Saturday, October 28, 2006


I cannot figure out what to do about the house.

We do not, thankfully, live in any kind of a mansion. We live in a large, older (1917) center-hall colonial home. We would like to live in a much smaller, bungalow-type space, but the expenses of moving are too much to contemplate, and so we don't. This is it.

I'm trying to remember why we bought this house. We had a perfectly acceptable three-bedroom, immediately post-World War II colonial on a larger lot on a side street, five houses down from a wonderful elementary school, and we got some kind of idea that we wanted to move to the country. About 100 house tours later, each of them reminding us of the driving time that would be sucked from our days by such a move, we actually relocated to the other side of our suburb, the side on the border of the city.

The location is fabulous. A twenty-minute drive from downtown, where we have both worked at various times. A thirty-minute drive, parking included, to the airport. A ten-minute walk to two different shopping neighborhoods, with restaurants, bookstores, funky shops (City Buddha, anyone?), and interesting people. A couple of walks to a 300-acre arboretum disguised as a cemetery, or a pair of lakes inhabited by all the local birds and visited by all the transients. A few minutes drive to the Montessori schools our childen attended, one for preschool and another through eighth grade.

The personality of our little city is incomparable. Everyone reads. Politics tend to be liberal (but not invariably so, as our squabble over domestic partner health insurance demonstrated ~ the insurance remains a mandate, but only after a court fight). Religious practice is evident everywhere ~ all kinds of religious practice. The schools are a constant source of controversy, the public schools with all the attendant issues of inner-ring suburb diversity vying with Catholic, Lutheran, fundamentalist Christian, Jewish, charter, Montessori, and Waldorf schools for the dwindling number of students.

Our house represented a fantasy at one time, some of which we actually lived out. Mahogany and oak woodwork, glass-doored cupboards in the dining room and library, fireplaces in the libray and living room, a small sunroom (standard-issue here) off the kitchen, front and back stairs, and a huge kitchen that at one time emerged out of a combination of much smaller kitchen, breakfast nook, porch and pantry. The tiny bedrooms, closets and bathrooms (none of which are fully functional) that mark aging colonials. A place where a family of five could spread itself out: where Legos once splattered across the floor, where children's books tumbled from every available surface, and where fantasy dramas with neighbor children played out up and down three floors, under bunkbeds, into the back yard, and over the fence.

But more than two decades have passed. The children are gone. And so are the parakeets, the guinea pig, the cats, the big dog. The wallpaper is dreary, the paint on the woodwork exhausted. Various plumbing and plastering jobs await the ever-elusive contractors, the ones who probably make far more money out of this city than any lawyer or doctor and are, therefore, probably on the golf course at Hilton Head at the moment.

What are we supposed to do with this place????? It felt like a home when we had young children, simply by virtue of their presence. Now it feels like a mausoleum. A couple of rooms sport fresh coats of bright paint -- the kitchen, where we do most of our eating and talking, and a tiny space upstairs that I have just turned yellow in an effort to cheer myself up. But other than that? We have our computer spaces, and we read in bed, and the dog has commandeered the living room couch. The library stores books and the living room stores the television.

I know that what we really need to do is re-think our lives. They no longer center on children, and they haven't in a long time. Our work lives don't impinge into our home life -- well, the work itself does, but we don't socialize with our colleagues. But we have a wonderful circle of friends, many of whom will fill the house on Christmas Day with laughter and music and without regard to its dilapidated state. And we have an increasing number of involvements outside our home, most of which would offer us opportunities to host events and occasions, if only we started to think that way. I guess some kind of conscious assessment and plan is in order. Maybe even a timetable.

I have never had any interest in home decorating. Oh, I like to look at magazine pictures and imagine myself as a person interested in home decorating. But the actual activities involved -- things like looking at wallpaper and fabric designs and thinking about style? I'd rather scrape my fingernails across a blackboard. So this may require a major personality transformation. But I'm thinking that a couple of years of life invested into the appearance and comfort of our home may pay off in a new way of interacting with friends and family.

And surely those children will return someday, with another generation of tiny blondes holding their hands?


ppolarbear said...

Does the house feel too big in the summertime, too?
And I believe those children will return....tradition holds that chances are at least one of them will move back in with you for a bit after graduateion!

Kathryn said...

As you know, I share your pain. I can't imagine either of us living in different types of neighborhoods or different types of houses so I have no answer.

I too love to fill it up with people when entertaining or when family visits from out of town. Sometimes I feel like maintaining it is sucking the life out of me both physically and economically.

Hmmmmm... My parents added on to their house when we finished college and started bringing partners and grandchildren home.

Quotidian Grace said...

"What we really need to do is rethink our lives." I really identify with that statement, being in much the same place in life that you are. Recently my husband and I have been talking about this--and the need to break the patterns that made sense when we had children to attend to and we were younger.

We have a few ideas--but will keep our now too big house for the time being.

Cynthia said...

Once again, you've got such a wonderful attitude. The thinking about wallpaper was considered mandatory in my childhood, but I lack the talent. I hear it can be fun, and I hope it turns out that way for you.

Lisa :-] said...

That very last line is very telling... Throughout this essay, I was tempted to say, "Well, if the house is too much for you, downsize." But you obviously still can find reasons to stay...and you love it. So fix it up. Or don't. But it's obvious you love it, no matter what...

Anonymous said...

You just described my home (1908 model) almost to a "T". We too comtemplate a change. But now, the children are returning with the 3rd. generation of blue-eyed blondes. I long for something smaller even as I look forward to filling all these rooms at holiday times.


Waterfall said...

I can totally identify with you about not being the home-decorating type. Imagining it is fun, but actually doing it? Blech.

But still, I would count on the new generation of little ones visiting ... and if you want it to look nicer, make a conscious effort over the next couple of years to do so, like you said. It's only a couple of years, and who knows, you might manage to have some fun here and there.

Theresa Williams said...

Really beautiful writing, Robin. I don't know what to tell you about the house, but I hope you continue to write like this. My husband and I bought our first house in 1999. When we lived in NC we owned an old trailer, but that doesn't count. Once we moved to Ohio, we rented for years. So by the time we got our house, our children were practically grown. Only the youngest lived with us for more than a year. Ours is a 100 year old farmhouse; but it's not one of those American Gothic styled homes; it's more of a cabin in a used-to-be-wilderness. A very odd house with a musty cellar and bunches of little rooms. It's home and it feels right to us. I come you come to peace about a decision soon.

lisa c. said...

Your home sounds lovely, Robin. A library AND a fireplace in it! Oh my. I don't think I would want to give that up.

Paul said...

You write so often (and so well) about places and birds and others that it is a rare treat to have you write about yourself a little bit.