Our trees are overgrown, the weeds are taking over the front yard, and the paint is peeling in the back. The neglect this year is obvious. I attempted to pull out a weed the size of a small tree on my way back from a run the other day, but it was too sturdy and strong for me, so I just let it be. Mike and I didn’t even bother to put out the deck furniture this year. There have been no family barbecues- the volley ball and croquet sets are stored neatly in the garage.
Inside the house, despite moving the pool table from the basement to our living room (to my mother’s utter horror), I make my way there solely because it’s the only room on the first floor with decent cell phone reception. The finished basement- which was the perfect teen hangout- is now the place we go to turn off the water when we leave for the weekend. Over dinner the other night, Mike and I realized that we only use three rooms in the house with any regularity: the kitchen, the den, and our bedroom. We never felt our house was huge before, but now we are beginning to wonder: will it be time soon to abandon our empty nest?
Yet the thought of moving out of the home we have lived in for 27 years is almost incomprehensible.
We are the only owners our home has ever had. Only our memories- our laughter and our tears- reverberate in its halls. In early 1985, at a time when my mother could walk robustly for miles in between tennis and spin class, she found a vacant piece of land a few miles from her home. It didn’t matter that the land wasn’t for sale. My father, a real estate developer, negotiated for the purchase of the land on our behalf. He clinched the deal with our neighbor after negotiating for an entire year, when he could finally proudly say, “My daughter is pregnant- we would like nothing more for our first grandchild to be brought up in your neighborhood.”
I remember pouring over the plans for our new home with our strange looking architect – he was short, always wore a purple ascot and had crazy brown/gray hair that stuck out like Bozo. We had a wish list- a big, sunny kitchen, a wonderful family room, and a fireplace in the bedroom. Then we faced reality, sobered up, and set our priorities. Every so often I still think about how nice it would be to have a fireplace in the bedroom.
I stood next to the hole that was to be our house with my father, who oversaw the construction, while they poured the foundation. I couldn’t believe how fast the frame of a house could be erected, and how slow finish work could be. When we finally moved in, in time for my daughter’s first birthday, I remember thinking “This can’t be ours. Grownups must live here.” I was not even 30. When we moved in, I realized we had an awful lot of windows— and no window treatments. We had run out of money by that point, and all I could think of was, “He who lives in glass house, gets dressed in basement.” That first night Mike and I took a bath in our Jacuzzi-for-Two, and the tub leaked through to the dining room, completely ruining our dining room table.
For 27 years we have hosted Thanksgivings. We hosted my son’s bris (with me cowering in the den), and countless birthday parties and family dinners. Our kitchen table is pockmarked where one of the kids stuck a fork in the wood and pounded relentlessly. It’s where the kids made forts with appliance boxes and sheets. It’s where we dunked for apples at our neighborhood Halloween parties. It’s where we had Forced Family Fun walks after a big snowstorm. It’s where my daughter spilled a bottle of red nail polish the day after we re-carpeted her room. It’s where a boyfriend threw up in the radiator after drinking too much. It is where we replaced the kitchen wallpaper 4 times in 5 years because we just couldn’t seem to get it right.
It’s where I had my garden that I hated. It’s where the kids played Four Square in the street. It’s where all three kids learned to ride their two wheelers. It’s where we brought the dog home as a puppy, and where we held her head when she could not move her hind legs the day she died. It’s where the kids had a zip line between the trees, then a trampoline, and a hammock. It’s where I gave my three children baths, read them stories and sang them to sleep each night. It’s where I have spent endless hours on the soft leather couch watching TV while my husband scratched my head. This home is where my father’s spirit lives, and it echoes the laughter of my children.
Give it up? Despite being a very happy empty nester, I think not- and I think so, all at the same time. When I look at the peeling paint, the empty rooms, the overgrown landscaping, I can’t help but be overwhelmed. Yet I am not sure it is time yet to let another family create memories in a home that has been exclusively ours.