What Makes A Home When You’re Leaving It
Overwhelmed and harried, we watch a band of professional movers pack away 50 years of family life into crates and cases. My husband’s parents have enjoyed this apartment for exactly half a century now – the last 25 years with us.
Why do we wince at the scrunch of the broad tape stretch across cardboard, why is the flurry of sorting not just a task? The bristling efficiency of the packers mocks our fragile emotions. We’re appalled at the amount of junk five people (six, counting my late father-in-law, whose belongings still lie stashed in cupboards) can possibly collect, but loathe to part with any of it.
“I never thought we would leave,” my mother-in-law says with a sigh.
But we are. For reasons starting with the fact that the son and daughter have been progressively getting on each other’s nerves in the same room they have shared forever. If they are to have a halfway decent sibling relationship as adults, they need (long overdue) individual rooms, an arrangement not always easy to set up in a joint family home bursting at the seams.
The plan is to shift right back here in a year, when our home has been renovated to accommodate these separate spaces. But I wonder if it actually will be ‘home’ we return to. We keep rescuing items from the ‘throw’ pile, as if we can save our home in the process.
My son pockets a coil of guitar strings “because I strummed my best love song on these.” I add a stack of books inscribed by favourite authors to the ‘keep’ pile. Even playing cards can’t be tossed from a drawer stacked too tight with stationery. My son says he can tell us exactly when we got each set, and we pile the decks in the order he reels off: Beatrix Potter, Pokemon, WWF, Harry Potter, the Beatles, One Direction, Top Trumps cricket cards and, the most recent, Game of Thrones. Like the pages of a Baby Book, the pattern of the stack tracks our years here, the themes marking our children’s ages.
We save all of these things, though we know the kids, both at 20-odd years, may not stay long enough to soak in the changes or ever wing back to us. As if reading the thoughts swirling in my head, my daughter half-asks, half-states, “I still have a say about the kind of room I return to, right?”
“Yes, of course, baby,” I blurt out, hoping a say will actually lead her to return. But graduate school is likely to keep her from home after her undergrad studies, and, eventually, she’ll have a family of her own. The same is true for my son, too. Their soon-to-be-separate rooms might fluidly open up into one again someday,a fresh family may be destined to sprout within our walls. But surely not two. With the best will in the world, it would be nothing short of miraculous to expect another pair of families to fix roots here together; we simply don’t have the space.
Amid rallying cries (“Throw!” “Give away!” “Don’t hoard!”) this exercise is an early good-bye to one child, if not both. And so we steal back sweet memories every time we secretly move a belonging we really should throw out into a box for saving. I ask my children, what makes a home, home? “Where all my favourite people are 24/7” answers one. “What kind of a question is that!” exclaims the other, before sheepishly adding, “Dunno, maybe where I get away with things I may not outside it?”
Both seem like different ways of saying the same thing: Home is where our loved ones are. For me, it’s where my children are, or will return to. Or maybe just the place they know they can always return to, whether they do or not. It’s a knowledge buried deep under broken guitar strings, inscribed cards and decks of cards, but it’s there when you look for it.
Among the last things we toss out is a once-bright blue jute doormat with “Welcome” woven across. I’ll buy a new one today, I decide. Even if the kids don’t make the move back in, they’ll at least know they can. They’ll at least know this will always be home.