26 January 2009

What We Leave Behind

Each crystal slipped between my fingers, wet with the cleaning spray. One wipe and they were dry, sparkling again. Only two, maybe three times have I cleaned the chandelier. The first time it was a two hour job. Preparing for our wedding, my husband's mother and sister and I worked together. We took off every piece and scrubbed them in warm, sudsy water. We removed years of grime and specks of ceiling paint. We readied the new house.

Our new apartment is comfortable. We have two small dark bedrooms, an efficient kitchen with a farm table in the center, a small family room off the kitchen that extends the kids' room. There is a peaceful living room with windows on three sides, the world's smallest bathroom and a laundry. We have a view of palm and plum trees and the shop signs on Grand Avenue. Today the kids' room is an oasis in the stacks of boxes.

The laundry door frame has half a dozen pencil lines marking growth of a teenager in 2005. I noticed the marks while putting in a load of curtains from the old house. Dread knocked me down. I forgot to photograph or trace our marks. Now they're painted over! There are few irreplaceables. During this move, I have understood how a person who has lost her belongings to flood or fire can exclaim, "I feel free!" We are burdened by so much Stuff. But a growth chart with dates and names? There is really no way to let it go, really no way to carry it with us.

19 January 2009

Last night it happened on the living room carpet.

The kids were dancing to the Counting Crows, and I was taking in the scene. Stacked boxes, furniture moved, art off the walls. For months now we have been running toward a single goal: Move to a neighborhood with a better elementary school. Before we went to Brazil, we closed on the new house, turned in Stella's paperwork, and sighed relief. We returned 10 days ago and started putting the details of seven years in boxes- or in the free box out front. Augusto said goodbye to some "really nice pants" from 1986. I admitted that I'm never going to sew those scraps of fabric into something beautiful. The kids chose toys to donate.

The movers come tomorrow.

In Decmeber, when our real estate agent came by with the stager, I couldn't listen when they debated new colors for the dining room. The dining room is exactly the color of my grandmother's living room. I brought a chip of paint from her wall. I felt mixed pride and regret when we cleaned up the neglected garden. But I stayed on task.

It was on the floor that I unraveled. It went like this.

Right there by the mantle we toasted our wedding. I remember the picture of us raising our glasses. We were smart when we picked this flowered rug and brown couch. It does hide the dirt from the kids and animals we anticipated. It's dark now, but this room is so great in the sun. We can never spend enough time here, just laughing.

Augusto is sorting his papers in front of the furniture that would change our lives. He is sandwiched between the two places our children were born. The bathroom is a little too big, but it was perfect for a mom pushing out a baby, surrounded by her husband (with video camera in one hand, son's head in the other), two midwives, and assorted equipment. The office never did get organized, despite a few genuine tries. It wasn't until after Stella came out that I realized I had stopped there to have her. It didn't matter.

Upstairs we have two bedrooms. When we moved in it was one large master suite with a knotty pine ceiling. There are animals and hand prints and shooting stars there. All three babies were conceived under that constellation. I need to remember to take a picture of the ceiling.

Our kitchen! Why do all parties end up there? Everyone crowded behind the counter with Augusto serving drinks and some gracious friend loading the dishwasher. How many bowls of soup did we serve? How many glasses of wine? How many debates started and (mostly) resolved? I love opening the dutch door in the mornings, folding laundry onto the counter.

We really are moving out of this house.

Before we started packing, I wanted to make a video tour- something to show the kids. Look, you were born right on that rug! Here's the window seat we made, letting you live mama's fantasy. This is the circle you rode around on your little bike. I never made the video. A house is just walls, right? I see that clearly in our new place, torn down to the studs. Even so, how do you leave a place of firsts? A wedding, a loss, two births. What were we thinking, doing all of these important things in the non-forever home?!

Sometimes I long for the houses we left when I was a kid. The one with the willow tree. The one with the small creek. The one with the endless cross country skiing. The one where I had high school parties. I stalk these homes from time to time. I wonder who lives there now.

Even as I dream our new home the Forever Home, I know it isn't. History has proved I don't stay in one place. But I want to, I really do.