Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

When Life Gives You Lemons

Lindsey Smallwood

As weird as it sounds to me today, 5 months ago I did not want to move to California. 

When Chris got the job offer here, I congratulated him and then cried by myself. Trying to make a life in the Bay Area, in Silicon Valley seemed too ambitious. Houses here are twice as much as they were in Colorado, 4 times as much as Michigan. Everything’s more expensive here. Plus the pace of life, the culture of materialism, the radical inequality between rich and poor - where would I fit into all of that? There were 100 places where it seemed like it would be easier for us to go. I wrote out all my fears in my journal.

Once I got the fears out I started to dream a little. I had a firm handle on what could go wrong. But for the first time I started to imagine what could go right. I remembered the mountains, the beaches, palm trees and redwoods. I thought about all the people we love here. I imagined all of the opportunities that exist living in such an innovative and well-connected place.

And I thought about lemon trees.

I love lemon trees. Looooooove. My grandma had one at her home in Monterey County when I was growing up. We had one in Berkeley. I love the smell and watching the fruit grow. I love every lemon thing: scones and cakes, fresh juice soaked into salmon, wedges squeezed in iced tea. I wrote down “lemon tree?” in my list of dreams and left it there.

When we were house hunting, we couldn’t decide what we wanted. Tiny apartment downtown near campus? Condo in a family-ish neighborhood? A house an hour away? We started applying for places and quickly realized it wouldn’t be about what we wanted as much as what we could get. The market to get a rental is very competitive, with requests for us to send personal resumes and family photos.

We got to the final round for a house on a hillside nearby and then got a text saying that they’d given the house to someone else but we were the next choice. I felt like the runner up in a beauty pageant I did not want to be in.

We applied for a condo, only to be told that the HOA specified the unit could not be occupied by more than 4 people. I told the woman that I was keeping all my people so we’d have to pull our application.

One landlord told me he preferred not to rent to people with children, another place seemed promising but wasn’t willing to wait for us to come out 5 days later when they could sign a lease with someone who was already in front of them.

Then I found a Zillow listing for a small house in our price range and sent in my application without totally thinking it through. There were no pictures of the backyard, just the promise there was one. The photos they did have weren’t great; the place seemed old, and not in a charming way. I kept looking.

But the little house’s landlord liked our application and offered us a lease long distance, sight unseen. We asked friends to go walk through for us, to make sure everything was on the up and up and then nervously committed to living somewhere we’d never laid eyes on.

When we came for the first time to get the keys, I couldn’t stop smiling. I loved the blue tile in the kitchen, my very own laundry room, the closet with shelves built in. I could see how our family would fit here. Plus there was a pumpkin patch in the front yard which was delightful and unexpected.

But my favorite surprise of all was the lemon tree blooming out back. I cried little tears, a gift flowering under our windows, a reminder that this new season might be challenging and the way forward isn’t yet clear, but there’s so much to look forward to.

 The first lemon from our California tree.

The first lemon from our California tree.

This morning I went out to water the tree. I sing it it sometimes, because I can and because my tree never interrupts me on the chorus to say “Hey mom, Hey mom, Hey mom.” And as I sing my song to the flowering blossoms turning to little lemon buds, I marvel at the truth that sometimes dreams come true because we work and hustle and make it happen. But sometimes dreams come true through no fault of our own.

That, I think, is Grace.