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Friday, December 4, 2015

moving: an exercise in inventory

I recently heard someone say that people should move every 5 years just to stay on top of their volume of stuff.

I say save yourself the stress and just go through your shit more often.

I ruthlessly cleared our house out last spring when it went on the market, packing up all non-essentials and putting them in storage and getting rid of a solid quarter of our belongings by either selling them, donating them or giving them to unsuspecting friends when they would depart our house. If you even came over and left with a serving spoon in your purse, now you know why. And yet, when we packed up what remained inside our house it was shocking how much we still had.

We moved nearly two weeks ago and it has been one of the most surreal experiences of my life.  It isn't that I haven't moved before. I moved enough as a child to consider it traumatic; the year I was11 my mother and I moved 6 times in a post-divorce haze of crappy apartments.  By the time I was 23, I had moved 16 times and the Air Force was not involved.

Then I bought my house.  It was a pit that needed a ton of work but was all I could afford on my meager social worker salary. I made it my home. I bought a cute mailbox and planted flowers.  I hung curtains and painted over cracks that I didn't have the skills to repair. I met Sandi a year later and she inherited my pit.  A well worn family story goes like this: Sandi's mom, a builder, came up to help us with some things (such as the fact that there was a ladder where a staircase should be and when you climbed it to the second floor you could see right down to the basement) and when she left she said to her friend, "Well, I can't say Sandi is with her for her money." From then on it was always joked that we were "living on love" since we certainly weren't living on much cash.

We went from wrapping the house in heavy plastic to try to stay warm in the winter, identifying live wires and trying not to burn the house down with a wood stove that practically sat on the living room carpet to a complete remodel in six years. We gutted the house to the studs, replacing everything. We put in new windows, a new roof, new siding, new chimneys and paved the driveway. It became a cozy 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house and we were very happy there with our newborn baby.

When baby number two became a possibility we knew we either needed to move or add on.  Looking around at houses, we decided it would be better to simply build on to our house (a costly decision that in retrospect wasn't the way to go).  After many late nights of laying floor, painting walls and putting up trim while our 18-month-old slept, we had a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom house and our family grew to the four it is today.

I was attached to the house.  There isn't a better way to say it. It was the most stable home I had in my entire life, in both years and in actuality.

The decision to sell it was one that I did not arrive at lightly. Sandi, understandably, was not attached to the house and she was long ready to move on.  We had always thought of it as a starter house and most of what we did, we did in consideration of resale value (a nebulous term that means you will likely lose money when you sell). When we considered our long-range goals to possibly build a house, the age of our kids and the opportunity to live with Sandi's sister, Trish and her husband, Brock, in the downstairs of their house while they moved into their newly finished upstairs, suddenly the right time was upon us.

I recently read something Cheryl Strayed wrote in Wild about her intensely conflicted decision to divorce her first husband, "I realized there was nothing left to do but go. So I did."

Change comes to some easily.  It comes to me with the ease of counting specks of sand on a mile long beach.  Even worthwhile and helpful change comes disguised in a costume of doubt, worry and sentimental sadness for losing what was.

Pema Chodron, a Buddist monk, says, "If you're invested in security and certainty, you are on the wrong planet." I continue to wonder why I dwell here.

My life continues to provide me, on a nearly daily basis, with opportunities to learn to live with uncertainty.  Due to "construction time" (the actual time frame it takes for construction to be performed rather than the projected time it should take), the upstairs wasn't yet ready for Trish and Brock when we moved out of our house.  Our stuff went to their house, stacked in towers like a Jenga game, but we didn't. For a week after leaving our house we spent 4 nights at a hotel, 2 nights with Sandi's family and then 2 nights at my sister's.  We were living out of my car and our suitcases and it was hard but we were also okay.  I had glimpses of "this is an adventure" but mostly I just tried to openly be with the people I love with a sad heart that longed for the familiarity and comfort of my home.  (Also, Trish and Brock get major props for allowing a family of four to move all their stuff, which even pared down is like trying to fit a giant into a newborn's onsie, into their space while working 18 hour days to get the upstairs done.)

We have had an endless supply of assistance and love during the grueling process of moving.  (You know who you are- THANK YOU.) My mother and I scrubbed the house into a state of shine the day after we moved out, singing 60's music at the top of our lungs.

She and I agreed it was a concrete way to say goodbye, to wipe the slate clean and to prepare the house for the next family. She spent 2 hours cleaning the refrigerator and told me about all her happy memories in the house, from the holiday dinners to the evening Sandi went into labor with Maya and we had to practically force her to go to the hospital.

The next day, the morning of the closing, I bought a plant to leave on the counter. As I stepped sock-footed into the empty house I was struck by how intimately familiar the house was to me and yet how it was no longer mine.  I knew every corner, every crevice and every mark, but there was nothing there for me anymore. I left the plant and scurried out, feeling like I had seen a ghost.

Later at the closing, we met the husband of the couple that bought our house.  He had kind eyes and a gentle demeanor and I was immediately at ease.  I hadn't realized how intensely I was carrying the burden of who would live in our house, who would become our beloved neighbors new neighbor. He handed us a lovely thank you card and I handed him the letter I had written. (Thank you to everyone who encouraged me to leave it for them.) They were thrilled to have our house and make their life there and my heart rested easy for the first time.

And guess what? They have two girls.

It is still hard to drive down our road. Ella wanted to drive by the other night and to see our house lit from within with other people inside disturbed me.  I wanted to shout, "What are those people doing in OUR HOUSE?!"  It will take time for these intense emotional bonds to sever.  My neighbor Shannon wrote this to me and captured how I feel perfectly: "There's a big emptiness when I step outside of my house, because our space used to be met with yours and that was so comforting. You are so very missed already."  I count the wonderful neighbors among my many life's blessings.

Maya, our neighbor Alli and I got to ride the 1/2 mile in the back of the moving truck.  Definitely a bucket list moment.  Maya doesn't look impressed but I promise she was.  It was totally awesome. 

In guidance this week, Maya made a picture of her family.  In the past this has always consisted of the four of us.  In just two weeks, the world as we know it has changed. I love everything about this picture.  It speaks of the flexibility and open heartedness of children.  I also love how she got everyone's height in relation to each other spot on (although I am not too keen on how closely Ella is portrayed to my height), how she listed all of our ages (thank you) and how she gave Uncle Brock, who has very little hair, a heady of curly locks. 

Sandi and I are women and women like clothes.  We used to have 3 closets for all our clothes.  Now we have one to share and no dressers.  As I tried to perform a magic trick and fit all those clothes into one small closet, I decided I needed to further free myself of the burden of too much and I gave away another huge bag of clothes. Life has reminded me yet again the sheer power of a fresh start.

Leaving my home was brutal and yet totally worth it.  I have felt displaced yet liberated.  I have felt lost yet amazed at the knowledge that "home" is just as much an internal state as a place you dwell.  Each day that passes gets easier to be away.

Moving is hard. Moving on is harder. I'm sure others do it with less pain and more sure footedness but I have come to accept that life doesn't exactly work that way for me.  It hurts to be open hearted.  I used to tell Ella when she was little to be brave to which she would reply, "But I'm scared!"  I told her being brave means being scared and doing it anyway.  This is my exact relationship to life: walking headlong into the fire frightened and willing, crying and smiling all at the same time.

One step at a time, one breath at a time, I am moving on.  There is the flutter of excitement about what we will create from here.  It helps to have a new running partner.  Thanks Jaxie.

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