I wonder how many times this phrase has been said, yelled, or at least insinuated, to all those elderly couples that suddenly find themselves living in a home too big for them, a home too expensive and empty for them, and yet, too painful to leave, to sell.
I bet millions, all over the world, in many languages and in many tones- angry, sad, or even in attempted cheerfulness.
Personally, I have said it several times to my Dad, not many, as I have tried to be sensitive about the delicate subject which has several implications and consequences if it is acted upon (the dreaded sell).
My parents, as many others, live in a 4 bedroom, 4.5 bathroom home, with a square footage that screams emptiness, especially in the social/living areas. A house that –like I have mentioned in earlier blog entries- shows many signs of its age and demands expensive attention if one would want to restore it to its 1980’s glory days.
My siblings and myself all live out of town- which is truly unfortunate. That means all grand kids are away too. So the spacious home is a constant reminder of the sad fact that the loved ones live far and away-or at least that is what it feels to me when I have the pleasure of going back to visit.
Are other grandparents’ homes going through the same abandonment or possibly even neglect? They probably are.
Financial worries become a reality for most middle class seniors, even when there’s enough to live on; that lingering worry about medical expenses, unfulfilled traveling dreams, helping out the “kids” who are all grown up and doing well anyway, but they are still referred to as “the children”.
And yet, the thought of selling their home is unbearable; it is the building that witnessed a lifetime of childhood memories, good and bad, growth, conflict during the teenage years, the first boyfriends and girlfriends; the parties. The lazy afternoons. Houses that saw a crazy parade of a technology blend and become part of the household: the brand new Beta Video player, or cordless TV control, the strange box that heats up food fast, called Microwave.
Homes that for decades waited for us after a long trip, with that very own and particular scent of Home Sweet Home. Warm and dry in a cruel winter, or cool and comfy in a hot sticky summer day.
Homes were countless meals where prepared, enjoyed and remembered. Vivid conversations after many meals (in Mexico referred to as “sobre mesa”), the nice long chats over coffee and dessert about anything- there were no banned subjects, at least not in our home.
In my parents’ home, many upgrades and improvements were made throughout the decades. Improvements that cost money, sacrifices, time and great care. Improvements that made my Mom and Dad very proud of their home.
A home in a way, defines a part of you. This doesn’t hold true for everyone, but for my Dad, I always believed it did. His little backyard overcrowded with fruit trees still does today.
This touchy subject of selling the house has surfaced several times in our family in the last couple of years, and until recently, I had never given it the thought I am now. Selling the house that has been your home for most of your life must be difficult; an experience exploding with mixed feelings.
My husband and I bought our 1st home exactly 12 years ago, just 8 months after our wedding.
Our first big project was to remodel the Master bathroom. Out went the big nasty tub, old sinks and sagging vanities. In came gorgeous Mexican Talavera vessel sinks, contemporary cabinets and a very roomy shower with a glass door. Worth every penny. It took all our savings and some convenient Home Depot financing. We felt so proud, especially since it was all done (most of it) by my super handyman husband and his Dad: Grandpa Ross.
Less than a year later we had our son. As soon as he started crawling we removed the carpets, because the allergic reaction to dust was very dramatic. He had a bad case of Eczema and the doctor said removing the carpets would improve his health. So we saved some money and did the 1st floor only in a beautiful Cherry wood. The second floor was another project to start saving on, back then.
A year later, when our daughter was born, our AC broke. I will never forget those afternoons (only a week but it felt like the whole summer), she was only a few days old in early July 2006, temperatures registered triple digits, while I was attempting the motherly duty to breastfeed. All I remember is excruciating pain, non-stop sweating and sleepless nights, sweating in bed or trying to calm down our colicky baby. It was not fun.
So a few thousand dollars later, we got ourselves a brand new AC. Ouch, that hurt, but summers where we live always reach triple digits, so not having an AC was a sad option, and definitely not an option for a home with a newborn.
And so the years passed, and like all houses, they are a bottomless money pit, but all those “investments” made out house more beautiful, more our own, and of course, we always thought of the resell value.
Now, in 2016, after 2 years of planning and spending many nights drawing, redrawing, and putting together our “must haves” wish list, and with the invaluable help of my friend who is an Architect, this drawings and lists were transformed into a reality. And with it came, the time came to move.
