Friday, June 8, 2012


What makes it home, anyway?

We rented a tiny house (about 800 square feet). It was always supposed to be temporary while we awaited clarity about our next steps. We explored overseas mission positions and jobs in other states. We flew to various places and met with various people on various committees. There were interviews, rental cars, tours of houses and towns. There was shag carpeting and a bathroom with a washer in it. (No dryer.) We asked lists of questions about school systems and the availability of child care and whether it was safe to run through that park and if there was Indian takeout available.  We pictured ourselves in all of those places, and then when none of them turned out to be quite the right place, we kept searching, kept imagining ourselves in that right place and couldn't quite figure out what it was.

Somehow, temporary got longer and longer, until temporary was ten years and we realized that we actually were meant to stay right where we were. Here. Where we are.

Around the time we figured that out, we learned we were expecting another baby.

Right after that, we learned we were actually expecting two babies. And staying or not, we couldn't actually stay in the 800 square foot house.

Although the town eventually started feeling like home, the tiny house never quite did. Ten years, nine Christmases, countless meals cooked in the little blue kitchen without a dishwasher. Thanksgiving hosted the year we couldn't go home. Four foster children. Dinner parties on the deck. Swinging in the hammock. Washing cars and checking mail and a new heat pump. So many loads of laundry. Two cats. The birth of our first child, his first words, first steps. One cat. No cats. Fish, though. I lost count of those. The tiny house was never our house. It belonged to someone else- we just lived there.

The new house was also once someone else's house. Another family built it, lived in it, and lost it to foreclosure. They took everything - every appliance, every light fixture, every towel bar, every cabinet knob and shelf. We painted it (or George and our friends did - I was not allowed on ladders or around paint fumes). We packed our belongings and moved them the mile and a half between the two addresses. We put in knobs, appliances, shower curtain rods, beds and dishtowels and mirrors. The house became our house. I hoped once everything was unpacked, it would feel like my home.

Then, three weeks after we moved, I got put on bed rest until the twins were born. 12 weeks. I didn't get to finish unpacking or settling in. Friends and family came every day, unpacked boxes, brought meals, cared for my toddler, cleaned windows, hung curtains, arranged things. I didn't leave except for doctor's appointments.

It wasn't until after the girls were born and I was up and around that I could start to claim the space as my own, start putting things where I wanted them to be. I arranged and rearranged the furniture, hosted dinner parties, celebrated our son's third birthday. I bathed our three children, baked cookies, and mopped the beautiful hardwood floor in the kitchen. We saw what the house looked like with snow on the roof. We had our first Christmas here, hanging five stockings and a wreath on the door and setting up a new train set. I exploded a Pyrex casserole dish on the stovetop when I set it on a hot burner on Christmas Day.

As the babies got bigger and the weather got warmer and I started to come and go a bit more with the children, I realized that part of being at home in a place is being able to leave it and come back to it and have it still be there, just as you left it, waiting for you. The more I came and went, the more at home I felt.

And then it was spring, and things started blooming.

The previous owners left some lovely perennials in flowerbeds that go around the entire house. Butterfly bushes. Purple coneflowers. Daylilies. A spectacular lilac bush right beside the driveway that blooms about a week later than all the other lilacs in our town. There are poppies in the meadow out back and iris and lavender and a bunch of other stuff I can't identify yet. I had to get a friend to walk around the flowerbeds with me to tell me which plants were weeds. I just don't know this stuff yet.

It's been a year since we became homeowners. The plants blooming here now are not strangers- we met last year. There is a swing in the backyard now where I push The Boy and a smaller swing where I haven't yet pushed the girls. We have some history here- like when the wind picked up our umbrella and lifted our glass-topped patio table into the air, then dropped it with a crash, shattering the table with our Easter dinner on it. It was sad and kind of scary, but now it is part of the fabric of our family's story.

This house feels more and more like home...and I think home's a messy, complicated word...a collection of things and people and events that happen to have a family and a place in common. Home is where you put your groceries away and stash the plastic bags under the bathroom sinks to be trash can liners. Home is where you make pancakes on Saturdays (and in the evenings when you feel like eating pancakes even though it isn't breakfast time). Home is where you let your child draw all over the sidewalk and driveway with chalk. Home is where you plant things and watch to see if they grow or not. Home is where you have discussions about parenting and where you store your suitcases in between trips and where you watch things on Netflix. It's where you bring your babies when you finally get to take them out of the hospital. It's where you put up your holiday decorations and make play-dough and hang up pictures of people you love.

It's here where we are, and I'm very grateful.