A note: I wrote this before we closed on the house but never got to posting it. The next few posts should bring us up-to date. Stay tuned.
Leaving home is what young people do. Children become teenagers, dreaming of life away from mom and dad. They go through several rites of passage such as driver’s licenses, proms, high school graduation, first jobs, and college applications. One day child is leaving crayon marks on the wall; the next she is packing to leave home. Do parents abandon the nest when they leave the house their children grew up in?
Leaving the house where you raised your children is difficult. We moved to this house when my daughters were nine, seven, and three. My husband and I wanted to settle in a community where we would raise our children, allow them to develop roots, ties to the community. We had rented a house for seven years in a Silicon Valley community where we could not afford to buy a house and then moved across the Bay to buy a house we could afford. We were there less than a year when my husband was offered a job in downtown Los Angeles. We chose to buy a house in our suburb, a newly incorporated city, because the schools were good and recreational activities were family oriented. We chose our subdivision, in part, because we knew another family buying a house there. They had three daughters the same ages as our three daughters. We wanted to give our daughters stability and security.
Although my family moved to southern California when I was nine, the same age Eldest Daughter was when we moved to our LA suburb, I didn’t feel tied to that community. A Navy brat, by the time my family arrived in So Cal, I could claim to have lived in seven states. While I lived in that house until I graduated from high school, I always felt like a move was imminent. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I had the adolescent drive to leave home. Perhaps I was just insecure. Ironically, my parents lived in that house almost forty years. Sister #4 lives there still. As soon as I graduated from high school, I left for a job on the East Coast (as a camp counselor thanks to an uncle) and returned only intermittently during college breaks (a total of 24 weeks over three years, I kept count). Yet I wanted my children to feel rooted in a community.
Our subdivision is a community in itself. A planned urban development (PUD), we have an association, rules about the house’s appearance, and common areas including pools and tennis courts, and a tot lot. Technically our house is a detached condominium. When we moved in, the homes were only five years old and filled with young families. Three teen girls on the street were available to babysit. Adolescent boys played roller hockey at the end of the cul de sac in front of our house. A family had Springer Spaniel puppies (we took one). The older girls started school; I found a play group for the youngest. We met mothers and children at the pool. I became involved in PTA, volunteered to read in classrooms, had a Girl Scout troop. After the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, a group of families started to meet every Sunday night for cocktails. This evolved into a potluck. Unless it’s raining, they will be sitting in a driveway on our street on Sunday evening. Here is community.
First one decade passed, then another. Some families moved. One lost a child. Two families lost their dads. Some friends divorced. People remodeled their homes. The babysitters became parents and wheeled their children down the street. Each of my daughters left for college. We talked about a different house, a bigger house, a smaller house, closer to the freeway, closer to the school I taught at. In the evening when I drove down my street, I was home. Here was my house. Here were my friends. How could I move?
Here I was comfortable. My daughters had left home but only one returned. The other two were gone, living lives in other communities, making their own traditions, developing their own ties. Here I had roots. We went skiing at Mammoth with friends. We went camping with friends. I went to the farmer’s market with friends. I took spin classes with friends. What I wanted for my daughters I found for myself.
These were friendships that began with our children but were cemented by good will and camaraderie. We had great times with our children but even better times without them. Here’s to the friend whose daughter took her first ski lesson with my youngest. As we sat on the ski resort deck, drinking our third hot chocolate, she looked around and leaned over to me and whispered: “We better get off our butts and learn to ski.” We’re still on the chairlifts together. Here’s to the friends who convinced me to go camping over Thanksgiving. I brought my cooked turkey wrapped in foil. It was so cold that most of the mothers and children went to the movies to get warm. Being a camping purist, I stayed behind, freezing in my tent. Here’s to my fellow band parents who survived continual fundraising events, band camp, and almost comical drama with the band director, all with jokes and good spirit. Here’s to the girls on the street who banded together after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. I’ll miss our girls only road trips (especially to the outlet malls) and Sunday night cocktails.
In the hyperconnectivitiy of today, I know that we will stay in touch. In part this is why my daughters no longer need the security I so much wanted for them. While I had problems staying in touch with my childhood friends, my daughters did not. Eldest daughter was connected online to her first playgroup friend when they were in high school.
The hardest part about moving wasn’t packing (the moving company did that). Nor was it throwing out the rubbish I had kept over the year. The hardest part was saying good-bye. Yes, I walked around the house, remembering the various birthdays, holidays, celebrations over the two decades, wondering if I had been a good parent, if I had made the right decisions, but these memories were not a reason to keep me from moving. But these memories aren’t what tie me to the house. Relationships tie me to the house.
The hardest part of moving was saying good-bye. Good bye to the neighbors who went to Mammoth with us after Christmas. Good-bye to the neighbor whose dog fur is in that bird’s nest. Good-bye to the friend who brought me daffodils. Good-bye to the couple who brought me a set of car keys after my car was picked up so I wouldn’t be without transportation. Good bye to the student from my very first junior high class who stayed in touch all these years. Good bye to the friend who brought me a glass of wine in the evening just in case I was stressed. Good bye to the friend (and great spin instructor) who brought me bagels in the morning. Good bye to all my friends in California.