Moving Home

Big change usually hits me like water-based stain on hard pine. (Can you tell I’m in the midst of a major home renovation?) Half of it doesn’t sink in until hours later. In my case, months. So it still hasn’t fully sunk in that we have this whole new life thirty minutes from our old one, on five spreading acres instead of a postage stamp-sized suburban lawn. It comes to me in small waves, when I look out at our towering spruces, or when I reflect that the last three months seem more like 18. Time goes faster as I get older, but in this small window of time, it has stretched so fully it’s unrecognizable.

This move, I know, will become a “before and after” moment for me, for us. Before the move…after the move. It is the first occasion my second-grade son has had to test his own personal fortitude, his first big life challenge as he adjusts to a new school and new friends.

They say kids are resilient, especially little ones. And they are. But I don’t think for a minute this move hasn’t been hard on my four (now five) year old daughter. When given full control over what color to paint her bedroom, she chose her old room color. When we visited friends on our old block, she was the one, not my older son, who stood on the sidewalk in front of our old house and just looked at it for a full minute. The nest that encompassed her and kept her warm for the first four years of her life was suddenly gone, replaced by a dusty mess half torn apart. It was hard for her to understand that new people now lived there, slept in her room.

For me, this move has been many things—worry and sadness watching my children struggle mightily through the hard moments; determination that this will work—that the outdated house with overgrowth ensnarling it will be transformed into a home that my husband can love. This wasn’t his idea; he moved for me in an act of unselfish generosity, plain and simple.

This move is also the achievement of a dream. As a grader schooler, I searched the real estate ads for farms in Wisconsin and begged my parents to buy one. I wanted land. I wanted to see trees and fields out my window instead of other houses. I wanted to be like Anne of Green Gables.

We never moved, and I grew up. I learned to love the big city of Chicago. I grew to understand that you live where the jobs are, that having a lot of land requires other sacrifices—connection, amenities, convenience. My dream of having land seemed to be replaced by common sense, and also a love of historical houses on small lots near old town centers. That was all good, too.

Then my husband changed jobs. He now worked north, in Wisconsin. What started as “we might have to move to shorten your commute so let’s start looking in Wisconsin” turned into “look what money can buy when you move farther out from Chicago.” And eventually, the dream I thought had died with childhood was reignited and back stronger than ever. It hadn’t died; it was just undernourished. (Childhood dreams are funny that way. I think those dreams are the truest.)

We house hunted over the next couple of years, but didn’t find anything we both loved—taxes were too high, or it was too rural, or the house was falling apart or the schools weren’t great or….. By last fall, we’d actually decided to stop actively looking and stay put, to my partial dismay.

Then two things happened, within weeks of each other. I had a double mastectomy and hysterectomy, and my childhood friend called to tell me she just drove past an amazing property that had me written all over it.

Towering, centuries-old oaks, a barn, two ponds, a creek.

Major surgery, fear, appreciation, time.

When my husband and I first walked the property, something deep within, something sprouting since long ago, felt at home immediately.

Six months later, we watched as the last of our things were packed into the moving truck and the four of us took a selfie on our front steps. We left the home where the children were born and where all the memories we had as a family had taken place.

But we still have those memories tucked snugly in our minds, where they’ve always been. And now we have resilience and change and new frontiers. We have a fawn milking from her mama on our lawn, a coyote napping under the oaks, bullfrogs singing in our ponds, and orange leaves sprinkling down in the sunshine. We have soccer games and creek crossings and a tree swing that flies.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed by dusty drywall and buckthorn and wild, choking vines and light fixtures and wood stain, I take a step back and let this move sink in a bit more. I feel at home.

I’m looking now, and all I see is goodness.

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10 Things I’m Learning About Selling a House

It’s spring and that means three things: spring is in the air, days are longer, and houses are popping up for sale all over the place. My house is one of them and I’ve discovered a few things that might help you if you’re about to be in the same boat:

  1. You don’t need a huge “For Sale” sign in your front yard.
  2. Your son might, for the first time in his seven years of living, start peeling the dining room wallpaper on the morning your house goes on the market. This won’t be the worst thing that happens.
  3. Keeping mirrors spotless will become an obsession. Stop rinsing and spitting like an imbecile!
  4. You won’t remember what you boxed up and stored away and you should just donate it all. Except for family photos, maybe.
  5. Having friends or family nearby where you can store your children for a while will save your sanity.
  6. When that same family will not, under any circumstances, take care of your cat, chill out. No buyer cares if you have a cat. Unless, of course, he’s a giant hairball. (The cat.) In which case, accidentally let him outside before showings.
  7. Yes, you really do think your house is worth more than it is worth.
  8. On the one weekend morning in six weeks that you decide to just let your kids play and make a mess, someone will call and request a showing in one hour.
  9. You’ll fall in love with your house again; it’s never looked better. You might even get annoyed when someone wants to buy it.