We de-cluttered the house, sold some furniture, packed and stored away what was not frequently used, painted and scrubbed, and once the house looked spotless and spacious, we listed it for sale. Three days later we had 5 offers, and a week later we accepted one. After arranging a back-rent deal with the new owner, we started packing and getting ready to move.
Little by little, box by box, our house became more and more empty. More echoes could be heard as we talked. Less homey scents filled the house, no matter how many candles I lit those last weeks. Not a single family picture was left, barely any toys or Legos on the floor.
The last week we were still living in our house, just as I expected, many memories surfaced of our first years there. When it was just two of us, how spacious it felt after living in a 2 bedroom condo! How we loved having a backyard. I remembered all the years when our kids were still babies, still crawling and how they would sneak through a child-proof fence and start climbing up the stairs while we were distracted. The many parties we threw, from the House Warming party, when I drank quite a bit not knowing I was already expecting my first born! …to the dozen or so birthday parties for our kids.
That last week I took a walk one evening, all by myself, around the neighborhood, I watched, observed the homes around us, the proximity between one house and the next one. The sense of “tight community” this gives, even though we never really knew any of the neighbors. The different smells, someone drying clothes, I could smell the Laundry Detergent all the way out by a driveway; someone else was cooking a hearty meal. Another was grilling. Some other were having a smoke outside.
The “trick or treat” routes we took with our kids every October 31st came to mind as well. The very first one with my son in a stroller, the last one just months ago wearing a Scary Wolf Costume.
When we first bought the house, I used to enjoy watching all the little kids walking to and from school from our living room window, and I wondered what it would feel like to take my own to the school just 3 blocks away.
I wondered if I would miss this feeling of being in the middle of a busy and tightly packed neighborhood. The background noises ever present, the barking dogs….scratch that- I would never miss that.
It was a sad walk, a farewell in a sense. I knew I would miss having the school so close. We were going from a 15 minute walk to a 25 minute drive. A sacrifice I decided to make so that our kids could stay in the same School District.
I came back home a bit droopy. I looked at our small kitchen and remembered the dozens of Blondies I had baked every Christmas for the last 12 years in that oven. The “excuse me” kitchen, we called it. Because if more than 1 person was in it that is all you would hear: to open the fridge, to open the dishwasher, to reach for a drawer, you name it, it was always “excuse me!”
I realized that it no longer felt like home. I already felt like a spectator. I was standing there, but my heart wasn’t in it. We were actually renting the house.
That last night, when I went to tuck my daughter into bed, we both laid down, looking up at her Glow-in-the-dark plastic starts we had gotten her many years ago, and we both confessed we were sad, and feeling already homesick. We would miss our house -we both agreed- and shed some tears.
On Saturday May 14th, with the help of half a dozen good friends, we emptied out the house. For reasons I still don’t know, we were all running, rushing, packing up, loading trailers, taping the last boxes. Three hours later, the house was completely empty.
Someone asked me “Are you sad that you are leaving this house? It is a beautiful house and you lived here so many years”. I realized then, that the morning had been so rushed and crazy, that my brain didn’t have a split second to think about that. The last picture of the 4 of us standing in front of the house never happened, there was no time, no matter how many days in advance I had thought about having it taken by a friend. That day I was so stressed trying to move at the same speed as everyone else, and getting my daughter ready for a Dance Competition (yes, that very same day!), that I didn’t allow myself to cry or even be sad.
He truth is, I had a full month of slowly letting the feelings flow, a month of remembering, of thinking, and a month of getting prepared for what was to come: living in a house that was designed by us, every inch of it, and even though the very dramatic change was a bit nerve wrecking, I was super excited too.
Today, after 10 days in our new house, I now am starting to get attached to it, to like it’s scent when I open the door (except when my son or daughter leave their dirty socks right there at the mud room floor).
I will always remember the many afternoons I spent there with friends, with the amazing ladies I have met through school, the many play dates my kids had with the neighbors/friends. The nice walks I took in the evenings.
Thank you all for your help when I struggled as a working mom with the schedules, the classes and the errands, thank you for your friendship and your support. Even though we are now some miles away, our home will always be open for you…and we would love to see you all there.