“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” Sarah Dressen, “What happened to goodbye?”
My grandparents lived in the same house for over 40 years. I recently read that the average adult will own 3 houses in their lifetime; the starter house, the family house and the empty nest house. My husband and I have recently purchased our seventh house, which is just a bit above average, our children lived in six of the seven. This was never the intent.
Growing up, my grandparents’ house represented stability. It was always the same, nothing every changed, except the carpet color, orange shag to lighter orange shag. Their house was comfortable, welcoming, and consistent, which is exactly what I had always wanted in a home, for my own kids. I wanted them to understand the difference between a house and a home. I dreamed of them growing up in one house, the same house, with the same neighbors, in the same school district with the same friends. It didn’t quite happen that way. It doesn’t matter the reasons why, a job change, upsizing, downsizing, decisions are made, life changes and adjustments are made, the point is seven houses were purchased in a 25 year period.
Now that my grandparents are gone, I sometimes drive past that little house and find myself upset that strangers are living there. I still feel connected to it, I still feel like it belongs to me. I could knock on the door and the new tenants might invite me in, but it wouldn’t be the same. My grandfather wouldn’t be listening to the Phoenix Suns on the radio. My grandmother wouldn’t be cleaning up the kitchen, while the smell of baking bread filled the air. I could sit down with these strangers, but I wouldn’t hear my grandmother’s voice telling me about her day and all the work she has left to do, nor would my grandfather be their, sharing his chair with the dog asking me what’s new. All of their things, the pictures on the wall, the cats and dog, and even the old “davenport,” that we were never allowed to sit on, but my kids were allowed to stretch out and take naps on, would all be gone. Without my grandparents, it wouldn’t be the home that I miss so much, it would just be a house, brick, mortar, four walls, and a roof.
I woke up the first day, in our new home, and found myself mindlessly walking throughout the house opening up all the blinds in order to let in the morning sun, a task that I have done every single day of my adult life. That evening, as the sun was setting, I did the opposite, and closed the blinds to keep the shadows out. This was second nature, I realized that I have done this same thing in every house we have owned. Within a month in our new home, I had planted a garden and nine new fruit trees, my husband had set up his workshop and had started on a few new projects. We mapped out the rooms that we plan to remodel and walls we plan to knock down or paint. We did a little landscaping, planted a few rose bushes, pulled some weeds and mowed the grass. The scenery may have changed but we hadn’t.
All of our houses have looked different, floor plans and building materials have varied, but our personalities, routines and hobbies have always stayed the same. It’s not that I just put in a garden every year, my garden always had the same core vegetables, beef tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, zucchini squash, summer squash, radishes and sweet peas. Sometimes I would add to this list but I never took away from it. The yards were always landscaped, not perfectly manicured, but landscaped. We always had fruit trees, consistent with the environment, in Arizona it was citrus, in Texas it was peaches, here in Colorado, well, let’s just say I’m nervous, but I’m jumping in and giving apples and cherries a try. Every house, regardless of age, always had a remodel project planned. We’ve remodeled a kitchen, and bathroom, finished a basement, and an attic, added dormers to the roof of one, and built a pool house in the backyard of another. The workshop was always ready for new projects. My husband and I make a good team, if I can think it, he can build it. He has built everything from mini-bikes to furniture. He has built tables, desks, bookcases, decorative pieces, and fences. He has worked on the cars and kept the boat polished, all in the confines of our garage or workshop. Some of the houses had a backyard water feature, as a matter of fact our pool company thought about giving us a returning customer discount because we were the only clients they had that had built three swimming pools in 6 years at three different residences.
It didn’t matter if we lived in the desert heat, the Texas humidity, or the mountains of Colorado, we, my husband and I, were always the same, creating the same climate and the same atmosphere in every house and in every state. We cooked the same foods, played the same games, we had family game night, spent Saturday afternoons at the lake and Sunday mornings in church. Each house was unique in style but ironically had the same color palette, I prefer earth tones, well, really just brown-ish colors. We always had a dog in the back yard and a cat on the front porch. We laughed, sang, prayed, and cried together in each.
I have beaten myself up about moving my children so many times, but as I get use to the floor plan of this new house I realize that it’s not a house or location that I dreamed of giving my children it’s the stability and consistency that I wanted for them and I’m pretty sure that’s what they got.
I am not a child psychologist and I’m not sure what research has to say about which is best for kids, growing up in one home or growing up in many, all I know is that my children grew up in six different homes and they are fine adults. I know many military kids that grew up in different places and are also fine adults. However, I don’t think it matters all that much, because I also know many, many kids that grew up in the same house and are also fine adults. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it isn’t so much “what” surrounds kids as they grow up but “who.” We can debate if that “who” has to be the exact same people or just people that love, accept, and respect them, but we will save that for another time. The question we need to ask ourselves as parents is, have we given our kids stability and consistency in who we are as individuals and have we consistently loved, accepted and respected them as individuals?
When I think of my grandparents’ little house, I realize that a house is just building materials that change, weather, and age, it’s not the house that I miss, it’s them. When my kids remember their childhood, they will remember sun shining through the windows, a rosebush in every color, working in the garage with their dad, fresh fruit and vegetables from the backyard, dogs, cats and many, many kittens. They will remember game night, lake trips, Sunday morning church and swimming in March when it was too cold, and not swimming in August because it was too hot. They might remember the state, maybe the house, but they will remember love, acceptance, happiness, contentment and consistency.
I don’t think it’s pier and beam or concrete, which can easily shift, sink and break down, that gives kids their foundation, it’s their roots planted directly into the soil, which, with the proper care can be dug up, moved, replanted and made to flourish.
“A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.” Ralph Waldo Emerson