These Four Walls…And Then Those Four Walls

home

About a week ago, I realized I was in mourning. The ink was barely dry on the real estate papers, and we were buzzing with excitement at the prospect of more space, and nice space at that. I was explaining to my little nipper that it was okay to be excited and sad simultaneously, and my husband walked by, smiled and said something like “Are you trying to convince the kid, or yourself?” Deciding to move automatically makes a home less yours. Staging it with all sorts of things that are way fancier than yours and leaving it half-empty certainly helps to cut the cord. Rationally, and maybe even emotionally, I know this house won’t be ours for much longer, but I know when the time comes, there’s still going to be part of me that will think “I live here. You can’t have my key.”

I know what it’s like to live in a house that doesn’t want you there. The last one was infested with carnivorous weeds. Bits of lost toys from previous owners would mysteriously pop out of dark corners. There was a dent in one of the doors that look liked it had been put there by an angry fist. Food never tasted quite right in that kitchen and laundry always came out a little grungy. We often had the distinct impression that our neighbours were whispering about us behind our backs. Okay, I’ve frosted this with a bit of poetic license (just a bit), but it was clear from very early on with that house that we’d landed somewhere we didn’t belong.

At no point was this more clear than when we moved to another house, the one I’m presently struggling to leave. It’s not as if it was perfect when we bought it. The kitchen was coated in cow wallpaper three inches thick (only exaggerating a little), and the cupboards were lined with paper doilies. There was a shallow, metal tub that made bathing feel like sitting in a sink full of cold dishwater. It needed paint and flooring that wasn’t linoleum. We redid the kitchen- twice. Regardless, it still felt like the house missed us when we went away on vacation. It buzzed happily when we threw parties, and hummed quietly on lazy Sundays. It lovingly enveloped our dogs and our kid, and the back yard bloomed with wild abandon in the spring.

And then one evening, when we finally admitted that our tiny kingdom wasn’t quite big enough to hold the life we’d built for ourselves anymore, the house seemed sympathetic, maybe even a little apologetic.

So, how does one say goodbye to a house? Do we do what people in cheesy 80’s movies do, and throw one last, righteous bash? Is there enough burning sage to smudge 10 years of my life out of this place? Which wall is the one I hug or high five when the movers lug out the last box?

Maybe a new house is just a reminder from the universe that when all is said and done, modern humans are still nomads, albeit very, very slow-moving ones. There’s no dwelling capable of accommodating an entire lifetime. We grow, we shrink, we grow again, and we’re forever trying on a different home that suits who we are at the moment. Houses are containers, and in a few weeks, we’ll carefully pour ourselves into a bigger one and enjoy the sensation of having more room to slosh around. I’m cautiously optimistic that our next container will welcome us as readily as the present one has.

Stand in the place where you live. Now face north. Think about direction, wonder why you haven’t before. (R.E.M.)

 

How Big A Leap Is It?

Parachute

Adrenaline junkies. You know a few of these people, right? They’re the sort of brave souls who like to skydive and hang glide and swim with things that could chomp them in half. They dangle from cliffs and crawl through caves. On a slow day, they’ll strap themselves into the biggest roller coaster and eat stuff that might be poisonous. There are entire industries set up to cater to thrill seekers like these, genres of books, video games and movies established to draw them in. The buzz that comes with this lifestyles isn’t all that mysterious. Call it embracing the id, revisiting one’s inner cave person, or just taking an extreme vacation from the monotony of modern existence. Sometimes life feels a little more special when one plays nicky nine doors with death. I get it. There’s no way in hell anyone would ever catch me doing anything like this, but I get it.

I’d like to suggest, however, that when we think of taking risks, making leaps, being brave, this shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a certain amount (maybe even a lot) of gumption required to do any of the things mentioned above, but I’d wager that it takes a lot more guts to do other things, things that don’t necessarily involve staring into the jaws of death.

Let’s start with being a stranger in a strange land. I’ve never done this one either (except for vacations), but I’ve known and taught a whole lot of people who have. I can say without hesitation that learning a new language, and committing to speak it, requires a person to “grow a pair” in ways that adventure seekers may never appreciate. To do it properly, a person has to accept that they’re going to look stupid (really, really stupid) on a regular basis. They’re going to be misunderstood, maybe even inadvertently get people angry at them. They’re going to be lonely, and wish there were more people with whom they could share their innermost thoughts without the aid of a phrasebook or a translator. Pretty gutsy stuff, non?

