Monday, June 28, 2010

House and Home



We bought our current house for two reasons. It had great square footage and it had good woods. The good woods part was a specific request from our three boys. Our last house was in a beautiful valley in Utah, bordered by mountain peaks. Although we were surrounded by the illusion of trees, bright green patches covering the mountainside in the distance, there were no trees of any significant size to be found in our little valley.

Our house and each of its hundreds of neighboring houses had a token little sprout, usually centered in the landscaping, giving height to the surrounding bushes and flowers. But for boys, who dream of climbing thick branches and building tree forts, it was a wasteland of dessert.

So when we arrived in New York our boys were in awe. So many trees, in all directions. So many branches to climb and forests to explore. Their only criteria for a new home was that it be surrounded by good woods. The kind you can hike through and explore. The kind you can escape to when life’s stress and mom’s rules become too much to handle.

After losing two other houses to bidding wars and bad inspections we finally found this one. It had decent square footage for the money, something we had been struggling to find. And it had woods. Five acres of great woods. It didn’t matter to the boys that the house itself needed a whole lot of TLC.

So our first year in New York proved to be a jumble of finding new doctors, figuring out new DMV rules, getting four kids settled in three different schools, and on top of all that, a non-stop renovation project. We tore out walls and ripped up carpet. We steamed off room after room of wallpaper and painted every single wall in the house. Four layers of linoleum, a history lesson in floor coverings, was removed from half the downstairs and many dusty hours later our ‘new’ wood floors were sanded and stained.

With the help of four strong kids we gutted the kitchen to the studs and built it back up again. One weekend we drove to the IKEA store in Boston and loaded up a kitchen full of cabinets to create our new cooking space. Side by side on the newly sanded wood floors, the kids and I pored over directions and figured out how to assemble those same cabinets.

More than any other house we’ve lived in, this one has the most of our literal blood, sweat and tears in it. It is very true that death, divorce and house renovation are the three biggest stresses in life. We’ve lived through two of the three and have battle scars to prove it.

This weekend I was telling my mother-in-law that Jeff has dreams of someday building our retirement home in the woods behind our house, then selling the house we live in now. I know it would take a miracle, or the lottery, for that to happen, so I don’t dwell on the idea often, but I have thought through a few aspects of it.

I love the idea of a house tucked in the woods. I love the idea of new construction, where you know what every light switch is for and you don’t have random extra pipes in your plumbing system. It sounds very appealing to have a totally finished house, down to the last piece of trim and double paned window. But one aspect of this idea really bothers me.

In this scenario we would share a driveway with our old house. Every day, every single time I ran errands or headed to work, I would be forced to drive right past this old house, and know that someone else has set up their life in it. I’d have to see the flowers they chose for the flower beds and wouldn’t have a vote when they decided to tear down the old garage or build a new deck that wasn’t to my liking. This dwelling that has been molded into what our family wanted would no longer be mine. Our memories would be erased as a new family settled in. It would be hard to watch it unfold on a daily basis.

I know it’s happened in every house we’ve ever lived in. We’ve driven past our old houses when we’ve visited Missouri, New Hampshire and Washington D.C. The cars in the driveway are no longer ours and the landscaping has changed. As long as I only have to see them once or twice, I’m okay with that. It’s just a reminder that home is where the people you love happen to hang out. It’s never really a specific building.

Watching my youngest child navigate his toddler and preschool years in the midst of cross country moves has taught me a lot about stability and being grounded. He thought every family put all their belongings in boxes every year and lived in hotels for weeks at a time. All that mattered in his life was that every morning, when he woke up, whether it be in a sprawling house in Utah or a tiny hotel room at the Residence Inn, as long as the people he loved were smiling back at him, he was ‘home’.

I know we won’t live in this house forever. Some day it will be time to move on. As much as I’ve loved the other places we’ve lived, I’ve always been excited to see what was next. Every move opened up opportunities for new memories and new life experiences.

But somehow this house may be different. It’s the only house we’ve ever put so much work into, poured so much love into, and spread so much elbow grease into every cob webbed corner. Until the time comes to think about packing it all up and moving on, I continue to love this house. It’s where we make memories for today.

Even with all of its never ending repair projects, it feels deeply like home.

2 comments:

Kristen @ Motherese said...

Hi Judy - I think often about the distinction between house and home, just as you've done in this lovely post. I lived in the same house all my life until moving out on my own after college. I continued to think of that house as "home" until very recently. Now, one husband, a move to the Midwest, and two kids later, I have started to think of my current house as my "home," reminding me once again that it is the people rather than the structure that infuses a place with meaning.

Anonymous said...

Hi Judy, what a lovely post. Having always lived in old, old houses, I can so relate to the upheaval of the renovations. And how much more fiercely you love a place when your own blood and sweat and tears is literally in it.

Alison