And finally:

  1. Negotiating with a buyer (or seller) is like a mini-war that reaffirms the truth that women should rule the world. The following is part of a conversation that recently took place in my house:

Me: “Well, I do see both sides.”

My husband: “Stop doing that.”

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Ignoring the News to Stay Sane

In the months after I had my first child, I was plagued by a variety of gruesome visions. I’d be walking down the stairs, holding my son in a blanket, and picture myself falling and smashing our heads into the wall at the bottom. I’d be driving to Target with him in the backseat and picture a head-on collision at 50mph. I’d see him wide-eyed underwater in the bathtub, struggling to breathe.

mother-watching-daughterI thought I was going crazy. I thought I had become some morbid, fearful person due to lack of sleep. Then I talked to another new mom.

“I do that all the time, too!” she said. We were both relieved. And we came up with a perfectly logical reason for envisioning the horrific deaths of our children on a daily basis:

We were practicing being good moms.

It makes sense. Our brains were warning us of all the dangers that could happen, so we would protect our children. So we would walk down stairs carefully, so we would drive more defensively, so we wouldn’t run to answer the phone with our children in the bathtub. We were good moms.

Fast forward seven years and my visions have become less frequent, but they still occur. Only now I also see a depressed young man walking into my son’s school and shooting the children as they eat lunch. I see sections of sports stadiums blowing up and cars driving through storefront windows into groups of people. Things like that. Things out of my control.

A while ago, my dad said to me, while arguing that too many of my generation are helicopter parents, “You’re all walking around scared. It’s like you’re shell-shocked.” And it hit me—we are. We are shell-shocked. And maybe we aren’t on the front lines, and maybe it’s disrespectful to suggest we suffer the same as the men and women who are. But we parents have suffered from the slow, insidious, creeping terror of the last two decades.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST AT SCARY MOMMY, WHICH FEATURES MY POST TODAY. THANKS!

39

It’s maddening, really. I’ve made it to the last year of my 30s and I know, in the way I usually don’t know until much later with the benefit of time and distance, that this last year was a tipping point, a harbinger of things to come. Momentous, even. I’m bursting to full of things I want to write about.

What’s maddening is that all I can think to write are clichés—things even MY PARENTS have already said. All the ways I can now relate better to them, in fact. All the signs I am in a new category of old. (The “oldies” station now plays ‘80s music. What?) All the ways I want to live stronger, be adventurous, be truer to myself than I have been. I want to surround myself with the things I’ve always loved—writing, music, nature. I’m even pressuring my husband to move 25 minutes away to a 5-acre property with an old barn.

I want change—I want to hang on to its shoulders and give it a head-butt, grab it before it grabs me. To just move, so I don’t look back and see stagnancy. But I am also savoring my little ones because I have a feeling this, right now, is as good as it gets. And I mean that in the best way possible.

Basically, I’m going through a mid-life crisis and my writer self is rolling her eyes at me. Really? she says. This is so….expected. And unexceptional. 

But still, I think:

Man, it’s going fast.

I can’t believe I used to babysit you!

You’re 40?! I once saw you pee on my bathroom floor in a swimsuit! Aren’t we still those same little girls?

What in the world can I write worth reading that hasn’t been written a thousand times before? This past year, yes, was an absolute mind fuck—from finally accomplishing my “someday” dream of publishing a novel (I did it! I did it!), and then watching it whizz by on its way to the past, where it lodged itself comfortably; to the news that my body carries on a family tradition of not having a certain cancer-fighting gene which, really, would have been nice to have (how lazy can one gene be to not even show up?); to the scary surgery monster of metallic dreams and hollow drips, of pain and awakening realizations that this little, old body can only take so much. And at the same time, how goddamn much it can take.

So this year was a culmination of sorts and a push to a future I have always disliked, one I now reach for and hold on to with tired but strong fingers. Something has shifted in me. I have moved from being a consummate fan of the past with its soft, glowing edges, to a lover of the present and future. It is simply too depressing to focus on what I miss—my babies’ fat wrists and dimpled knuckles, my 1981 Strawberry Shortcake shirt. I am here, now, and will not always be. That is this year’s greatest gift to me: the deep understanding that I am fleeting.

It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. ~Abraham Lincoln

Bring it, future. ~Jessica Vealitzek

39th birthday

The Best Books of 2014

I’m part of a wonderful group of nine women who make weekly reading recommendations–every Wednesday, all year long at Great New Books. It’s the place to go if you’re looking for a good read.

This week, we have our list of the Best Books of 2014. Have you read any? Do you have any to add to our list? Need gift ideas?

Click on the image below to get started!

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