I don’t remember the house my parents lived in when I was born. It might have been one of the rental houses owned by my grandparents or it might have been the little stone house behind the Tasty Freeze. All I know for sure is that it wasn’t my home for long. We moved. And still I’m not sure which house was next. Was it the duplex on Larry Street or the apartment near the junior high? It wasn’t my home for long either. My mom was young with nomadic tendencies and my father was a musician. The only constant when it came to homes, was the constant knowledge that we would be moving on before long.
It never really bothered me much growing up. My mom’s parents were missionaries, so I always heard about their travels throughout Central America. I thought moving around was just a normal thing that families did. We were always moving for a good reason; my mom was not frivolous about it. Sometimes we just moved to a new house in the same town, sometimes we moved in with my grandparents when times were tough, sometimes we moved to entirely different states in exotic new time zones. By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was so good at being the new kid, so settled in that role and all it entailed, that when another new girl came to the school, I had my very first identity crisis. Who was I, if I wasn’t the new girl? Valedictorian of angst, even at the tender age of 10, I was.
Some homes were better than others. I got to paint my room yellow in the house on Maple street. There was a beautiful Mimosa tree in the front yard of the house on Ash. In California, I could ride my bike through the hills in the nearby avocado and orange groves. I had 24/7 access to summer camp when we stayed with my grandparents who actually lived on the campgrounds. The neighborhood in Sleepy Hollow was filled with friends from school. The house in Houston had a gorgeous backyard. Then there were the homes that weren’t so fun. The garage apartment filled with hand me down furniture. The townhouse with neighbors who blasted their music at all hours. The house on Terrell that was so old, our furniture literally wouldn’t fit through the front door, so we had to sit on couch cushions in the living room.
People say kids are resilient. I say they just don’t know any better. If they knew what they were actually going through, they’d rail and scream and flail against it. Instead, they just think it’s business as usual. Until they are older and someone generously offers them a clue. Then they can form opinion and plan how things will be different one day. Because although the constant moving never bothered me– once I was old enough to know better, to make friends with people who had lived in the same house since they were born, to learn that our way of life wasn’t “normal,” I knew I wanted out. I don’t know how many times I moved while growing up. Somewhere between 20 and 30. I quit counting after I graduated high school. And I believe my grand total of schools attended was 12. I could probably count for you, but I’d rather not.
When I was pregnant with Allie, I promised that no matter what, I would give her a home. Singular. She could go to the same school and head off to college with kids who once ate paste alongside her. We could mark her growth on the pantry door and marvel at how little she used to be. We would redecorate and repaint her room as her tastes changed throughout the years. She could move away, but always have a familiar place to come back to. A place that stored her memories, a place that helped form her, a place that was safe and known and constant. A home.
I think she was about 3 when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to give her that. Newly divorced, living in yet another house with my nomadic mother. Of course, when we moved into that house with my mom, it was Allie’s fourth move. I always thought that eventually, life would turn out how I promised. There was a cul-de-sac and a tire swing just around the corner. I thought if I could just work hard enough, make the right deals, figure it out somehow, it would all be attainable. I could somehow do it on my own, couldn’t I? Maybe? Probably not… At least she’s not old enough to know any better, I thought.
But now she is. Now she’s almost 9. She’s on her 9th home. She’s resilient of course. There are some homes she likes better than others. We got to paint the room pink at the house on Spruce. The yellow apartments had an awesome pool. The house where we are now has fun neighborhood kids and a playroom and butterflies on her wall. But I know this one is temporary too. We won’t be here this time next year. And she’s learning, like I learned, that home sometimes isn’t a place you can go back to. Sometimes you have to carry your home with you. For us, home will never be a concrete place with square footage and a ZIP code. Home will always be Allie’s smile, Avery’s laughter, Ron’s sighs. Home will always be each other.