I often doubt myself for decisions I make, but never so harshly as I have since this spring. Why? In March, my family moved into a new house. There were many reasons we decided to move, including getting the boys into a better school district, wanting more space, and wanting to be in a quieter, safer neighborhood. It had nothing to do with our old house, which we absolutely loved and poured our hearts and souls into when we remodeled it seven years ago. In fact, leaving that house was very difficult for us, but most of all for our two young boys who associate their young childhood with that place. When we bought the old house, Paul and I were newlyweds, and it would be our first home together. We were desperate to be in the neighborhood adjacent to campus and were lucky enough to find a small little bungalow that we could afford. The house was 950 square feet when we bought it. It was 1930 square feet when we moved out. The house was a labor of love and sweat, and held many of our most precious memories, including having two babies brought home to it, raised through infancy and toddlerhood, and starting elementary school. When we remodeled we honestly never considered that we would sell it. We had images of us growing old in that house, walking or riding our bikes to work until the day we retired, our boys coming back to visit for holidays. But somewhere along the way other considerations became significant and we began to consider a change. Actually, I was the one who was desperate for a change, and it manifested in me pushing for a move.
Why was I so desperate for a change? Well, to put it plainly, I was freaking out about my fortieth birthday looming, and suddenly felt as if my life was a thick, murky sludge of stagnant water that needed to be flushed out by a good, hard storm. I had never thought of myself as a mid-life crisis type, always believing I would take every birthday as it came, aging gracefully and accepting whatever life had in store for me. I was dead wrong. I lost my fucking mind. I started to think of my life as half over. I began to feel as if I was sliding fast on the downslope to death, and that the only way to feel better was for something major to shake shit up.
Prior to the desperate desire to move I tried other avenues of exploration in the hopes that they would satiate my thirst for a life-changing shake up. The first exploration was guitar lessons, which are still going strong almost two years later and have been a fabulous foray away from my everyday grind. But it wasn’t enough. Another attempt came in the form of trying to land an agent for my book, before I was ready to do so. I spent weeks researching what I needed to do, how to write a great query letter, what a perfect proposal was supposed to be like, what my target market was, who was my competition, why my book was special, etcetera, etcetera, and I went guns blazing into the task of landing an agent. I actually had a lot of interest, with many agents asking for my proposal, and it all seemed peachy up until the point when I would get the dreaded, “Your project sounds fantastic but it isn’t for me. Best of luck.” What the what? I went from ecstatic highs, full of hopes and wildest dreams, to ugly lows full of, “what made me think I was a writer?” It was months of rejections, trickling in slowly as agent after agent denied my request for representation. It was gut wrenching and humiliating and mortifying and put me off the book publishing process entirely for almost a year. What logically follows months of devastating rejection about your manuscript? Buying a new house, of course.
Paul and I had discussed the possibility of moving once the kids neared middle school age, as the local public middle school in our old neighborhood was not exactly a good option, and the local charter school was an academic boot camp that even us PhDs think sounds unnecessarily intense. That meant we really had a couple of years to do this house-hunting thing. Our house wasn’t ready to be on the market anyway, and we had no idea how long it would take to sell it. But one weekend, while Paul was away on a guys’ trip, a friend of mine took me to see a house she was interested in. It was in a great area of town with fantastic views, and just so happened to be pretty close to where we already lived but still in the school district we wanted. On a whim, I asked my mother, a realtor, to do a search for houses in the area that might work for us. That night, she sent me a list, and the next day, we went to an open house. I walked in and knew that this was going to be our next house. I texted Paul, who was on his way home from his guys’ weekend, and told him, “We are buying a new house.” Balls-to-the-wall girl had reared her ugly head and I was not looking back. Somehow, this house felt like my life raft. My life-changing shake up. My shelter in the storm of a raging mid-life crisis. It gave me hope that there were still things to look forward to.
Long story short, Paul saw the house the next day and we made an offer that night. We got the house, and have been living in it happily for six months. We love it, for many reasons, even though it isn’t perfect (it leaks like a sieve when it storms, which luckily isn’t often in Tucson). But it was a breath of fresh air for this mid-life crazy lady. I doubt myself about this all the time. I wonder if I made the right decision, to push my family into this huge change. We went back to our old house recently (we still own it – still trying to sell it), and both of my boys sighed and announced they miss the old house. I asked them if they liked it better than the new house and their immediate response was, “Yes!” “Really?” I asked. They conceded that actually, they really like our new house but they also really miss the old house. It was heart-wrenching, and made me question even more if we made the right decision. It feels like it was my decision, mostly, and here my sweet boys were telling me they kind of wished we were still in the old house. What a fuck up I am.
