The Victorian-influenced sun and moon wallpaper, that I felt so grown-up picking out. The musical theater posters on the wall, including one from West Side Story signed by the touring cast. The photograph of two manatees kissing at Homosassa Springs that my dad took when I was in third grade. The glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, interspersed with painted clouds. All fundamental elements of my childhood bedroom, now all gone. Instead, it’s some other child’s bedroom, empty and awaiting his dream of what he wants it to be.
Last month, my parents closed on my childhood home in upstate New York so they could move closer to us. They sold it to a young family with two small boys. Like my parents 30 years ago, the mother and father were excited about the good school district and suburban neighborhood. While I’m glad everything worked out, it’s still a bit bittersweet for me.
That three-bedroom, center hall colonial is the only place I remember growing up. We lived in another town until I was three years old, but I don’t have a single memory of it. In addition, Chris and I are from the same hometown. Memories of our early relationship, from studying on the couch to making out in the driveway, are grounded there. Although I have an ambivalent relationship with my hometown and have lived hundreds of miles away, I’ve always considered that house “home.”
So even though I knew my parents wanted to sell the house this summer, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. When I was a kid, my mom was always checking out and fantasizing about new houses. But they never went through with it – until now.
I was in full denial mode until their real estate agent told them they had an offer a mere 48 hours after putting it on the market. By that point, it was too late to say goodbye.
If I knew they’d be tearing down my beloved wallpaper and painting over the stars that I saw each night before closing my eyes, I would have spent a few moments last time I was there running my hands over the walls.
But perhaps it’s appropriate that my last memories of the house don’t really belong to me. Instead, they’re dominated with caring for my own child. Reading to him in the giant wicker chair with the floral pillow. Tucking him into bed in my old room with my blue stuffed elephant. Opening Christmas presents under the twinkling white lights of my parents’ tree. Watching a kids’ New Year’s Eve countdown with animated penguins on their big TV. Helping him and my mom construct a gingerbread house on the wooden island in the kitchen.
It was the perspective of an exhausted pregnant mother of a toddler. But it was also his perspective, helping me see my parents’ house at Christmas transformed into a holiday wonder.
While the sale of my parents’ house feels like I’ve lost part of me, I’ve also gained a firmer foundation in my own place. Ever since we moved to the Washington D.C. area, our house has never fully and completely felt like home. We’ve only celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving here a few times, never by choice. Staying in D.C. was always a poor substitute for being “home for the holidays,” restricted by work schedules and logistical issues.
With my parents now gone and Chris’s parents moving next year, our loyalties will no longer be split. Now, our house is our only home. Next year, we’ll be the parents instead of the children.
I hope that the new family that moves in to my childhood home finds their own place. I hope that the children can dig in the yard as I did, dreaming of magical plants and worlds. That they walk to their friends’ houses safely, as I did to play clubhouse under my neighbor’s giant pine trees. That they navigate the challenges of the area – the lack of walkability, the huge school system – without too much difficulty. I hope whatever child lives in my old room finds the space to imagine and plan as I did. And I hope that the family can call it home, just as mine did for three decades.