Our House is a Very, Very, Very Fine House

As of February 2012, I have lived in this house eighteen years. Eighteen years! I moved here as a child bride of twenty-five, and I swear it was yesterday.

Like most young married couples, the house we really wanted was just that wee little bit out of our financial reach, so we had to settle for the house we could afford. Actually, that’s not true. We could have afforded more, but we factored in that one day I hoped to take a few sixteen-plus years off with our imaginary future kids, and we didn’t want to be dependent upon my income to pay our mortgage. That way, just in case I wanted to stay home a little longer to work out, have lunch with my friends, and start a food blog work on the next great American novel, we could do so.

The lady who lived in this house before me, Diana, was quite the neighborhood Martha. I’m sure I shook things up around here when I moved in, this young chippie stockbroker with a job in the city. Now, with the wisdom of age, I see that no one was the least bit impressed or intimidated by me and my “credentials,” they were merely confused. Did you hear she is twenty-five? they all whispered. I learned that women in their late-30s, early-40s view twenty-five year olds with some inherent suspicion. As they should. It’s amazing I made any friends. I’m pretty sure I would have hated me back then, or at least not have rolled out the red carpet. But all of my neighbors were always very kind, and some have become dear friends over the years.

We wound up looking at this house three times before we figured out we wanted it, so clearly not love at first sight. More like love after a few beers and midnight approaching. It is on a corner lot, not the coveted top-of-the-cul-de-sac position. My bathrooms are small and not the Barbie Dream House bathroom with a nice tub that was on my Must Have list. Every room was wallpapered or sponge painted within an inch of its life. But it had a good vibe to it. It felt like a loving family lived here, and I liked that. The clincher was a little framed calligraphy saying that read:

Rich is not where you live or what you have or what you wear. Rich is who’s next to you.

Or something like that. It WAS eighteen years ago, and I’m no longer a spring chicken. It’s funny, the silly things we remember, but I did remember that little sign. It felt like a sign. Like home.

I remember walking the yard from all angles and thinking, “It’s an odd yard, but it seems like it would be a fun place for kids to play…to sled in the winter, play baseball in the summer, run through sprinklers.” I hated that it was on the corner, but we figured we could plant some evergreens to block the road. It’s hard to explain the feeling, years later, pulling into my driveway past sixty-foot tall trees, and seeing kids playing basketball in the driveway and running around the yard. I remember the person I was when I first saw the house and envisioned my family, and now here they are. Very rarely in my life have things turned out exactly the way I pictured they would, so when I see my kids playing in the yard, it’s hard to not smile.

Back when we were young and optimistic, we deemed this our starter house. We figured if fortune smiled upon us, we would trade up one day, and if not, this would be an acceptable house to stay in. We tried to move in 2001, but many forces conspired against us. It was almost supernatural; we fought off obstacle after obstacle in an effort to buy our dream house, but eventually we accepted defeat.

Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. — Dalai Lama

We were meant to stay here, I really believe that. And the house we deemed our dream house? Turns out it would have been a very wrong choice for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is a nasty mold problem). Whenever things don’t work out the way I want them to, I try to remember this. But there are other times, more shallow times, when I feel disappointed that we never bought the “we’ve made it” house. I feel ashamed admitting that, because the rational part of me knows how incredibly fortunate we are. Sometimes Geminis aren’t always rational.

Fortunately, every spring, as the seed catalogs start arriving, I fall back in love with my house. Diana set me up with some beautiful flowers and trees which continue to thrive to this day: dogwood, wisteria, irises, and — best of all — peonies. We have had a vegetable garden every year since 1994 (note: before it was trendy). I give Ed full credit for this. It’s possible I might have fought the garden for a few years, resenting it like a mistress. I might have called it a few unprintable names. I definitely didn’t help nearly as much as I should have. It seemed like a lot of unnecessary work to me when we have five grocery stores in a six mile radius. It took me a few years to get it.

There is something so magical about growing your own food on your own land. I am hardly a beacon of clean eating, but the fundamental purity of that act is so fulfilling. It feels almost holy, creating food from seed, and I think it becomes even more magical when you use it to feed your children. This year, the garden will be undergoing some necessary renovations. When you live in one place for so long, you inevitably learn nothing lasts forever.

I moved around a lot as a child. Moving was something I always hated and wished to spare my own children. I hope when my kids look back on their childhood, they will remember this house fondly with its flowers, trees, vegetable garden and odd backyard, and I hope they will know that despite their relatively modest home, they were rich.

Dogwood in the front yard

Vegetable garden in the back yard

Pink peonies — short lived but gorgeous

Ask Mom Mom: Contagious Kids

Dear Mom Mom,

What can one do when you have two children (first grade and middle school) and you get to the highly anticipated visit to see cousin who lives 3 hours away and has the lead in her middle school musical, and during the middle of the second act it becomes apparent that the first grader you have brought three hours in the van is feverish.  He makes it through the show but has now exposed that entire side of the family to whatever virus he has.  Can’t drive home at that hour so you give him fever reducer and put him to bed in the grandparents’ house and the next morning, no fever and he looks like he had never been sick, bouncing all over the place. I left town the next morning.

The problem I am faced with is that for the next week and a half I am going to be given a run down of all the people in that side of the family that he has gotten sick.  Do I just avoid all communication with that side of the family until they aren’t playing the stupid blame game and have forgotten who brought the plague to town?  I don’t think they mean ill intent but I always feel horrible.  I never would have intentionally infected an entire city if I had known ahead of time.  But this same group of people would have been equally upset if I had known ahead of time and had canceled, because I do cancel a lot.  The trips three hours away happen only about 4-6 times a year and the kids love their cousins.

Typhoid Mary’s Mom

Dear Typhoid Mary’s Mom:

I read your email several times, and each time I was reminded of two quotes by two wise women:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. — Eleanor Roosevelt

Strep happens. — Mom Mom

I really can’t see how you did anything wrong. You may be a very powerful woman, but you cannot control the emergence or spreading of the world’s viruses and bacteria. Nothing in your email led me to believe you had any idea your child was sick, and once you did discover that, you left immediately. Plenty of people would have stayed if their child was feeling well the next day (hello!), but you went that extra mile in consideration. What else could have you done? Family is very important, and it’s great that you are willing to drive so far to support a cousin and promote these relationships for your kids. Your intentions are good, and you can hold your head high.

I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind would “blame” you for getting their children sick, intentionally or unintentionally, and therefore I would not avoid any phone contact or go into hiding. If anything, I would own it, saying something like, “I sure hope no one got sick from our brief visit. Fortunately it was a quick virus and our son bounced back immediately!”

Back in the playgroup days, there were two types of parents: The Crazy Bubble Parents and the normal ones. I am guessing maybe some of your relatives are the Crazy Bubble Parents? If I let our playgroup hostess know one of my kids had the sniffles or a lingering cough, the normal parents would say, “Eh, send ’em over if they’re feeling up to it! What can you do? Germs are everywhere. I might as well not go to Target if I care about germs touching me.” And the Crazy Bubble Parents would say, “Oh, I am so sorry Logan can’t come to our house. We’ll miss him at playgroup. I hope you called the doctor about that cold!”

You sound like a considerate person with good intentions who tries her best, and maybe you should explore why you are allowing these particular family members (or any people, period) make you feel bad when things turn out less than perfect. You wouldn’t want your children to feel this way, and you shouldn’t feel this way either.