In a few days, season three of our temporary life in Slave Lake will come to an end and we’ll be heading south – home to the starter house we bought 30 years ago.
It’s nothing fancy. My 1,050 square foot, ‘50s bungalow was never meant to be my dream home. We bought it because it was affordable and in a good neighbourhood. It was always our intention to pay this house off quickly, keep it as an income property and move on up.
But, priorities changed when two kids came along. Neither The Consultant nor I had anticipated the emotional impact starting a family would have on us. Our world shifted and we quickly realized that a decision to stay in this house was a decision in favour of family. I was able to quit my full-time job and take work only if it fit around the kids’ schedules.
When the kids were about ten and eight, we chose to buy vacation property in the wilderness. It’s our place to escape the big city and connect with each other. Once again, our plan to move into a bigger, better house went to the back burner.
Now, in this empty nest stage of life, I travel with my husband to live in temporary, contract locations for six months each year. A few years ago, before closing the front door to leave and begin our first work season away, I glanced around the rooms.
I noticed that I wasn’t attached to very much of what I was leaving behind. I love the odd thing we’ve collected through travel and keep a few trinkets that hold meaning – a special bond with a sibling, the unique connection with a friend – but I’m not a collector of stuff.
Not expecting to miss it, I left our house with four plastic bins. Two of them were kitchen items, one was office supplies and another was filled with my writing tools; books, paper, journals, pens. That’s all I needed.
But six months later, I returned with a feeling of relief and comfort. As I walk back in it all rushes back to me –
- I smell those freshly baked peanut butter (or is it chocolate chip?) cookies coming out of the oven at the end of a school day.
- I hear a very young boy express worry through tears, that he might not be a good driver some day,
- then later, his awesome impression of Jim Carrey in The Mask “Smmmmokin’.”
- And a little girl’s, “You’re my princess Daddy.”
- or a stubborn, “You’re not the boss of me!”
- I see a family gathered around the coffee table playing a lively game of Skipbo
- and over there, a couple of kids sit beside each other on the love seat until they make up from their argument.
- In that master bedroom, I lie awake at night worrying that I can’t get to one child or the other in mere moments while they temporarily live away
- then sleep soundly as they cross back over the thresholds of their bedrooms, a little more grown up and infused with a lot more life experience.
- I feel love flowing out and coming back in the form of long embraces.
I realize how much this house has seen in 30 years: our elopement, a boy and girl born two years apart, high school graduations and two degrees earned.
This is where I dreamed of a future for my kids and who they’d become. It’s the only home they’ve ever known. Within its walls, they dreamed while they slept.
As toddlers, I tucked them in on Christmas Eve to dream about Santa Claus and magic. They dreamed of performing on a stage, bringing home a trophy and what they wanted to be when they grew up. They dreamed of traveling the big world, and buying their own dream houses some day.
Our home is where scrapes were bandaged and kissed better. Hearts were broken and mended. We curled up with hot chocolate and a giant bowl of popcorn to laugh together at Friday night movies. We sat around the dinner table, told stories, and built relationships with family and friends.
One thing my husband, The Consultant, and I always agreed on is that we’d share a life of doing, not having. Owning our own home was never going to keep us from an active and happy life, and it didn’t. We made our choices.
It’s not about the original stucco siding, the boxy floor plan or small bedrooms; it’s about the doghouse in the backyard, the rope swing in the tree, a favourite blanket thrown over a chair and a photo collage arranged just for me. We’ve made our memories here.
Turns out it’s my dream home after all.