Sometimes I still accidentally refer to my parents’ house as home.

I’ve been out of the house, more or less, for a decade but it’s an easy mistake. They still live in the same awesome, 100-year-old house I grew up in. Its silhouette has changed over the years, trees have grown up and come down, and it’s recently been painted yellow, but it’s still the same house I was brought home to as an infant. It provided the setting for all of my childhood dramas, games and fantasy. I spent hours in the backyard. I used to look out my window at the hills opposite and imagine the kingdoms that lay beyond them. (I was disappointed to learn that the hills were only hiding Waterbury.)

I know where everything in this house is, and a lot of the things I used to think of as mine are still here – the mural on my old bedroom wall, the painted rock that serves as a doorstop, the shelves on which my international doll collection used to sit – but recently something’s changed.

I’m actually typing this post at my parents’ kitchen table, a storied piece of furniture which belonged to my grandmother. (She used to point out, at meals, the aunts and uncles who were changed on the table as infants. You gotta love family.) I’m at the house for the day, dog-sitting while my parents celebrate my Mom’s birthday in another state.

When my parents asked me to do this, I accepted eagerly. My first, Pavlovian response (developed in college)  was to start mentally plotting out which loads of laundry I could do while I was “home.” My second response was “Wow, I can watch cable,” because I haven’t had cable in years. But I haven’t done either. I’ve barely raided the fridge. I haven’t cranked the heat. I’ve just been camped out on the couch, while the two dogs bring me things to throw. And it’s occurred to me: It took about 10 years, but this house isn’t home anymore.

There was a time when everything I knew I needed was here. If I needed extra Q-tips, they were here. Ring-dings? I know where my father hides them. If I needed to print something? Dad’s office is right upstairs and it’s always operational. Tape? There are six kinds of tape living in a certain drawer. Batteries? Dad buys in bulk; he’ll hardly miss eight AAs.

That time is long gone. Now I’m keenly aware that I’d be taking someone else’s batteries, Q-tips or Ring-Dings. I no longer feel entitled to this house and everything in it. I feel uncomfortable opening the cabinets and drawers in which I rummaged so freely for three decades.

I think it’s weird that this should hit me now. I haven’t really lived here since I moved to Massachusetts as a 22-year-old. But then again, I never really inhabited my apartments. After my first apartment, I learned my lesson about moving: Never own more than you can move with one or two good friends and a truck. And never keep good furniture – milk crates are a girl’s best friend. By the time I moved into my last apartment, I had it down to a science. I furnished my living room for less than $40, and outfitted my bedroom and kitchen for nothing. When it came time to move to the house, I brought most of my furniture to Goodwill and was able to move the rest in one truckload. Half my clothing was always packed in a suitcase, for closet space and an easy move. I never seemed to buy enough of anything. It was a lot like camping, actually, and my parents’ house was my home base.

Now that I have a house, my life is suddenly more permanent. I’m not afraid of having to move if a roommate needs to take off, or if the landlord raises the rent. I have real couches and decent furniture. I can stock the pantry. I can wash my clothes whenever I want.

It took me a while to grow up, but I have my own home now.

12 thoughts on “Home.

  1. Ann – I love this! It brought back so many childhood memories of time spent at your parent’s house. I still see it as green and white with a big jungle gym in the backyard and Hope standing nearby. I love knowing the mural on your bedroom wall is still there, and wonder what happened to that doll collection I was so envious of! Since moving into a condo that I own, I can really relate to a lot of what you said about now having a home (with my own laundry facilities!) and finally having nice things! Thanks for sharing your story -Mary

    • Hey Mary! I remember being fascinated by your house when I was little. It was so different from our house and had that awesome playroom in the basement, and the pool and the woods. I loved our sleepovers so much.

      It’s nice to know that you remember the house as it was. I’m still shocked by the new paint job, and the backyard always looks empty without the jungle gym and swing set.

      Oh, and the doll collection? In boxes in the closet. Packed and waiting for the moment my parents even suspect a grandchild is on the way.

  2. I’ve shared this piece with my daughter. She solved the pull of what was ‘home’ by calling her childhood home (where I am) – North Avenue and her own place – Saugatuck, which is where her first apartment was. She’s where you are now in that her home is her own house she shares with her husband and son. North Avenue is now “Grandma’s”. Nice.

    • I too gave my parents’ house a name! My husband and I call it Fort O’Connell (the new additions make it look like a fort), and we call my current home Fort Davis. But the names never really stuck with anyone else.

      I’m so glad you shared my post with your daughter. I’ve heard so much about her and her son; I feel like I’ve met them.

  3. I, like Mary, was brought immediately back to playdates at your house when we were growing up. Kinda cool that your parents are still there!

  4. I can completely relate. I lived out of a suitcase for a while too, between various college dorm rooms, a semester abroad, and one horrible winter when my apartment flooded and I found myself back “home,” sleeping on my parents’ couch and staying at my boyfriends’ house on the weekends.

    Your post made me remember what it was like during those transient years, when I felt like I was always packed to go somewhere else, when half my stuff was elsewhere in storage and I also felt like I was permanently “camping.” And now I can look around at my very own house, with solid furniture and everything unpacked, and really appreciate how nice it is.

    Awesome thoughtful post! Definitely made me stop and reflect on being more appreciative of a simple thing like home. 🙂

    • You know, I did find a kind of beauty in living like a gypsy. When I graduated from college, I spent a summer living in people’s guest rooms and on couches until I found an apartment. And a few years ago, I lived on some friends’ futon. As much as I worried about my lack of digs and my imposition on my friends, I kind of relished my rootlessness.

      But I much prefer having a home of my own.

      Thanks for reading. I love your blog and I’m happy you came to visit mine.

  5. Loved your post… I wonder if I will have this feeling myself someday. Since I have temporarily inherited my parents’ house, I sometimes feel as though I’m camping at home. I live there, but most of the stuff outside my bedroom door still belongs to them, even though they aren’t physically there. I joke about the fact that at 32, the only pieces of furniture I “own” are bookshelves, a table, a futon, and a couple dog-crates. My personal kitchenware consists of a bunch of mugs and some plastic glasses “borrowed” from the Trinity dining hall or picked up at reunion events. Even most of the batteries and q-tips belong to Josh!

    In any event, I’m often aware of the strangeness of my home still being _at_ home, but it not being _my_home, if that makes any sense. I love the continuity and security, but I do sometimes wonder what it will be like to have a place that’s new and fresh and entirely my own and what I will do with it. At least I know I can always call you for goodwill furniture-buying advice! 😉

  6. Beautifully-written comment, Virg. I can see what you mean by camping at home. It is your home, but it’s not your home. And I can see how that must be a strange feeling at times. Still, it does sound like a pretty good deal; you get a house and your parents get a caretaker.

    When you get your own home someday, you can call me anytime for cheap furniture options. I am a master of Freecycle and Craigslist.

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