Monday, April 16, 2012

What Makes a Home

Here's a recap of the 48-hour period that began just before Passover began, a week ago Friday:

Fri 5:45 PM Arrived SFO from London after two weeks overseas. 
Sat 7:00 AM Picked up U-Haul.  Threw things into boxes while friends threw boxes into truck.
Sat 1:30 PM We-hauled second load of possessions six blocks down the street to our new home.
Sat 2:00 PM Realized that, in moment of dementia, had invited colleague from work and her family to share Passover with us that evening.  Started forging canyon through mountains of boxes to get to table.
Sat 3:00 PM Opened up wallet and proceeded to empty it into Whole Foods' bank account.
Sat 7:00 PM Dinner is served.  

Kids, do not try this at home.

A week later, here we are, the girls and the cats and me, in our new place.  The box mountains are shorter, the canyons are wider, and I have broken bread with most of the appliances.  The house is wonderful.  It was very well loved by its previous owners, who gutted it, restored its Craftsman heritage, remodeled from top to bottom, and appointed it with furnishings and art and Beautiful Things that made it wholly charming.  They subscribed to magazines like Traditional Home, maintained a perfect green lawn, and hung paintings that fit perfectly above the restored wood molding.

In comparison, my furniture is feeling a little awkward about itself.  Most of the things I brought with me are cast-offs from friends; I took almost nothing with me when Ted and I separated two years ago.  I used to say that my apartment was furnished with love.  The couch, the painting over the couch, the armoire, my desk, the toybox, even the vacuum cleaner came from friends who supported me through the painful transition of separation.  I felt their love every time I sank into my worn belongings.

Now, in our beautiful new home, my beloved furniture feels a little shy.  I haven't been treating it with the same affection.  I proactively apologize for it whenever people ask about coming over to see the new place.  And I make sure everyone knows that I fully intend to replace it.

I have to pause now and ask why I am so concerned about how this house feels about me.  I paid good money for the privilege of calling it mine.  The same friends who offered up their belongings to make me a home at my temporary address will be the ones whose love will fill our new abode.  And I've been alive long enough to know that there are lovely, well-appointed houses all over the world whose residents are bitter, angry people - and that there is joy pouring out of some very modest rooms.

You'll notice that I haven't even mentioned my girls yet in this post.  After two weeks away from them, during which I missed them intensely, you would think that I would have run into their arms and not let go of them for a week.  Instead, I was so focused on moving, getting settled, and cobbling together a Passover celebration that I barely attended to their needs for the first few days back.  Rebecca let me know how inadequate my response was in the way only 9-year-olds can.  She refused to help with the move, treated our Passover guests as if they were one of the ten plagues, and complained that there was nothing to do in our stupid new house.  She did everything she could to be uncooperative and hostile, and of course, Leah dutifully followed suit.

What's most surprising wasn't her hostility or her sullenness but the fact that it took me three days to get my head out of the place where the sun don't shine and realize that I was to blame.  Kids' minds are blunt instruments.  If a house, the friends who helped us move, and some casual acquaintances who came for dinner get more attention than she does, if the only times I give her my attention are when she's acting out at dinner or when I need her to lift something, what does it say about how much I care about her?

Sunday morning, I woke with the full weight of this realization.  The girls and I went to Trader Joe's to stock the pantry.  We bought a juicer and picked oranges from our tree to break it in.  I stayed home from work Monday to get settled, but by mid-afternoon, I realized that the kids needed a break.  We left the boxes behind and went to see The Lorax and get burritos.  We laughed and hugged and talked about Rebecca's time at California history camp the week before.  I started to patch the line that had become frayed during my absence.  I crawled into each of their beds that night to reseal the bond of physical closeness. 

At the end of the day, there is no new lesson here.  My girls are my home.  My Border Collie personality makes me forget this from time to time.  But this morning, with sticky smoothie handprints all over the table  and a single electric blue sock wedged in the front door, I realized that this place is perfect - because they are here.