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and sadness watching my children struggle mightily through the hard moments; determination that this will work—that the outdated house with overgrowth ensnarling it will be transformed into a home that my husband can love.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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