Most people pass our house, the first time ’round. It sneaks up on you, this small white house in the middle of the hill on a busy road. I’ve been told that the road wasn’t so busy, years ago. I’ve been told that they used to sled down that hill, down the middle of that road. That was a long time ago.
We’ve lived in this house for eight years now. Eight years ago, it was just Mark and me and a dog and a cat. We knew we’d have a family, someday. We even figured this is where it would start.
We bought this house from an older woman named Helen. Helen was a widow who lived alone here in this house on a hill. No matter which way you come, there are stairs to contend with here. Drive in the garage, and you have to climb up the basement stairs to get to the living space. Stay out front and you have to climb the stairs with the sidewalk to get to the front door. These stairs were wearisome for Helen, and along with the upkeep of the house and grounds, she decided it was time to move along. I wonder what it was like for Helen, packing up and leaving this house. Do you know that her husband and his brother built it, concrete block upon block more than sixty years ago? Do you know that she raised three kids in this house?
That is the piece of the story that I’m looking at now, the part where Helen raises three kids here. Because what I can also tell you is that just after signing the papers and sealing the deal to make this house our own, I scoffed at the idea that anyone could raise three kids in this house! That was fifty, sixty years ago! My, how they did things differently! I simply could not see any way that a family of five could share this space here and now in the early 21st century.
Here I am, eight years later, raising three kids in this house, in 2014. I am tasting my very words.
If Spring and Summer push me out of the house and into the outdoors, then Fall and Winter draw me back in. Don’t get me wrong: we are a family who knows how to bundle up As long as the sun is shining (and sometimes even when it’s not) we throw on the extras and head out to play. It can take an extra dose of motivation, but it is almost never wasted. We reap the benefits of fresh air in pink cheeks and cloud-breath. Because here is the reality: this house is small. Certainly for three always-growing children who need to run and climb and kick balls.
Our cozy cape cod is beginning to feel like your favorite sweater that no longer fits.
It’s easy to see only the lack, to voice the complaints and ungratefulness. I can drive in most any direction and see much more than what I have, and nothing can rob joy like comparison. I would by lying to tell you that I am sweetly content in my space all the time, because I’m a real, human person, and gratefulness is work. Perspective is work. And when the three kids are each throwing super balls around the one main space we have for living, or they have, again, monopolized the furniture by turning it into a fort, or when there are bathroom emergencies with only one bathroom, it can be hard to find the right perspective.
“The very close quarters are hard to get used to, love weighs the hull down with its weight.” indigo girls
Love is our anchor here. I’d be foolish not to admit the close quarters, to call it like I see it. Because the quarters are close, and they are hard to get used to. But it’s this love that I come back to, again and again, when my frustration festers. When I put on my glasses and see through that lens of love, then I can remember what I know to be true. Yes, there are probably more slip and falls, more bumps and bruises, because we’re all running in each others space. But: we are in each others space. I am witness to the spun stories of kid imagination because they are told at the helm of this ship, where the kitchen meets the family room. If this was a different house, if these kids were playing in some far flung play space, I wouldn’t get to hold the treasure of these stories. It means that we play in collaboration much more, because you can’t build a tower or a fort or a robot alone when you have other kids breathing in at it, too. It means that we take turns choosing what music we’ll listen to, and we say sorry an whole lot. I think it’s making us in to the kind of people I want to be, and to be with.
I’ve had this other realization, too, about this space. I’ve been noticing the house in photographs, and I like what I see. When I take pictures of our life in this house, just the ordinary pieces things like the kids reading together, or a photo of a tower and its proud architect, our small space is there, as the backdrop. In fact, this background of a a house is starting to seem like it’s very own character in these pictures. I can see the book shelves that line the walls, with the curly cue black brackets. My eye is drawn to the hard lines of tables and chairs, and soft spaces of sofas and pillows. The arch above the hallway, the wood floor, the baskets that hold toys and books – each creates artful composition in this family space. As I’ve noticed these vignettes, I realize that I actually love this space. Seen in this small scale, I get this creeping warmth that makes me feel cozy and at home here. Sometimes, it’s good to take a different angle, see the whole scene differently, through a smaller square, focusing in on the details. This is the home we’ve created.
And then, just as equally, the opposite is true. Sometimes, it’s good to pull back that lens, and take in the wide angle panorama. This happened to me, too, this Fall, when we were all outside playing. The kids wanted to run up and down the hill, and I took a break from whatever yard work I had been doing to sit sort of mid-point on our hill and watch them. From all the way up here, I could hardly notice the busy road, which we often complain about. The weed-grass that can be utterly gross and frustrating just looked green enough to be a yard, any yard. The house is smaller, still. The trees tower so, so high over head and the sky and clouds above that, giving such a spacious and eternal feel to the whole thing. And with that perspective, it’s easy to feel just like the kids running on the hill, ready to lean in to the free fall and wait for liftoff. In those moments, I want to be no where else, live no where else.
How could you raise three kids in this house? This is how.