I spent the early part of my childhood growing up in a house that was about 1100 square feet. We had a massive yard with tons of fruit trees. Tangerines, cherries, and even lemons and limes that we spent summers plucking and eating on warm grass with all of the neighbor kids. Tucked in at the end of a cul-de-sac and only minutes from a park and our elementary school. And all of us neighbor kids went to that same school together, because of course - what else was there?
Northern California in the 70’s. Brown velvety couches and brass knick knacks. White Corelle dishes with mustard trim. Barbra Streisand records and a vacuum cleaner with a huge inflatable bag. Thin, tall back vinyl kitchen chairs and wood paneled walls. Formica counter-tops. Shutters in the kitchen. Green lined linoleum. Peach bathroom accessories. A Doughboy swimming pool.
(that’s my aunt and I floating in the “doughboy”, circa ‘80, I’m guessing. And yes, those are horrendous weeds in the corner surrounded by a dilapidated fence. who knew?)
My dad worked three jobs and after dinner while the evening news was on, would sometimes let me “beauty shop” on his hair and didn’t even complain when I added makeup as he dozed off in his recliner. My mom cooked all kinds of awesome and was hopelessly devoted to the soap opera “All My Children”, and had stuffed animal parades with me and poured peroxide on my scrapes and cuts. I watched cartoons on Saturday mornings until The Muppet Show came on at 11 and by then I had lost interest. My brother and I played Star Wars anywhere, any time. I had an entire photo album full of stickers that I was collecting. Some were scratch and sniff and except for dill pickle, I thought they all smelled basically the same. But delicious.
Do you know what? Life was good. I mean, maybe it was just ok – but that’s not what I recall. I remember that it was good. Tiny house, lots of love, weeds in the yard, good food, questionable décor, my sticker collection, a lot of laughter. Life happened in that tiny little house on the end of that cul-de-sac. My life. That’s what I remember. Recently my Mom reminded me that it was just a rental house and that we only lived there for 4 years. My mind was blown. How could that be? It felt like years and years. And a rental? It wasn’t even really “ours”?
AB and I recently moved. We spent the last ten years in a small 3 bedroom home. I’d be lying to you if I said we felt “content” there. I think we spent the majority of those ten years seeing the flaws. Don’t get me wrong, we lived a lot (A LOT) of life in that house. Ten out of 14 years of marriage and two kids kinda life. Two adoptions. Lots of friends and family dined there, slept there, and made us laugh there. Lots of tears, lots of love, and lots of life happened.
But we regretted that there was carpet everywhere. I mean, everywhere. Friends. Very stained and old carpet. We lamented that there were no closets, except the little teeny tiny ones in each of the bedrooms. “Don’t mind our vacuum over there in the corner of the kitchen – it has no home.” We cringed at the cracks, scrapes and flaws all over the walls from various pets and who are we kidding – from children. I whined relentlessly over the lack of storage space. Anton rolled his eyes in complete give-over to the landscaping that never was. We housed a car in the garage maybe three non-consecutive years of the ten that we lived there. My “office” was located smack in the middle of the living room. Amidst the noise and the crazy and the TV and the dog. Laundry lived in the hallway outside the small utility room. There were four drawers in the kitchen and 5 cabinets. We crammed everything we owned into every place we possibly could for ten years and debated for almost all of them about when would be the right time to do as the Jefferson’s had and start “movin’ on up”.
I didn’t like my home. I loved it because it had become an emotional space for me, but I didn’t like it. I wasn’t proud of it. I was sort of embarrassed by it. Yes, we had friends over – but it was always a source of anxiety for me. No matter how much we tried to improve our little corner of Texas, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was still so very lacking. I couldn’t catch up. It was home for us, but I didn’t want anyone in it. Not really. I worried and fretted over how unpolished and unsophisticated it must seem in our otherwise affluent county. (psst….dumb)
Eventually, we just felt it was time and so we began an intentional process of selling and buying. We got lucky and found a slightly bigger house that seemed to suit us and had more than 5 cabinets in the kitchen. Despite it was the first one we looked at. We looked at others – but came back again and again until we knew it was right. This was our next house.
But we still needed to sell. And so, our little home – the one I was so tired of, so critical of – was grabbed up and bought in less than one day. And with that, a wall of sadness hit me like a train. We had a month to say goodbye and box up all that we owned. It rushed by.
When the moving van was packed and the every last item had been taken out, I walked room to room alone. Friends, I won’t bother lying – I cried like a big baby. I cried ugly. I stood in the hallway facing the wall that had separated the rooms of my children. The ones I had painted and decorated and waited for them in. The ones I had rocked them and held them and comforted them in. The wall that was pink and green on one side and red, white, and blue on the other.
Why bother lying? I hugged that wall. And I whispered “thank you” to those rooms and to that tiny house and tears poured down my face. Until AB came in, hugged me, and gently prodded me outside and into the car. I was remembering and re-living some of our most precious moments inside those walls. I don’t mind admitting – I was really grieved to be moving. Which surprised no one more than me. It felt almost like I was leaving a part of my heart there. Certainly, I was leaving a part of my life. A season had come and gone and saying good-bye was so much harder than I had thought it would be. Had I appreciated all the good that house had provided? All the comfort and safety and memories and experiences? All the growing up…
We’ve now been in our “new to us” home for about 5 weeks. Connecting with the space has been slow for me. I’m sure many of you have been there. It wasn’t love at first sight. “Like”, sure…yes…I mean, I have oodles of closet space. “Love”, not yet. Not enough memories made here just yet. And actually, I feel comforted by the warming up that I’m having to do. I had day-dreamed about a bigger, better, more fantastic house for ten years. And now that I’m in it, I sometimes sit around day-dreaming about that little old house across town…and miss it.
Many times lately I’ve had to stop myself when I could feel the claws of imperfection creeping in. We’ve already put a lot of work into the house. Lots of upgrading that simply had to be done. But the truth is, this house is not perfect and will never be. I don’t want to spend ten years wishing it were different. I want to enjoy it, accept it, and live life in it. I don’t want to keep up with my county. I want to live real life. The messy kind that sometimes leaves dings in the walls or spills on the carpet but makes up for it in hugs and kisses and encouragement and fun.
I want to eat good food, watch TV, swim in the blow up pool, watch while my kids grow and change and collect things and scrape knees. I want to live life here and live it well. I want friends and family to come and laugh with us, cry with us, and enjoy warmth – not perfection. Not illusion. Real life. Where everything doesn’t matchy match and not every room is complete, and paperwork and projects are stacked up in the corners and the vacuum may or may not be out, and mistakes are made and forgiveness is heaped on in loving measure and grace is in abundance.
Brown velvety couches and brass knick knacks. White Corelle dishes with mustard trim. Barbra Streisand records and a vacuum cleaner that has a “parking spot”. Whatever it is that makes your house a home. Let go of the unreasonable expectations around you (I’m looking at you, Pinterest, Facebook, etc.) and live your messy life. Your imperfect life, in your imperfect house, with your imperfect favorite people. Real life.
I guarantee, you will look back and cry ugly over how beautiful it all was.