As I stood in the empty upstairs hallway, the scent of Pine-Sol and moving boxes heavy in the air, I felt sad. My eyes fell on the doorway of what had been my son’s bedroom and they welled with tears. I can’t do this, I thought. The reality of selling our first home was overwhelming.
When we bought our first house, we were two 20-something newlyweds who had no business owning a home. We knew practically nothing about DIY projects, and yet, for some reason, we felt qualified to buy a 30-year-old home that needed a lot of work. On the day we closed and were given the keys, we had a zero balance in our bank account, using every penny we could muster to make our dream of owning a home a reality. We were broke, but we owned a center hall colonial with a huge yard.
We moved in and got a crash course in home ownership. In the first two weeks we lived in the house, a freak storm knocked three 30-foot maple trees into our yard. We became friendly with our neighbors quickly as they helped us chainsaw our way through the debris and mess. It became a story that was often recounted at neighborhood barbecues, and that was just one memory of thousands we made in that house on the pear tree-lined street.
For me, that house meant so much more than the fact that it was my first grown-up purchase beyond a car. Because I had moved extensively as a kid (seven times in 12 years), our first home represented the stability that I had never known as a kid. For the first time in my life, I could live in a home and not be told it was time to move on. Everything I owned was finally under a roof where I got to make the rules. I was safe and secure, and I couldn’t wait to make a life there.
It was in that house that I learned practical skills like how to spackle, hang drywall, and paint walls without drip marks. I learned that every home is a money pit and that once you buy a house, romance comes in the form of a new water heater purchased around Valentine’s Day. And I learned that whoever invented wallpaper should be punched in the junk. I stripped seven rooms of godawful wallpaper, and that memory still makes me shudder.
What I loved most about our first home is it’s the place our children called their first home. I trudged my pregnant ass up and down the hardwood staircase and eagerly decorated the nursery. When I arrived home after having our first child, my husband had put a kid-sized rocking chair between the one we rocked on nightly. Our house had become a home, and we had the real pitter-patter of pudgy bare feet on the floors.
For several years, that home was my haven as I found my way through early motherhood. The kitchen walls were spattered with orange baby food and the floors always had a sheen from a thin layer of baby drool and sticky, crawling hands. Our family room was our refuge at the end of the day, the soft place to land when the kids had finally fallen asleep at night, the place where we tried to reconnect after two tiny humans demanded of us all day. The yard is where we took pictures of Halloween costumes and in our Easter best. The bathtub held our squishy wet babies on cold winter nights where the humidity of the bathroom and the bubbles in the bath made us all feel cozy and warm. And the hallway, with it’s well worn hardwood floors, gave way to our nightly chases and tickle-fests before setting down to read books over wet heads smelling of baby shampoo. Every part of that house had a memory, and it was a home filled with love — and a lot of tantrums.
Eventually our young family grew beyond the boundaries of that first home, and we knew we needed to move. More space, we said, better schools. I cried on the day the realtor placed the “For Sale” sign in the yard because I couldn’t imagine being happy in any other house. I found myself wandering the rooms and fingering the walls I’d lovingly painted, taking mental snapshots of our time there. And on that last day, as I stood in the hallway where my son had gleefully taken his first steps, I cried chest-heaving sobs. I had become a mother in that house, and I was sad to see the memories of my children’s first years disappear.
Just as a mother worries she won’t have enough love for a second child, I wondered how I’d ever bond with another home in the way I did with my first home. But the passage of time, the making of thousands more memories, and the three people I love the most have made our current home even more special in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I became a mother in my first home, but we’ve become a family in our new one. And this time, I’m never leaving.