What about being an artist? All those ideas you think people will find silly or obnoxious, perhaps even incendiary? They’re going to come out in the work you produce, be it music, painting, writing, dance or drama. Whether your work is well-received or widely-ridiculed, whenever something creative makes its way out into the world, the creator risks looking stupid. It’s part of the job description, a gamble at best, and perhaps the mark of a good artist is the ability to make educated guesses about risk versus reward, to be able to say with confidence that the product of one’s busy brain is worth being made to feel foolish. Also gutsy.

The list of risky ventures doesn’t end there. We take incredible leaps when we fall in love, become a parent, take up public speaking, or start a business. In each case, there’s a very real possibility that we’ll have our pride mushed up and served to us on toast. So why is it that we oooh and ahh over those who willingly take on physical danger, but other acts of bravery, like the ones I’ve listed here, fade into the noise? What’s the difference, anyway?

Well, the first kind of risk-taking, if everything goes wrong, results in being a blurry splatter somewhere, or at least spending a great deal of time in traction. I’m not denying that it takes a fair helping of gumption to climb a rock face or crawl through caves. The other kind of risky activities, however, require that you actually live with the results. If everything goes wrong, there’s pride, self-confidence, and relationships on the line. What’s worse, one might be required to give it another try, to risk screwing up again, and again…and again. These kinds of risks are undertaken without the promise of an immediate endorphin buzz. There’s no line of gear to purchase, no electrolyte drink to replenish one’s energy mid-task. Some adventures can’t be captured with a GoPro.

Still a rush, nonetheless. Here’s to all kinds of bravery, and to the thrill of the leap, whether it be over a cliff, into the deep, or somewhere a little more metaphorical.

 

Motherhood: Career or Calling?

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Parenting is the hardest job in the world. It calls for long hours and pays absolute zero. Instead of an interview, you’re initiated into it through series of “sink or swim” incidents. There are no promotions, and many who choose to enter this line of work have to hold down another job (possibly two) in order to make ends meet. Although workload does tend to decrease at some point, there really isn’t such a thing as retirement.

Sweet Mother of Pearl, I hate this analogy. Calling parenthood a job makes it seem like you can get a substitute to stand in for you, that one person is more qualified than another. It leads us to patronizingly call loving, devoted fathers “babysitters” when they’re caring for their own children. It makes children, who are marvelous, complex, fluid beings, into projects that need to be completed, like human check lists. It presupposes that there is training available (hands up anyone who’s had to unlearn everything they thought they knew), that there are objective measures of success and failure. Worst of all, it leans heavily toward the notion that if you’re female, and you’re able to do this kind of work, you should. I don’t like or agree with any part of this “parenting as work” stuff. Hard pass on this.

Okay, so maybe parenting is a calling, a deep-seated, cosmic longing that begs to be fulfilled. I have to admit, there is a little something primal about it. I swoon at the pleasant, squishy cuteness of an infant, the toy-like giggle of a preschooler, even the endearing awkwardness of someone about to hit teendom. I too have felt the impulse to unleash my wrath on anyone who threatens my cub. I’ve swelled with an uncontrollable pride upon seeing my progeny master a new skill or say something miraculously clever. I have, however, like many parents, had days when I wished there could be an hour or two without noise and interruption. I’ve been covered in poop and barf, I’ve had to function with cartoon mayhem in the background, and I’ve had to explain (or try to explain) why life isn’t fair. Sometimes it kind of sucks, and I think it’s extremely dangerous to assume that anyone would automatically feel inclined to take this on, that they’d be “called” to do this. Hard pass on this angle too.

So is parenting a hobby, then? Maybe it’s a way to test your own mettle, like a rite of passage? Something that just happens? A series of existential tests that help us to figure out what it means to be human?

Huh. Maybe the last one. Strip away all the work stuff, the feeding, the cleaning, the driving someone back and forth to this and that. Strip away the thing about it being a calling to be answered, a natural inclination. When I think of what parenting has been for me, the essential, core nuggets of it, what comes to mind are the rare and amazing moments of quiet when I get to look at my child and think, “Holy crap, you’re real! How did you get here and who the heck are you?” I think of the conversations I have with her in which I learn new things about myself, life, and the universe, things that could have been left undiscovered if she weren’t here to pull them out of me. I think of how my views have changed, on the passage of time, on human nature, on relationships, on beauty and truth and self. When I chose to be a parent, it was because I wanted to watch all of this happen, to be part of a something becoming a someone. I’ve been exhausted, I’ve been frustrated, and I’ve been filthy, but with this as my end goal, I’ve never been disappointed.

Not a career. Not a calling. But one hell of a wild ride, and one for which I’m glad I bought a ticket.