The house I grew up in was wonderful. Warm and cheerful, the colors on the walls welcomed you like a hug, and the spacious open plan was downright elegant. My family and I worked hard personalizing it, and painting it, and the years I lived there were some of my happiest and most carefree. What I loved most about the house was how it made me feel safe and secure. Whether during the rainy season with the furnace pumping merrily through the grates, or in the summer with the windows wide open and a cool breeze blowing through, I always knew that I was “home”. In the mornings, I would lie in bed and listen to the comforting sounds of my mother making coffee, listening as she opened the fridge to make my sister and me our lunches. My father would open the creaky mudroom door, and he and the dogs would walk down the long driveway to get the daily newspaper. These familiar noises became the soundtrack of my childhood.
As I’ve grown older, the saying “you can never go home again” has come up more and more. I travelled a lot in my early twenties, and I found that each time I came back, the house was slightly different. Was the paint always so chipped on that mirror? Was that closet door always so squeaky? Was my bed always disassembled and stored in the basement? “What’s the problem?” my mother asked, “I wanted an office. You can just sleep on the air mattress.” While struggling to sleep on the slowly deflating mattress, I tried to think of what else had changed. The house itself seemed altered; it was smaller and less fantastic than I remembered. It even smelled different; almost imperceptibly, my childhood home had transformed into something I didn’t recognize.
Eventually, my parents downsized, and moved into a two-bedroom apartment. I was sad to lose our house; it was indelibly a part of my childhood. Who was going to take care of my mother’s rose garden? Who was going to mow the lawn? Would the new owners love it as much as we had? Once or twice, I drove past our old house, and each time it broke my heart. It was no longer “mine”.
Over the years, I would dream about waking up in my old bedroom. I would see the pale-yellow walls and the blue carpet (which I’m sure had been quite stylish at one point). I would walk down the hallway and steal a glimpse into my sister’s room, where she had taped up pictures of teen heartthrobs. A wave of happiness would wash over me: “it’s still ours!” I would think in my dream, “it’s still mine!” I would wake up happy and content, only to snap out of my fuzzy dream state with a jolt. The house was gone; what sweet torture.
The years passed, and I still thought of our old house with regret, instead of remembering the wonderful times we had there. I had to move on, to let go – we would never live in that house again. Eventually, I started to look at things differently. What hadn’t changed? Certainly not my parents, who were as congenial as ever. My mother still drank coffee like it was water, still made German apple cake, still delighted in cooking Thanksgiving dinners. My dad still read voraciously, told bad jokes, and then laughed when we rolled our eyes. It didn’t matter where we lived; they were still the same, and they made the apartment a home.
That’s the feeling I want my kids to have; that feeling of familiarity and contentment. The knowledge that no matter how things change, they’ll always stay the same. Wherever they go, Jeremy and I will always be home to welcome them, wherever “home” may be. Twenty years from now, I’ll still be baking chocolate-chip cookies, and Jeremy will still be fixing up old cars. We’ll stay just as cranky, funny, and content as we are; for our two beautiful children, our house and our arms will always be open.