In 2011, when we moved to Toronto from Chicago, we pawned off the grill, the piano, and the daybed to friends, promising to retrieve them when we returned. We kept our house, thinking we’d reclaim it in three years from the friends who rented it and have raised their young family on the quiet street in our absence. As it turns out, it’s their children who got big in our house. At the beginning of the month, this family moved out, and this week, we’re listing the house to sell it.
We bought the house on Church Street in 2005 from my brother-in-law who was doing contracting work at the time. The market was white hot, and when we were looking to move back to Illinois after three years in Ohio, there weren’t a lot of options for our growing family. This development project was as good as any. I was 37 weeks pregnant with our third child, and we moved in with my in-laws, then two months later into a rental house while we waited for renovations on the Church Street house to be completed. We moved into the house just as Audrey was turning 4—and celebrated her birthday and our housewarming with a princess party, tiaras and all.
I am thinking of the house on Church Street with fondness this week. It feels especially apropos since we are celebrating an official seven years in Toronto, May 22, 2011 having been our recorded “date of entry” into Canada. (For immigrants, this date is a bit like your birthday. You’re meant to remember it for official paperwork.) For all the gratitude I feel that home is now Toronto, I also feel grief at severing this final tie to our home in the States. Our home stories are inevitably this kind of narrative paradox. Unless we’ve stayed in the same place from birth, we must be uprooted in order to be planted, and there is something traumatic about being jerked up from soil.
I remember watching with the kids from the front porch while the driveway was being poured in our new home on Church Street. I remember painting all the bedrooms with my in-laws when we moved in, then covertly repainting Audrey’s bedroom for her 7th birthday—purple and yellow, of course. I’d shuffled her off to school that morning then worked all day to try finishing, nursing my twin babies, then 2 months, in between. It’s no wonder that later that evening, when we sat around a table of giggly girls at the American Girl Doll Cafe, I came down with feverish chills. I had mastitis, despite that I had carried my breast pump with me and had expressed milk from the bathroom of the restaurant. It took all the strength in the world to get those girls home and crawl into bed that evening.
I remember the initial shock (disappointment) of learning that I was pregnant, then learning that it was twins. That initial disappointment gave way to the certainty that God, indeed, had a terrific sense of humor. I loved putting together the twins’ room, which had formerly been an office: two cribs, a changing table, the blue denim glider I’d used for the other three children. I splurged on bedding from Land of Nod, figuring that these two were sure to be the last. At a shower thrown by friends, someone gave me two dinosaur name plates, and I hung them up when they were home from the hospital, adding their names: Colin and Andrew.
I remember the hours spent with neighbors, our kids running through the front yards on ordinary afternoons and Halloween. I remember the hours spent circled up in the family room for small group discussion, all our children penned with two babysitters in the basement. After we ended the discussion, we let the kids loose and set up more tables and chairs in the dining room for our weekly potluck. I don’t know how I did all that hosting when the kids were young, but I do know that it was a good rhythm, a sharing of our space and lives with friends.
I remember the wedding reception we hosted for friends at church, how the backyard baked that hot summer day and the kids ran wild through the house, leaving the floors to crunch beneath our feet after all the guests left. A couple of friends stayed to put everything back in order, which included sweeping up the spilled sugar in the kitchen and finding half-eaten sandwiches behind the furniture.
I was mother of three small children in this house, then mother of five small children. My most harried days were lived within the walls of this house to which I’m now saying goodbye. Maybe the catch in my throat as I write is less about leaving those walls behind and more the growing sense that my children are growing up to leave me behind. Maybe I'm grieving that home will again change in a year when Audrey dons a cap and gown and twirls off to her next adventure, Nathan following just a year behind. I never wished to slow the days when the children were younger. I always wanted the kids bigger and more capable. How strange then that I could wish for just a few more days in the brown house as we came to call it, days when I could crawl with my big pregnant belly into the lower bunk in the girls’ room, pulling the three littles close to me for our nightly ritual of “bunches.” I’d look at them longer, harder. I’d memorize the wisp of their hair, the curve of their cheeks. I hold them tight to me, wish myself more patient and gentle.
I’m saying goodbye this week to a house, a very good house with lots of good memories. And maybe that’s reason for the tears: because I’m being uprooted—and planted—at the very same time.
My book, Keeping Place, is a personal and biblical reflection on the meaning of home. Maybe it could be helpful to you if you're in the middle of being uprooted and planted, too?