I got pretty emotive talking about a trash compactor last week. There were hand gestures. There was lots of intonation. I may as well have been addressing the nation about a pressing world issue. This trash compactor is the one I don’t have. It is the trash compactor I very much want. I very much want a lot of things. I want hard wood floors and an extra-large farm sink. I want a laundry room with labeled bins; they’ll be wooden most likely, and I’ll put my detergent in glass jars. It will be lovely. I will love to do laundry in that room. I want a shower for two, but I don’t want company. I just want to stretch my arms and run my fingertips across the beautiful, earth-toned tile of my dreams. My dream shower is in my dream bathroom, and it is a very sexy bathroom. There are candles. In my dream I am alone in this candle-lit sexy bathroom. No one is banging their yogurt-smeared-fists on the shower door. No one is yelling, “Babe where are the new wipes?” from the nursery. My real estate fantasies are not limited to the bathroom and laundry. That glorious trash compactor from my inspired speech is going to find its home in a magazine-worthy kitchen. I adore the kitchen in my head. I could marry it. It is fifty shades of granite. I can’t stop thinking about it.
You see, the problem is I hate the house I have.
To be fair, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with this house. It certainly isn’t dangerous. We’re not hoarders; the place isn’t falling apart; we’re up to code. It’s just a dated track home. That’s all. And that’s a lot.
And since we don’t have the time to fix all the things that (I think) need fixing, and we don’t yet have the money to move, I spend a good amount of my day compensating. Maybe if all the laundry was washed and dried and folded and put away, then I would be happy; then I wouldn’t even need a laundry room. So I run madly trying to do all our laundry—we’re usually only five or so loads behind—but that doesn’t do the trick. Maybe if my awful tile counter tops were disinfected and shiny and free of clutter, save for a perfectly placed vase of peonies, then I wouldn’t muse over the pros and cons of quartz versus marble. So with the AC humming, I break a sweat scouring the tile and grout and fluffing the peonies I created errands just to go out and buy. After all that, though, I look around, and I still want an island. This way of living is worse than a hamster wheel. This is a self-imposed, grueling, one-man relay. I run to the bathroom, but that’s still not good enough, so I pass the baton to the master bedroom and do my best there, but it still sucks, so I head to the store and try to band aid my woes with succulents and a vase that’s just the right combo of matte and gold and a chalkboard something or other, but those things don’t work miracles, and by this time I am exhausted, and the kids are bored, and I’ve blown the budget, and I’ve been really quite busy, but for what?
To feel like I am enough, I think that is what.
My house reminds me (and all who visit) that I am wholly not enough. I am still not clean enough, despite hours of cleaning. I am not organized enough, never mind the binder full of core charts and meal plans and a helpful pantry inventory. Look around. I am not creative enough, artistic enough. The photos on the wall will tell you I’ve hardly traveled; the crumbs on the floor say maybe the vacuum got lost. And as far as exercise goes? We’re currently using a 10lb weight as a doorstop, so…
Houses tell a story. Somewhere between no kids then two, I started to believe my house could tell one about me where I am astonishingly pulled together, and everything from the floors to my toe nails is marvelously shiny, and nothing smells funny. I want my house to tell the story of how awesome I am.
One problem: I am not awesome. Not by a long shot.
I’ve sat with that reality for a while, here in this ugly old house that I desperately wish were something other than itself. But that doesn’t mean this house is silent about me. It tells a story, if not the one I'd hoped for.
Across a carpet so flecked with mysterious stains that we should have been wearing hazmat suits, my son wobbled his first steps toward the waiting arms of his father. You’d have thought he delivered the Gettysburg Address from our applause. It was incredible.
Standing in a bathroom that is about as unsexy as they come, I watched my belly grow and grow and stretch and then dance. My eyes were incredulous, and my heart dared to hope, and it all happened in a mirror installed in 1985.
Our first night in this house, eight years ago now, it was just the three of us. Me, my husband, and a German Shepherd puppy named Sirius Black. He was wild and rowdy, we had no business raising him, but he felt like he could only be ours. The three of us slept on the living room floor, the very same dirty rug our son would walk across seven years later. That night, we could have hardly imagined such a thing as a son who’d walk. We were having trouble imagining the next day. Our marriage was a war fought between two people who felt cheated by not having another kind of story. The story of happily ever after. Just like I want a house that proclaims my many wonders, I wanted a marriage that showed how worthy I was of praise and adoration and surprise bouquets and my idea of a Friday night. I said the word divorce in the unsexy bathroom of the growing belly. My husband, buckling under the demands of medical school, retreated to the stuffy office with no storage and bad light. Our story should have ended in this house.
Something strange happened instead. We started talking. First just to God. Single words, whispers, all we could muster. Help. Please? Then, trembling, to one another. I might be wrong, it’s just… Yeah, I’m sorry too. No, you’re right, I should have seen. Maybe we could try? Sometimes to other people. I think we’re struggling. It’s not what I thought. I never expected to feel lonely. I am not perfect. Wait, you too?
One story did end in this house. An entirely different story began. The one about the marriage pulled back from the cliff, and the scientist who became a doctor right before the miscarriage that happened on the anniversary of the other miscarriage (still, always, how?) and then the biggest little baby with the brightest blue eyes who called me mama on the tan couch, and the tiny girl who looks just like the teenage boy I kissed for the first time at a high school football game when this house was already thirteen years old.
This is not my dream house. Never will be. But for all its faults this place has seen a lot of dreams come true. So a few years from now, when we pull out of the driveway for the very last time, I’ll have tears in my eyes. Tears for all the dreams brought to life here. Tears for all the dreams waiting ahead. But mostly, tears for the God that never abandons this fixer upper, no matter what kind of laminate she’s living on.
(Just so we’re clear, I still want the sexy bathroom someday. And I lied about the company.)