Looking for “Home”

We are tossing around the idea of a buying a house—we have been renting the same place since just before our son was born. Even with the housing market in flux, and the economy struggling to improve, there is still something romantic about the idea of owning a home of our own. When I mentioned this to our daughter, her reaction surprised me. She was in complete denial. She told me that she didn’t want to move—that she loved our apartment—it was home. Her strong reaction took me off guard, for even though I have always thought of this apartment as our home, I don’t think I have ever felt particularly tied to it. Her reaction made me reflect on the life we have lived in this place we have called home for the last six years: my son as a newborn, sitting in the swing that was set up in our living room; my daughter at five heading off to school for the first time, then my son five years later heading off in his sister’s footsteps; the endless nights spent together snuggling in my bed as I tried to coax the kids off to their own beds. It is an endless sea of memories, and for my children it is the only home they have ever truly known—all of their memories of our family are here within these walls.

For most people—myself included—each of the homes we have once lived in stores the memories of a part of our lives. There may be new people living in them, but the ghosts of our past still appear if ever we find ourselves standing in front of a former home. When I drive past the house I lived in during my teens, I often slow down in order to look up at my bedroom window. I sometimes even see the faint outline of the fourteen year old me peeking out from behind the billowy white curtains, anxiously awaiting something—anything—to happen.

Although I live only minutes from both of my childhood homes, I no longer live near many of the places I once called home. For this reason, I don’t find myself confronted by the memories of my past, reminding me of the life I once lived in each. I’ve decided to spend some time reflecting on the memories that each of these places possess, and by doing so I will hopefully find my words of advice for my daughter on the meaning of the word “home.”

This is the first:

1974-1985 58 Harrington Avenue

There are no memories of my childhood that don’t include this house. It was the home that my parents brought me home to when I was just a few days old. It was also the home that sat opposite Michael, my first—and very best—friend, the boy I spent every day of my life with until we moved away when I was eleven. I sometimes wonder if the worn dirt path that extended from my back door to his is still there, and whether there are two new best friends running back and forth along it. This is the home of all my joyful and carefree childhood memories. It was a time of innocence, when kids could spend their days riding bikes around the neighborhood, only to return when we heard our mothers calling us home for dinner.

Being a tomboy who spent every waking moment of my childhood outside, my memories are all colored with the intensity of each season. My summers are tinged with the vibrant greens of freshly cut grass and the perfect blue of a sky filled with fluffy white clouds. Michael and I would spend our lazy summer afternoons lying on the cool earth looking up at the sky trying to find hidden animals and other mythical creatures in the shapes of the clouds.

My winters are shaded the bright white of an early morning snow that often blanketed the ground from one house to the next. I can still feel the heart-racing excitement of looking out the window to find the earth a frozen white. I would race to put on my snow clothes—never being able to get them on as fast as I would have liked—pants, two pairs of socks pulled up over my cuffs, shirt, sweater, snow-pant overalls, mittens, coat, scarf, then hat—in that order. We would stay outside until we couldn’t bear the cold any longer. We would then come back inside and slowly peel off each layer of clothing, one at a time, this time in reverse order.

Springtime is tinged with the pale green hue of leaves just starting to bloom, and the purples, yellows, and whites of the crocuses bursting through the warmed earth. Spring was a time to shed the layers of winter, to once again sit outside and make plans, to take our bikes out of the garage and to dust off the cobwebs left from winter.

Fall is made up of the oranges and browns of the changing leaves just before they tumble to the ground to be gathered up by us to make leaf piles to play in. During the fall, we still play outside, but our days end earlier, and more time is spent inside each other’s homes, watching television or playing games.

As I write this—as I look back on this home I once lived in—I am struck by a new truth. When you are a child, it is not about the home you grow up in, it is about the time you spend being a child, whether it’s playing with a friend or just playing with your own imagination. I had always thought that my children would somehow be happier in a larger home—maybe one with one more bathroom—but now as I look at the years we have spent in this home through their eyes, I see that I may have been wrong. My children may not have a house, a yard, and lots of neighborhood children to play with as I did growing up, but what they do have is a way of making the world around them as joyful and as carefree as my own childhood.

My advice for my daughter is simple: a house is just the backdrop of your memories as you live your life—it is the roof over your head, the place to rest at night, the place to gather your family together around the dinner table—it does not matter if it is an apartment or a house. And, if we someday find ourselves living in a new house, I want her to know that our home is wherever we find ourselves living, together.