When I was growing up my favorite part of the school day was coming home. Although both of my parents were at work and the house was empty, it was still a refuge, the place where I could return each day to what was familiar and unchanging: the yellow sofa where I did my homework, the sight of our old barn that my grandfather built, the view of the fruit trees that my brother planted in the backyard. I learned early on about the power of place and the importance of surroundings, how a house can hold you close until you are ready to let go and move on.
I’ve lived in four different houses during my adult life, each one offering me a safe space to settle for a while, until I was ready for my next phase, when the houses themselves seemed to become a springboard giving me the needed boost to move on. It was easy to recognize that a room had become too small, that we needed a garage, or that it was simply time for a change. But when we settled into our current home it felt familiar and final. It was the refuge where I would raise my children, the place that would hold them, hold all of us, close.
My daughter, now a sophomore in college, was four years old when we moved into the home that we have now lived in for the past 16 years. My son was just learning to walk and he is now a junior in high school. Our home is full of memories and milestones, trees that the kids helped plant grow in the front yard and I can still see their old tree house out my kitchen window. We have a stone pathway on the side of the house and each stone was hand painted by the kids when they were small; one with a big yellow flower, another with a rainbow. One says “love blooms here.” When I trim the bushes in the front yard I remember how my son and his best friend from two houses down used to play hideout under the branches dressed in their cowboy best.
Someone once wrote: “We loved our house so much it seemed to love us back,” and I can honestly say that has been true for us. I never thought I would want to leave this house, the thought of it made me want to cry, but as empty nest approaches, I am considering the possibility.
I have friends who say they are staying, so their kids will always have the “family home” to return to. I understand this–I so wanted to give my children roots, community, a sense of place. I hope that I have. Does it take staying in one place to continue those feelings of place and connection or will they simply carry it with them as they move out into the world? My friend Beth says not only is she staying put, but that she will keep her boys’ bedrooms just as they are, and create change for herself by taking up golf.
I know others who sell their homes of 20 years without looking back, heading straight for the city condo. This is appealing as well; instead of carpooling, time could be spent on walks to dinner and strolling museums! I recently spoke with a childhood friend who sold her custom-built family home and downsized to a nearby townhome. She says she feels liberated, her furniture looks better in the smaller space, and her children still visit.
While it is challenging to let our children, and the life we had with them, go, it is also liberating to realize that we now have the freedom to live somewhere without having to consider the school system or having enough playmates. Instead, we can actually choose a home based on our own preferences, perhaps a walkable city or a house by a lake; whatever is just right for us.
Though leaving our cherished homes where we raised our children can be heart-wrenching, it can also be exhilarating. And in the process, a new family home can emerge. One where we gather, not based only on memories and familiarity, but also on growth and change, and the anticipation of more adventures and cherished memories. Where coming home can still be the favorite part of our day, and where we continue to seek refuge until it is once again time to let go and move on.