Last night, I sat on a rocking chair on my front porch. Next to me, my daughter sat in the neighboring chair, rocking back and forth. Our dog curled up on the unstained porch, lulled into a doze by the hum of passing cars.
The front doors were closed, the beveled glass panes reflecting the burgeoning pink sky to the west and a breeze coasted through the fronds of the massive paradise tree.
We were home.
Six weeks ago, my husband and I put an offer on a new house, a beautiful, 120 year-old Victorian house in the middle of a tiny town. Within an hour, our offer was accepted and the stress of leaving one house immediately began. I sobbed when I realized that our son likely wasn’t going to move in with us permanently. At the time we started buying the house, our son was two months from graduating from high school. At this point, he is two and a half weeks away.
This weekend, I rented (and dented) a U-haul truck, loaded it up with the furniture I was going to keep, rumbled down an interstate until I arrived at the two-lane country road bisecting farm fields and sprawling forests. At the dead end, I turned right and drove a short distance to the tight turn where my hidden driveway lurked.
I came home and promptly scraped the truck against the garden wall’s flagstone corner.
Thank God I bought insurance.
With lots of help, furniture, boxes of books, and bags filled with clothing and stuffed animals was piled into the house.
We made a second trip and I, exhausted, went back to my first house, ate Chinese food, and fell into a stupor-sleep that offered no rest.
Yesterday, my daughter and I loaded up our dog into the SUV, retraced the previous day’s route. She was still upset about the move, about leaving her friends and her security. She resented the change but understood that it was going to happen. She wasn’t fighting, but she wasn’t happy.
With an exhausted silence, we listened to music that I quietly sang along to keep from provoking my daughter. We glided down the driveway, carefully avoiding the wall.
Our dog dragged us up the deck’s steps and hovered by the back door. Hating the car-ride, Leia (our dog) was desperate to get into the house and away from the monster vehicle that was bursting with my garden equipment. After several attempts, my daughter and I unlocked the door and entered into the chaos.
We stood within a fortress of boxes and black plastic bags. We stared, feebly, at the mountain of material that represented our lives, items and belongings we had precariously shoved into the respective containers because our first house was in serious need of work and we didn’t have the luxury of time.
My anxiety crawled through my veins, my skin tightened as the walls seemed to loom and everything felt like it was on the verge of collapsing.
What the hell have I just done?
Nothing felt right. Even the light vanilla scent permeating from the plug-in air infusers felt nauseatingly wrong. This wasn’t my house. This was someone else’s house that I was babysitting, borrowing.
My daughter disappeared up the stairs, went to her room.
I went into what was supposed to be my office, stared at my desk and the stacks of white boxes. I turned on the shuffle feature for my music, bent over the first box, and started pulling out books.
Filtering through the landing was my daughter’s music. Fallout Boy sang in harmony to U2 and her footsteps was a rhythm to my gently setting books on their shelves. Every twenty minutes or so, she’d come down, squish her way through the black bag piles, find her stuffed animals, and went back upstairs, like a short, blond sherpa.
Around noon, her stress hit. My daughter hadn’t found her books, her Pop figurines. She’d realized her new bed was wonderfully comfortable and, together, we’d hung her poster of Middle Earth. She’d found her favorite blankets and had curled up on her bed, luxuriating in the cloudy pillowness of her bed. She was steadily warming up to the new house, but her mental inventory was shrieking with the absence of her favorite things.
And then I opened a box, looked at the contents.
I’d found her world. I called up the stairs to her. She leaned over the railing, and I told her about my find and her face illuminated with joy.
Scrambling down the steps, our dog racing with her, my daughter ran into my office, dug into the box, pulled out all of her books so that they were cradled in her arms. She ran up the stairs again, squealing with delight. Her Pop figurines were finally removed from their respective boxes and set on her mantle (she has a sealed fireplace in her room).
After lunch, we took our time and opened up the new bedding she’d selected. Giggling, my daughter wrapped her bed skirt over her shoulders and looked like a new superhero. At first, she didn’t want to use it until she helped me make my bed and saw how the bed-skirt created a finished, complete image. With exuberance, she led me to her room and we lifted her mattress off the bed, smoothed the skirt over the box springs. We wrapped the fitted sheet over the corners and, although she doesn’t care for it, I laid down the regular sheet.
Together, we unfolded and smoothed down the aqua comforter. Grabbing her favorite stuffed animal, my daughter, snuggled under the blanket, dismissing the sheet, and looked at me gloriously, victoriously. In the shelves flanking her bed, her books were arranged next to the wooden art-case containing my husband’s late-uncle’s paints.
Her yellow room glowed with sunlight. Surrounding my daughter were her possessions, her memories, her girlhood that is evaporating into her young womanhood. On the landing outside her room, we placed a couch facing stained glass windows. Together, she and I sat on the couch, our feet perched on the window sill, and we watched the tree branches sway with the late afternoon wind.
We talked about the house. We talked about sitting on this couch and watching the snow fall in the winter. Leia jumped over the couch’s back, curled into a tight ball, and snoozed. My daughter relaxed, let the stiffness within her curl into the soft cushions. Her happiness leaked from her bones, through her skin, and into the hallway. She was happy.
She was…in a way…content.
In the late afternoon, I worked in my garden shed and my daughter mowed the lawn. Leia, tethered to a forty foot line, trotted through the tall grass, basked in the shadowy cool, and exulted in new smells. Given we use an electric powered lawn mower, the batteries were, at first, running out of power, but due to the heat, they were also overheating. So, given they weren’t able to recharge, my daughter and I took Leia to the front porch, sat in the rockers, and chatted.
We talked about the house, about the move. My daughter confessed that she was starting to love the house, that maybe the move wasn’t so terrible. Over the course of the day, she had enjoyed exploring various nooks and crannies, having fun finding and playing with the dimmers on the light switches. She enjoyed creating mood and atmosphere just by the level of illumination. She helped me arrange furniture and create a sense of ownership.
This wasn’t someone else’s house anymore.
This was our home.
By the day’s end, the batteries finally finished charging and my daughter finished mowing the lawn. We went back into the house and talked about living there, about spending the night given we had all the bathroom necessities…except towels.
We put empty boxes back into the car, loaded up Leia (who still hated riding in the car), and retraced our route back to our first house. Along the way, a Muse song my daughter and I both love came on and I shut my lips against the impulse to sing. But my daughter turned up the volume, turned to me, and exuberantly demanded that I sing with her.
I stared at the conical swaths of light created by my headlights, opened my mouth, and sang with my daughter. We sang into a night sky in which a luminous golden-orange moon rose. We sang as fireflies flashed and faded.
We sang after a long day of work, of coming to a building and making it into our home. Yesterday, we waltzed in the foyer, my daughter leading. We sat at the breakfast bar and scarfed down McDonald’s while Leia alternated between begging and sprawling on the tile floor.
My daughter and I sang together after a long day of homecoming.