Yes, that’s a big statement…..on a Monday. But hey. It comes in drips….to me….every now and then.
I spent the weekend in NJ – assessing things that need to be done to prepare a house my family owns there for sale. The house – the house I grew up in – is vacant now. It has been rented for a number of years. I spent a few hours cleaning the kitchen cabinets and replacing all the knobs (31 to be exact). I got on my hands and knees and looked into drawers and under stairs and in the nooks and crannies… I saw my father’s handy work…here and there. I flicked light switches that I used to touch every day. I criticized elements of the house that I always accepted before. I slept on an air mattress in my old room. I walked on the streets where I grew up. My children played on the playground at the elementary school – the school I went to.
I spent a little bit of time hanging out with a friend of mine from 4th grade…and her son….and, even, her mom.
I sat through 2 hours of talk by 2 realtors who my mom is going to hire to try to sell the house. We talked about lead paint and wiring and how old the furnace was and the laws about where to put fire detectors. Both of these ladies were married and lived in town and are raising their kids there. They were busy working moms. They were smart and well-dressed and very well educated. I noticed their manicures and wondered how they had time to get them done.
So, you know the old saying — “you can’t go home again?” Well, it is true. And I think it is true for a reason. Life is a one-way street…..in that you keep moving forward…….and it isn’t possible to be in “that place” again…..once you have moved forward. Sort of, by definition. But I didn’t realize how linear life is.
My mother is very attached to the house in NJ – the one she spent her adult life in raising her kids. She loves the neighborhood. She loves the house (in fact, she spent a lot of time sitting in the dining room, on Saturday, as if it were the sistine chapel…admiring the cove ceiling!). She walked from room to room …the entire weekend. And while there was no furniture in the house for her to sit on – she really didn’t keep wandering because of that. She was clearly “visiting” the place of her old memories as she walked around…
She loves a lot of the “bits” of our life back then. She loved that people left their porch lights on (and still do). She loved that she knew and liked her neighbors (we actually had many visitors over the weekend..). She loved the simple nature of our life. She even liked that our whole family shared a single blue 1940s bathroom (that is still going strong..). The only thing she didn’t like was that she was always “so busy” when we were growing up…trying to juggle work and raising us. She felt that like it flew by before she realized it. Her words..
Some part of her kept that house….I think….to hang on to those years. To taste them a bit longer even though there is really nothing left of that time.
I found that I have no emotional connection to that house at all. I was surprised, actually. Despite the fact that I always LOVED the neighborhood there, and that I was mostly happy there, I really didn’t feel like I was coming home to that house. And that made me sad – which was very surprising. In fact, I woke up in the middle of the night and I wandered around the house. I looked out the windows at the street at night. I remember feeling safe there – and it still felt safe. But I didn’t feel like I fit there. I was a teenager in that house. I was angry in that house. And I remember being on my own…a lot…in that house.
As I was driving back last night from NJ — in the rain and in the dark — with my mother and kids sleeping in the car — I started to think about how we are “doing it wrong” in this country if we look back over our 30s, 40s, and 50s and we feel like it was all a blur and we hardly remember parenting our kids and living through the best years of our lives. My mother says that it was SO BUSY and so crazy – during her parenting years (and she had a husband who helped a little) – that, now, it is hard for her to really focus on anything when she thinks back on that time. The details are blurry. She says she felt like she was running from one responsibility to another….
So, back to the meaning of life. Life is a one-way street. Starts when you are a child and takes a quick pace until the end. We don’t know what happens after that. So we only have this time. If we are spending our time running from one responsibility to another and unable to remember the details of our life….we are doing it wrong. All the extraneous things in our life that bog us down….need to go. If we are spending our free time fixing up a crumbling house (and we don’t like fixing up that kind of stuff)….the house needs to go. Get a newer house – or rent – and don’t even look back. If we are spinning our wheels in a relationship that isn’t working…..it is time to move beyond it. If we hate our job…time to look for something we like. If we are constantly putting off a certain vacation…..it is time to focus on it. The kids don’t need 20 after school activities. They need some more parent time. They don’t need tv, movies, video games. They need time to think and play and imagine…and be leisurely, from time to time. Why is there so much stress on kids? Where does that come from? And I think we all need more time outside (my personal opinion). I don’t think we need 3000 square foot homes and tvs in every room. I don’t think we need cellular phones and texting. I don’t think we need to be able to “bring work home.” I think that everything that makes our lives “easier” and able to “stay connected” to the people in our lives… may be doing the opposite for the people in our actual homes. I think the pace of our lives is too fast. And I don’t see why it needs to be.
We can’t go home again. And so we need to do it right the first time. We need to have a million memories to fall back on – when we don’t have the actual places to visit. Our memories fill those places with meaning and love and comfort…..those places – themselves – are empty and meaningless. Holding onto the “place” won’t bring back that time…and it won’t fill that time with meaning if there was no time to do it in the first place.
Just my 2 cents …after a weekend in my old NJ home.