When my family was planning a move to Columbia last fall, I made dozens of lists. Supplies needed before move (boxes, tape, bubble wrap). Supplies needed after move (coffee, coffee, coffee). Utilities to set up. Addresses to change. And the most fun one (who am I kidding, it was the only fun one): the “I’ll know I really live in Columbia when I’ve done all these things” list.
A little bit of background here: I grew up in the Midwest and moved to central North Carolina after college. I was expecting a huge culture shock; but since most of my co-workers were transplants like me, I really didn’t experience one. I shopped at the same chain stores; ate the same food; watched the same television. It wasn’t until I started dating my husband (a North Carolina native) that I got a taste of real North Carolina. He was the one who introduced me to vinegar-based barbecue, Grandfather Mountain, the North Carolina Zoo and the importance of stopping at South of the Border on the way to Myrtle Beach. Under his tutelage, I began to feel like a real North Carolinian, not just someone who lived there temporarily.
So when it came time for our family to move, I knew that the most important part would come after the moving truck left. We’d found a place to live; it was time to make it our home.
Here are the eight items I put on my Columbia to-do list:
Visit the Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens
This one was actually a cheat — we visited the zoo on our first house-hunting trip, weeks before we actually moved. So it was checked off my list before I even made one. When I told my North Carolina friends that we were moving to Columbia, many of them mentioned how great the zoo was; so I knew we’d be visiting a lot. We got a family membership, and it’s more than paid for itself so far; we’ve spent countless afternoons watching elephants, bears and birds. Lesson I learned the hard way: Don’t stand too close to the giraffes if you don’t have food for them. They don’t like being taunted.
Visit the Columbia Museum of Art
I put this on the list because I wanted to see the Annie Liebovitz exhibit that visited the museum this winter. But there are plenty of offerings for families, too. Gladys’ Gang, a free monthly program for 2- to 5-year-olds, lets kids visit the galleries and make their own art. It’s become a highlight of our month, and a visit downtown helps us burst out of our Irmo/Harbison bubble.
Visit EdVenture Children’s Museum
Let’s see: A fire truck. A car. A moving crane. Plenty of toy cars and trucks. A shopping cart he can push all day long. A tractor. And an outdoor play area where you can touch everything. Yep, pretty much a 3-year-old’s idea of heaven. Though I have to admit, Eddie (the giant child statue) kind of creeps me out. Am I the only one?
Find “Our” Library
As a book nerd, I need easy access to reading material, so the Irmo branch of the Lexington County Public Library was one of our first outings after the dust of moving settled. We signed up for a library card, then sat in on a holiday story circle. Afterward, we hung out in the children’s play area. Will worked with several puzzles, while I chatted with a few other moms. Which led nicely to …
Make Some Mom Friends
Check, and how!
I was blown away at how many playgroups and parenting interest groups Columbia has. There are so many more options here than I found in our last city — and in just four months, I’ve made more mom friends than I did in three years of parenthood there. Maybe it’s being a transplant that does it — I didn’t know a soul here, so I really stretched myself to make new friends for myself and Will. Or maybe there’s something to that “smiling faces, beautiful places” slogan!
Find “Our” Park
With help from our playgroup, we’ve discovered half a dozen parks in Irmo, Columbia, West Columbia and Lexington. Seven Oaks Park is just up the road from us; we love the playgrounds and baseball fields (and, until recently, the construction trucks!). But Saluda Shoals Park is my favorite, for its shaded playground and for its view of the Saluda River. Until I moved to North Carolina, I’d always lived near a river or a lake; I didn’t realize how important the water was to me until it wasn’t there anymore. So being able to watch the river flow peacefully is a calm pleasure I’m glad to share with my son.
Find Volunteer Opportunities
This one’s been a bust, so far.
If you want to be a part of a community, you have to help solve its problems. So I’ve been looking forward to the time when Will and I could volunteer together. Before he was born, I served dinners at a homeless shelter with my church, and I did a few stints with a group that helps homeless families. When we lived in Charlotte, I found an amazing organization called Friendship Trays that serves meals to the elderly and homebound. Much of the produce used in these meals comes from community gardens, so there are opportunities to serve through meal delivery or through gardening. It was a perfect fit for Will, who rarely meets a stranger and who loves digging in the dirt; but we moved before I could get us involved with the group. Here in Columbia, I haven’t found anything that would be a good fit for us; but I’ll keep looking.
Find a Babysitter
Thanks to Sittercity, a great USC student named Katie watches my son one afternoon a week. He loves playing with her; I get a chance to either catch up on paying work or do errands companion-free. With a very active, non-napping 3-year-old who isn’t in preschool yet, an afternoon to myself does a lot to restore my equilibrium. Even better: on Valentine’s Day weekend, my husband and I had a date — our first in more than a year!
And there you go. Eight goals, seven accomplished. Not bad. (We won’t go into the other move-in tasks that are yet undone, like the garage full of unpacked boxes or the walls that have no art on them. You know, just to name a few.)
We’ve lived in Columbia for nearly six months now, and I feel at home in our new city. The signs of our old life still linger (I swear, we’re going to get South Carolina license plates one of these days), but we are starting to put down roots, and that feels really good.