Biggest Decision I've Made - Moving Back to Chicago

I decided to go for my Ph.D at Loyola University in Chicago in 1986 – 1991. You think that was a big deal?

I had been living in Chico, CA for 10 years.  This town of 50,000 (at the time, now 100,000) was a university town. Right up against the mountains and creeks, where we’d skinny dip and hike, and grew a lot of our own fruits and veggies with a large organic garden. It was 3 hrs. from San Francisco, along with beautiful oceans and campsites going north.

Chico is in Butte County, surrounded by other counties which grow 95% of the rice, almonds and walnuts the U.S eats. It’s the birthplace of rice cakes, started by the 5 Lundberg Brothers just south of town, along with Klean Kanteen, and those cloth bags from your local grocer with their name on it. They are really all “Chico bags”, but you wouldn’t know it, huh?

Butte County also has Oroville Dam, which is 15 miles south. Oroville Dam made headlines this winter throughout much of the world, as it flooded many miles of land and lost thousands of tons of water desperately needed for the summer growing season in the valley.

In 1977, I was a clinical social worker, had a thriving private practice 30 hrs/ week, was a housewife, mother of an 8 yr. old and 5 yr. old, soccer mom, baseball mom, played SS and 3B on my own women’s 12″ slow pitch team with mitts, had lots of friends, taught part-time at Chico State University, and rode bicycles a fair amount, for getting around.

So the Department of Social Work encouraged me to go for my Ph.D, saying they would be hiring tenure-track professors in the next 5 – 6 years.  I told them “No Way!”  I could not bear the thought of ever writing another term paper again,  studying for tests, or taking any damn exams again.

Ok, they said. But you’re a great teacher with 10 years experience, and think about this?  How would you feel to see someone else teaching, with little experience but on faculty since s/he has the degree? And maybe even teaching the courses you’ve taught?

I talked with my husband, and I applied to Berkeley and Loyola. That’s it. Accepted to both. What to do? Berkeley would be a 3 hr. commute, and stay for a few days, then come home. OR: Move from Chico and leave our friends? Our lifestyle?

Well – I grew up on the South Side. I had 25 aunts and uncles, 55 first cousins, and old friends. David grew up in Bethlehem, PA. We met junior year at Urbana, and never looked back. He had 3 siblings and parents – that’s it. They moved during his high school years to Wilmette – and He HATED the winters.

So what was the pull?  FAMILY. We wanted our sons to know grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, while still young. And my Dad had just died. I felt pretty bad that I was not around as much to see him. We knew that as long as all our sons’ “cousins” would spend years together in childhood, it would make their bond stronger as adults. We wanted to be with our parents, and have them be grandparents.

We wanted what a city could offer, even if it meant coming back to Chico years later, if we choose. And I wanted to go see my sports teams. Nothing like Comiskey Park or Soldier Field. And the Bulls had just gotten this guy called Michael Jordan. Chicago Stadium, the Lake Front, Grant Park, the El, the Museums and Marshall Fields. Christmas time and Frango mints.

Yeah – let’s do it. But what about those papers, exams, or professors who care more about publishing than teaching?

We flew back on December 25, 1985. A day after my younger son’s birthday. Greeted by so many loved ones. In the middle of the cold. And I took my 8 yr. old son to the Bears’ first playoff game vs. the Giants – in frigid cold. Every quarter I’d take him to a women’s bathroom at Soldiers’ Field, and warm up his hands on the radiators. But that did not matter. They played a great game, shutting out the NY Giants, and went on to win the Super Bowl. Yeah – the ’85 Bears.

Then the Bulls. Then the White Sox. And eventually the Blackhawks. My sons knew what it was like by then, to be a Chicago Sports fan. But to LIVE in the city with all the other fans, made it special.

But:  it took only one week after the move back,  on January 1, 1986, before my husband was so miserable that he wanted to return to Chico. It took me a year, and then I knew what he felt. But we plugged on, because I needed this degree. And our sons loved playing in the deep snow, as did I, and being with family every weekend.

But did I need to plug along?  Being gone 46 out of 52 weekends/ year for school on Michigan Ave. was tough. To write my papers and read, I was awake every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 3:00 am – 5:00 am, when the house was quiet. I went back to sleep, then up again at 6:30 to get everyone off to school and work.

I was a psychiatric social worker at Old Orchard Hospital, when it was for inpatient care. I worked in the adolescent unit 14 hrs/ week, with kids who were molested, abused, drug problems, etc. And then to Libertyville with adults who were diagnosed with Depression, Anxiety, Drug problems, family issues, etc. Then taught 2 courses at U. of I. Circle campus in the College of Social Work.

I lived a full life as usual – same roles as in Chico, except for being a student, and being honored as the first Ph.D in Clinical Social Work by Loyola University, worldwide.

But one time, in the middle of the night, I just went into my closet and cried and sobbed. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t keep working, being a mom, and working on this fu#king degree. My husband came in, I cried more, and he said, “We can move back at any time.”

I thought about it. Hard. But then, what would I do back in Chico? The same thing? Could I be happy? Well…….no. By now I really wanted to be a professor. And yeah, I got a job offer in 1991, came back, and wound up teaching at Sacramento State’s MSW program – all the psychotherapy courses/ Mental health treatment.

2017. Did all this work?  Was it worth it?  Did we meet our goals?

Damn right. And my husband got tech jobs.  Traveled a lot, but that was the name of the game.

Family?  The BEST choice ever. Nearly all the  cousins are close to my sons (39 and 36 yrs.), that it makes my heart feel so full.  And they all showed up this last week at my younger son’s wedding in New York, where he lives. And it was spectacular.

And every winter vacation in 1991 and on, while back in Chico, we’d go to Chicago for 10 days. My youngest picked the 10 days to maximize going to Bears,  Bulls, & Blackhawks games every night/ Sundays. Our family members were only too happy to give us their tickets. And of course when school got out before Memorial Day, we went to many Eastern Conference Finals games, to watch the Bulls go on to the Finals. And then stayed for many of those games.

Best decision I made. Was it hard in every respect?  F#ck yeah.


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