Home Is Just Another Word For You
My son lost his first tooth yesterday. He’s five, somehow inexplicably five. My oldest daughter is ten. She just lost a tooth as well. Not sure why - I could have sworn she was out of baby teeth. But then I was an English major and never went to dental school. My younger daughters are both getting their teeth. My youngest (almost six months) is going to have a few popping up any day now right in front on the bottom. My two year old is getting her molars and making sure everyone everywhere is keenly aware of her discomfort. Which reminds me: if you’re on the International Space Station and you heard a blood curdling screech every three minutes for the last month or so worry not! Everything is fine down here despite the overreaction by one Makenna Ann Christine.
The point is my kids are all growing faster than I thought kids could grow. I knew the clip at which they mature would be swift but I wasn’t prepared for all this. The teeth coming and going, the mood swings, the mysterious bruises that no one can recall getting - it’s like living in an old folks home. But we’re not. It’s our home and it’s loud and migraine inducing and just dirty enough to let visitors know we are still alive.
In other words things are pretty perfect right now.
Well, maybe not perfect.
We have known for a while now that we would have to move before too long. The neighborhood we bought in has become less and less safe (to put it nicely) in the last three years and the fact that the police refer to themselves as law “enforcement” is simply laughable. They enforce negative stereotypes of useless police officers and little more. As it thaws in this Chicago suburb the higher the crime rate becomes. And the one thing I noticed (but ignored) a few years ago has proven to be true: the amount of payday loan establishments is directly proportional to the degradation of a neighborhood. At last count there are nine within a two mile radius of my house. Two. Mile. Radius. Yes I knew this part before we bought the house but I was blinded by the prospect of homeownership (I can only assume) and chose to ignore the theory I was harboring. But the rest was a total surprise.
We called the real estate agent who we worked with before to come in and appraise the property and give her thoughts on what we need to do to it to get ready to sell. She came up with all the items I had: some drywall and plaster work, crayon art in my son’s room, the cat pee on the stairs. Then she dropped what to her was a matter of fact statement but to me was an atomic bomb on my nostalgia: we would be best served by moving out before we put the house on the market. This has something to do with the square footage of the house and the amount of clutter we have and I’m sure this made perfect sense and she knows exactly what she’s talking about and - wait - what? Leave my house? MY HOUSE? YOU MEAN I’M GOING TO HAVE TO LEAVE MY HOUSE?!
When did I become so attached to a physical building that isn’t the house I grew up in? I remember when my mom decided to sell that one - the tears and the swatch of wallpaper I surreptitiously cut from a closet. There was more than thirty years of my life imbedded in that ugly linoleum and warn out carpet and yellowed walls. More than thirty years of life lessons and mistakes made. Memories. There were solid, real, tangible memories there.
Shit. There are memories here too.
When did that happen? How did that happen? How could only three little years spawn so many instances that became jammed in my otherwise sieve-like gray matter? How could a house built more than 100 years ago foster feelings so new and fresh and rare?
Family. Just like before.
The argument can be made that the family alone is responsible for the memories and feelings and all those trappings of nostalgia but that would be giving the physical home - the structure that literally houses you, your stuff and your loved one - short shrift. Right along side the recollections of getting ready for prom and psyching myself up for my driving test are the recollections of looking in the toothpaste spotted bathroom mirror both times and thinking to myself that I should probably wipe it down before my mom saw it and nagged. (I never did wipe it down though.) I saw Tron on a VHS tape in our huge Montgomery Ward VCR and learned how to program the clock and press the “Play” and “Record” button at the same time to start the tape. And running concurrently in my head is the fact that the brown shag carpet was only shag in certain places by then due to years of wrestling matches between my dad and sisters and me. And how warm my bare feet were thanks to the heat vent that blew exactly where my toes wiggled as I leaned into the top of the VCR to adjust the tracking. (If you don’t know what that means go ask your grandpa)
Here I have seen my now two year old take her first steps as I also admired the nail polish (?) stains on the carpet. Tonight she is sleeping in her “big girl bed” for the first time in a bedroom that, for the time being, is her’s alone. A bedroom that I never thought I would be able to give to a child of mine. My son sleeps in a room by himself most nights, only sharing it when his older sister comes over on the weekends. The baby is contentedly sleeping in a bassinet at my bedside, cooing and softly breathing as her eyelids flutter from dreams of who knows what. Perhaps she’s dreaming of something she noticed about this house. Everything is so new to her. Everything is so fresh and memories are just being formed in her impressionable mind. Somewhat ironically it is she who will remember least about this house. Ironically because she is the basis for a good amount of memories shared by both my wife and me. Sure she will have pictures to look back on but they will be little more than pixels on a screen and a high pitched “MOM! Why did you dress me like that?!”
My oldest daughter has had the distinct pleasure of making memories at several different homes now. Not counting her mother’s moves she and I have already lived in four separate places since she was born. I have never asked her what sort of memories she holds of grandma’s basement (our first home as single dad and daughter) or the little apartment or the slightly larger apartment or the small house or the current house. Do her memories revolve around people, events or physical spaces? Knowing her as I do I would think all three but I’ll never know until I ask.
That is something I just don’t do enough of: asking. I spend a lot of time behind a camera (and keyboard, for that matter) making sure to document life that sometimes I forget to live life. It sounds almost cliche but it is damn true. If I ask those around me what they are thinking and feeling and I keep an open mind to their answers I wonder how many more memories would take root.
So we are moving. We are going to wait a few months until my son is done with preschool but then goodbye “first home”. My wife and I bought it expecting it to be our forever home. We pictured ourselves living here until we were gray inside and out. We imagined the kids growing and changing and become actual, honest to goodness people - individual thoughts and opinions and lives. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what has happened. Even the baby, not yet six months, is her own tiny person with a personality and a certain giggle and smile that only daddy gets to hear and see.
And we did it all here. At this house. In this house. This house held us close as we held each other close. It whispered “I will keep you safe and warm” as we whispered the same sentiment to our children as we tucked them cozily into bed each night.
I want to give this house a hug and thank it for helping me do what I thought couldn’t be done: add to the already awe-inspiring remembrances of my youth a whole new book of secrets and lovely stolen moments that were tailor made to be treasured forever.
We may not be living here for much longer but our memories will always have a place to stay.