Writer Tells of Moving Back Home with Parents

After three years in Washington, D.C., former NPR producer Becky Vlamis packed up her belongings and drove across the country to her hometown of Chicago. But Vlamis found that moving back with her parents, in attempt to reconnect with her true self, was not what she expected.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

A return home from military service or from a job in another part of the country is almost always a poignant journey. After three years in our nation's capital, former NPR producer Becky Vlamis packed up her belongings and drove home to Chicago. What she found wasn't quite what she expected.

BECKY VLAMIS: I sacrificed my life in Washington and a promising future at this network simply because I was homesick. In D.C., I could never quite shake the sense that I'd left a huge chunk of my soul in Chicago, and that the only way to reclaim it was to go back home.

So far, the quest to find the real me, the Chicago me, feels more like a journey back in time. Take, for instance, my housing situation. Before I left the Midwest three years ago, I lived with my neat-nik mother on the second level of the thoroughly dust-free Chicago graystone. Three years later, I'm back, having the same arguments about how to load the dishwasher and clean the bathroom. I shouldn't complain because I love my mom and the location, an old Swedish neighborhood where crotchety northern Europeans still own tiny delis that sell pickled herring and Tosca tarts. But sometimes, I feel like I'm trapped in a sitcom.

Now, that I'm unemployed and staying with family, it's hard not to see Chicago through the eyes of a much younger version of myself. When I run along the lakefronts in the early morning before the city wakes up, I watch the placid water blend into the horizon and I'm reminded of my first beachfront jog ages ago, when I felt like I was privy to some big and wonderful secret.

On a recent trip downtown, I found myself slightly disoriented and about to be late for an interview. I darted in the shadows cast by looming skyscrapers on Wabash, humbled by the immensity of my surroundings and the lack of gainful employment, as if I were a hapless grad all over again. It's all a very startling contrast of my life out East, which revolved almost entirely around my career.

I, like so many young college educated Washingtonians, came to the capital city to work in the world of journalism and politics. Just about every one I knew there work in the media politics nexus as well. If these kinds of people existed in the Midwest, I certainly didn't know them. The ubiquity of impressive resumes made my own accomplishments feel smaller than those towers on Wabash ever could. At times, I appreciated the austere beauty of Washington's neoclassical buildings and the vast opportunities within them, but I always blamed the city for not being Chicago.

Now I've left the city where everybody and somebody for a life in Chicago in which I'm more or less a nobody, and I don't say that bitterly. It's a great opportunity for a new beginning, so long as I don't wallow in the past. In order to fend off a full-blown identity crisis, I try my best to focus on the little stuff that symbolizes home, like the city's rich ethnic neighborhoods, the endless grind of the el, and hole-in-the-wall bars that sell beer for less than $2. As I become accustomed to this next chapter in life, I often find the little things mean a lot more than I expected.

MARTIN: Becky Vlamis is a writer in Chicago.

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