I've Learned My Home Isn't Just a House
I didn’t know I wanted to be a mother. The desire to have children took me by sudden, memorable surprise just shy of my thirtieth birthday. I felt the exact moment the proverbial biological alarm went off, blaring in my head as I walked, weeping, through a park full of giggling children. It was the same park I walked past each day on the way to my car after work. Months before, the sound of tiny shrieking voices made me cringe, but in that unexpected moment I was propelled backwards. I landed somewhere warm and soft inside my childhood, feeling the crunch of leaves beneath my feet and hearing the voice of my Italian grandmother as she flurried around her kitchen telling my brother and I to eat ice cream before lunch. I was tucked back beneath soft blankets hearing my mother read aloud. I was so many places all at once and filled with the overwhelming need to have a child of my own and start making memories. I imagined a home for my future child, a baby room that becomes a shrine to a life, a house to absorb stories and secrets and love. I imagined something I have never had.
My own childhood was defined by many places. We moved, quite a lot, due to my father’s career. Just as we settled into one place it was time to move on to the next. We left homes, teachers and friends behind and started over again and again. Each move became more challenging as we grew up and realized whatever comfort we found in our environment would not last long. Another unknown was just around the corner, both frightening- and as I realized how much I actually enjoyed change- exciting.
This constant moving and changing absolutely shaped my life to a point where I crave change and I start itching to move when I begin to feel settled. My husband’s career and our desire to find the perfect home for our family have kept us moving and in turn kept that desire alive. When I’m unpacking boxes and simultaneously wondering when we'll be packing them again I feel like there is something wrong with me. What happened to the house in my daydreams, the one filled with memories?
When my son was six months old we sold our house and bought another, moving twice in the process. When he was eighteen months old we moved again, out of state. Just last month we moved yet again, to yet another state. My child is not even four yet and has lived in three different states and six different homes. Six different rooms. I wake up in the middle of the night both marveling at his adaptability and crying over the fact he will have four Christmas mornings in different, random houses. My imagined home filled with a lifetime of stories has crumbled to ashes and is a dusty film in the corners of my mind.
Again, I transport myself thirty something years ago and try to see life through my mother’s eyes; I attempt to try on her heart. I wonder how she felt each time we moved, how difficult it was for her and my father to start new each time while putting on a brave and happy face for us kids. I wonder if she cried at night, kept up by all the worry, maybe hating all the change but knowing it was the best thing for our family during those years. This wonder makes me want to pull out my family photographs from our half unpacked boxes. I see each photo filled with the same people and furniture but a different background. It’s difficult to remember where each photo was taken.
When I meet someone new, which happens quite a lot in my life, and I am asked the inevitable question “where are you from?” I have no idea what to say. I’m from everywhere and nowhere. I tell my son our home is where our family is. Maybe home will be another new place while we figure out our path or maybe we will settle down somewhere for a while to stretch and rest. Before we moved from our last home we planted a tree in our front yard, assuming we would be there to see it grow. When we realized we would be moving again my husband and I joked that we would have to look on Google maps years from now to see pictures of our family tree grow tall. A rush of sadness billowed over me as I pictured my little family planting the tree and watering it, my three year old accidentally ripping a leaf and stomping on it. We would not be there to sit under its shade or gather its leaves into a big pile to crunch under our feet.
But I’ve realized memories are kept in so many places, not always inside rooms and under roofs. I flip through my family photographs again and I notice our Christmas tree, always decorated with ornaments we collected from all the places we lived, telling the story of our lives among the branches. It is a story I continue to tell with my own child. Our family changed when I decided to become a mom and as the years go on our story will continue to change. The tree we planted will still grow, with our fingerprints on its roots, and we will always be home, wherever we are, together.