life for myself somewhere else, it just seems…different. The world is suddenly largest and has infinitely more possibilities.

      It’s just…strange. There’s an element to Momence/Kankakee that will ALWAYS feel like home, even though many of the people who made it that way have left, or relationships have changed. Even today I’m experiencing pretty complex feelings about this. Thanks for commenting and reading…oh, and happy birthday, old lady!

  2. Keep your head up! It won’t be too much longer and you will be in your IL home again. Soon enough you will find the place that really feels like home for you, whether that is back to the county you grew up in or somewhere else.

    • Thanks, Ashley! I don’t know that Kankakee County will be my “forever home” (yes, I just stole that from the pet adoption folks…) but there’s definitely something “home” about it. For now I just need to make the most of my various environments and do what I can to thrive regardless of where I am. (Okay, maybe “thrive” is giving myself too much credit. I think at this stage in my life, “survive” is a better word for it.) Thanks for reading and commenting, Ashley. Love your feedback, and appreciate your friendship!

      • There’s nothing that says you can’t have more than one home. I consider Michigan State a home of mine too, but it’s home in a very different way than The Thumb. It’s home because I became the person I am today there and from the people there. Yes, you are going to thrive somewhere, I promise that! You are working so hard and all of it will pay off! Love you Kelly πŸ™‚

  3. Kelly I was reading your statements about home and you are correct home is and I guess sometimes has to be the place we make it for all reasons. You have made the best choices to better your life and become what you have went to school to do and who knows maybe that will bring you back this way some day,but always know that your family bond is the strongest thing you will ever have and I know that your family is very proud of you.I’m sure Ca. is a real big change to a country girl and I don’t like to venture out alone in strange places either so good for you…..all those baby steps are a great thing. Take care kiddo !

    • Thanks, Jolene! I appreciate you taking time to read and comment. I’m looking forward to getting home but I’m trying to enjoy California as much as humanly possibly until I do!

  4. Funny…as I started reading the comments Blake Shelton’s “That’s What I Call Home” from his first CD came on Spotify.

    I’ve been going through a similar thing over the last couple of years – last summer with living in Kansas City and now with living near Minneapolis and the realization that I’m moving to Madison this weekend. I miss the farm the most, but there’s always things like the county fair that I miss about my hometown. I may be comfortable in a new place, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss home. It’s been odd coming to terms with the fact that I would love to stay on the farm, but that my career will take me elsewhere.

    I’m sure you’ll do well wherever you go and it’s always cool when you can amaze yourself by feeling comfortable outside your comfort zone.

    • I think it’s a slow process, the adjusting to a new place until it becomes “home.” For college, it took a lot longer because I was in a relationship with someone from my hometown and was more concerned about THAT then enjoying my surroundings. Now, I am just focusing on myself and taking things one day at a time, and eventually the days became weeks and then months. Over that period, I slowly became comfortable and happy in my surroundings.

      I won’t say that I could be happy EVERYWHERE. I could be happy somewhere other than Illinois, and that was the big revelation. No worries, someday we’ll both find permanent homes where we belong, even away from the places we grew up in and came to love. Thanks for reading and commenting, Anna!

  5. i put family and home in the same category. home is not a geographical location, place, time, or even memory grouping. home is where ever you are and make it. home was iraq for 7.5 months. home was san diego, santee, coronado, missery (2x), little creek, 29 palms, camp pendelton, fort story, pt hueneme, spangdahlem, la maddalena, among many more.

    i say family is the same as home because for myself family is not defined by blood, a name, or even who i want to be around. i cant stand everyone at some point… family is who is still standing, wanting to be near me, or dying next to me when the dust settles, getting bailed out of jail, or taking me home from jail… (just kidding ma)

    family is defined by those who would lay down their life for me, pick up everything they own and move 2218 miles from their own family to be with me, even though i can be a world class asshole. there are people who i never met before in my life that i lived 2′ from for 3 months and would loose their right testicle to a piece of fragmentation to keep me and other safe. thanks brother btw. (no not bother bear) there is family out there of mine 7k miles from me that if they needed clean american undies sent to them i would, or a smuggle a bottle of the sweetest brown in the mail to them, i would… i recently left the biggest part of my family behind in january and it has been the hardest thing i have ever dealt with. much more difficult than the journey i went through to get there in the beginning.

    for me my name would be A. M. Rivardgronrooswandenvertshunterbeckmcintoshmcneelyoelkecoferdillwithamadiosaccofawverspanngerohelikergrabomeakinsdrapergreenhillprarieericksonkrauselacymorrisonnashphillipsmartinezprovostfunderburgshawpepinfletchervaughnshirarnewberryraef.

    its actually much longer but the engrish translation cuts it down to this.

    • Ooooh Brother Bear, this is probably the sweetest thing I have ever heard from you. We haven’t had conversations like this very often, but I wish we had more of them. And I miss you and the rest of the family, a lot. I feel like you understand this more than I ever could, because you’ve had to experience this is ways I’ve never had to, and never will. For me, moving to California was the biggest thing I’ve ever done. You’ve moved more times than I can count, and have managed to build a life and thrive everywhere. I can’t tell you how much I admire everything you have done and accomplished. And I know you’re there if I ever need you, ever.

      I’m pretty lucky to have “families” all over the country. No matter where I go, I know I’ll be okay.

      Thanks Brother Bear. It means a lot that you read and commented. I love you, and I can’t wait to see you and everyone else in a few weeks!

  6. Pingback: Change is Scary. Change is Good. « kellymrivard.com

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