The first house I grew up in is still my favorite house of all time. My fondest childhood memories live there, as does the part of my heart occupied by my still together parents. They divorced when I was seven, but up to that point my whole life revolved around our little nuclear family in that little house. My husband feels the same way about his first house. Now, our boys feel that way about their first house. Everyone has a first home they remember from their childhood, one that secures a slice of their hearts and roots into it deeply. For my boys, it is the yellow house on 5th street that Paul and I took from two-bedroom bungalow to three bedroom family house so we could raise our babies there. As I write this, we have signed an offer on our old house, and it is likely we will be saying goodbye to it in the next few weeks. As much as we have wanted this for months, as paying two mortgages and accruing debt have not been exactly stress free, the reality of letting go of that house is deeply profound and utterly terrifying. A part of my essence is defined by that house. Twelve years of my adult life, moving through the phases of liquid newlyweds to solid four-person family, are cemented forever into the very foundation of that house. Twelve years seeped into the walls, etched into the tile, ground into the wood floors, suspended in the atmosphere around the place. How do I let that old house go while keeping those pieces of me that will live there forever? Maybe I don’t. Maybe it makes sense to leave them there, a kind of last respects paid to the place that started our family life.
But what about my boys? Moving is always hard on kids, and I expected nothing less than tears and protests and maybe even a period of adjustment during which there would be behavioral abnormalities related to settling into a new home. All of these things have come to fruition, and then some, with my youngest still, six months later, waking many nights, disoriented and scared, unable to put himself back to sleep for fear that some critter will get into the house and get him. Since moving from the city to the ‘burbs, (which, in Tucson means the desert wilds), we have had encounters with Bobcats, Javelinas, Coyotes, Snakes, Ground Squirrels, Pack Rats, Scorpions, and a Tarantula. My little guy is afraid of many of these things, and I didn’t realize how afraid until we were already settled here and the animals descended on our new abode. Imagine my despair, the mom who uprooted her kids from a house they loved, a school they loved, to drag them out into the desert wild, and plop them down among strange animals and prickly plants, all the while trying to satisfy my own need for change but not really considering if they needed the change. What a selfish mom. What an utterly self absorbed, middle-aged, addle brained lunatic I am.
Or am I? Is it valid for me to doubt myself in this instance? Or should I be recognizing the fact that hey, if it weren’t for me we never would have moved, and our kids would still be living in a smaller house in a crappier area where we weren’t comfortable letting them outside alone to play or ride their bikes? Should I be thanking myself for having the foresight to impose this change on them before an age where kids get really mean and hormonal, and making new friends is even harder than it is at ages 8 and 6? Should I be secure in the knowledge that my kids are in a better school district, with friends just around the corner whose houses they can walk and bike to with ease? I have asked my husband a million times since the move, “Are you happy we moved? Do you like the new house? Do you wish we were still in our old house?” I have asked the boys the same questions a million times. But I haven’t asked myself. I have just questioned, and judged, and blamed, and doubted myself, allowing myself to spiral into uncertainty every time one of my boys has a nightmare or says he misses the old house.
But missing the old house is healthy. And loving the old house is healthy. And moving your family to a better, safer, quieter neighborhood where the kids can roam free and enjoy the outdoors is also healthy. I can only hope that as time goes on, the boys will come to appreciate the lifestyle they can enjoy here that they couldn’t enjoy there. I hope that my youngest will come to be fascinated by the wildlife, not fear it, and believe that he is safe in our home from any wild animals that might scare him. I hope my husband will come to accept we are no longer bikers but commuters, and that it isn’t so bad considering we are a twenty-minute drive from a desert hideaway to our city workplace. But most of all, I hope we sell that old house, tuck our memories safely away inside of us, and throw ourselves into the making of memories in this new desert haven. Moving might be outside our comfort zone, but if we never moved we would never know what else was waiting for us beyond the safety of the familiar.
A house is just a house. But a home – that’s anyplace you decide is a place worth opening your heart to.