Growing up, I always envisioned I’d live way off the road. I was raised that way, flanked on both sides by cornfields and cousins. I just knew I’d have a winding driveway like my parents and that I’d plop a basketball goal in concrete one summer day, far away from the noise of traffic where my kids could hit the rim, or shoot an airball and they could chase it freely.
Instead, we settled down in a tiny brick cottage a stone’s throw from a pretty busy country road. If I listen really intently, I can stand in my kitchen and hear my neighbors having a conversation inside their garage. We’re that close.
I do have a sprawling and heart-wrenchingly beautiful backyard. If I had it my way, I’d pick this old house up and move it to the very back. That thought crossed my mind one day and I actually looked up the price it would cost to do just that. Turns out it’s exorbitant. Brick that’s almost a century years old just doesn’t travel well.
Is it my dream home? When I look outside my front window, absolutely not. Yet, when I sit on the floor in the living room and just focus on the inside, it totally is. My husband and I spent two years fixing it up and I poured over every detail. I spent two weeks choosing the bathroom tile, had all the cushions and even the sofa hand-made to fit the wall space, asked my husband to adjust the longstanding standard bathtub dimensions so our massive garden tub could overlook the field, spent far too long on Pinterest looking at shiplap versus beadboard and nearly drove my contractor crazy deciding between different shades of white for the kitchen cabinets.
In the end, it was all worth it. We’ve been here a little over two years, and I can look at every square inch of this place and tell you a memory that goes along with it.
That little cranny beside the kitchen sink? Both of my children have sat in it almost every day to wash their hands, or to sprinkle paprika on our Thursday night tilapia. That dining room table? My husband made it with his hands and it makes an excellent early afternoon fort. That weirdly long living room? It’s great for 10 a.m. dance parties while the oatmeal cools.
Of course, there are plenty of things I’d change about this house if I could. The steps that we put in are already creaking and the carpet we laid is already coming up in a spot or two. There are doors that don’t seal shut when you close them and the finished basement has gotten wet on more than one occasion.
Yet, it’s where I’ve lived and loved and I’ve grown to be content and happy here.
Today, I spent an hour upstairs in my daughter’s room. My son was playing with trucks and she and I carefully cut out paper dolls from my old American Girl collection. It will always be one of my most favorite memories of this home. The golden hour winter sun was beaming in her open shutters, her bed was a pile of warm blankets and beloved stuffed animals and I was lying on the soft carpet making a schoolgirl costume for Molly and a floral nightgown for Felicity. When I was done, I about had carpal tunnel and when my parents came over a few hours later to see our handiwork, June introduced every doll as “Tallulah” which was strange, but it was still so incredibly sweet.
That’s the thing about being a stay-at-home-parent. You can sit and look at the wallpaper all day and nearly drive yourself crazy with the monotony, or you can lean into your home and embrace it, flaws and all. Squeaky floorboards and chipped paint and everything.
The moment I started thinking of my home less as a structure to maintain, and more of a backdrop for some of our very best family memories, I started to notice its inadequacies less and its charm even more. Sure, it still stings a little when a high school friend buys a McMansion or we hear about someone buying a ton of land to build their forever home on.
Maybe that will be us one day. Maybe eventually we’ll leave here. I’ll pack up my daughter’s collection of Pinkalicious books and her favorite polka dot sweater. I’ll pack my son’s bouncy ball collection and his favorite Ford hat. I’ll take the pictures off the wall and place the dishes in a box. We’ll strip this place of the things and the people it cradled and leave nothing but a shell in our wake.
Then, we’ll set up shop somewhere new. We’ll make new forts and hold new dance parties. We’ll stay up late reading, overlooking a different backyard, and I’ll burn the same apple pie in a different oven.
The thing is, I’ve learned it doesn’t really matter where I am or what I’m doing. I could be in a one-bedroom apartment, all of us squished into a queen bed, or in a palace so big I get lost in it, and I’d still be as richly blessed as I am right now, writing this in my tiny kitchen on my wobbly old metal table.
I’m spending the prime years of my life holed up in a little cottage by the side of the road. It’s a place I didn’t really think I’d be, but I’m grateful nonetheless. To be the tenant of this home, and the steward of these children. To be the one they run to when they skin their knee or break their heart. A safe harbor on the rocky ocean, a place they can come back to and rest.