My loyal and cherished readers know that my previous entries have dealt exclusively with running or nursing. But, since the title is “Fear and Fartleks,” I wanted to use this forum to discuss another, unrelated source of anxiety. And, since it’s my blog, I can pretty much do what I want. So there.
We live in a small house. A very small house. Two bedrooms, one bath. 870 square feet, to be exact. Yes, all seven of us. I did the math yesterday and it works out to about 124 square feet per person. Population density-wise, our house is the equivalent of Manhattan. Obviously when The Dude and I purchased our home we did not anticipate having five children (but really, who does?) and so, over the years, we have gotten extremely creative with space and storage and, somehow, it works. But the teen years are fast approaching, and five kids in one bedroom just won’t do (the mess! the fights! the smell of pubescent funk!). We finally made the decision to begin the process of finding a new home, and, after talking with a Realtor and a mortgage broker yesterday, it became very clear that our plans could soon become a reality.
At first I was elated. A new, bigger house! Pooping in privacy! Not having to hide my tampons so child #3 doesn’t ask me if they are paint brushes! Whole new vistas opened up in my mind. And then, fear. Nauseating anxiety. Absolute and utter terror. Naturally, I turned to my blog and Mr. Bombay Sapphire to help me sort out this bizarre mix of emotions, and I’ve determined that this new-found anxiety is rooted in two issues – both of which are purely emotional and entirely irrational. Shocking, I know.
This is the only home The Dude and I have ever owned. This is where we have loved, fought, rested, planned. This is the lawn that we have battled over, the walls that we have painted together. This is the patio that The Dude built for me (for me!). More important, though, is that this is the only home my children have ever known. I brought all my babies back here, to this ever-shrinking house – this house that stood safe and sturdy while the hurricanes of 2004 raged around us and I wondered if child #2 (who was due in June) would be born at the hospital or on the living room floor. This house where #4 slept on the floor next to our boxed-springs and mattress, because we couldn’t afford a bed frame while we struggled through my first semester of nursing school. This house where I lay next to child #1 and felt his feverish body and looked at his lop-sided face* and quietly prayed that God would spare him, where I held #3 and whispered in his ear that he was my treasure, and where I cried for days and days when ten pregnancy tests told me that #5 was soon to come. Sigh. This sudden rush of sentimentality is foreign to me, because I am not a nostalgic person. I don’t save my children’s teeth, or their locks of hair, or their artwork (I’m sure this will be an issue in a decade or two, when my kids start families of their own and they realize that most of their childhood is in a landfill, but my plan is to explain it away with a dismissive wave of my hand and some comment about needing more room for storage). So, it’s not the packing up that makes me sad. It’s the memories that this house holds.
The other issue is that I truly believe that there is something inherently good in sharing a room, which all of the kids have done since the moment they arrived on this earth. It strips away a sense of entitlement and demands selflessness. We have a quote on our kitchen wall which I shamelessly ripped off from IKEA that I think sums it up nicely: “To share a small space is to show love and respect, to compromise and transform.” Some of the kindest, most generous and forbearing people I know have never experienced having their own room. The Dude, for instance. He grew up in a 3-bedroom mobile home in Oklahoma, with his three siblings and parents (I was told by his mother years after we married that the mobile had actually been a brothel before they purchased it. Um…so a few things leap to mind: 1)how utterly unsuccessful must you be to have your brothel – in OKLAHOMA – go out of business? And then to have your MOBILE HOME repossessed??? And 2) clearly I should have done some sort of background checking on The Dude’s family tree, but what’s done is done). I, on the other hand, did have a room to myself for several years, and I am the most selfish person I know. (For example: sometimes when the kids are asleep, we will drink too much ETOH and, like the crazy kids we are, will run to McDonald’s for a late night treat. While The Dude is in the bathroom I will steal french fries off of his plate, even though I have a heaping pile of my own. The worst part is that I shove them in my mouth super quick, so he won’t see me chewing when he walks in. This is how I treat my husband of 12 years, the man who has assessed my hemorrhoids and given me an enema. See, I am selfish. So my theory is proven!) And yet, as I watch my children grow and their personalities develop, I realize that child #1 is a true introvert and desperately needs solitude. Child #2 has a creative streak and I don’t know how much longer I can take the wailing and gnashing of teeth that happens after numbers 4 and 5 have destroyed his lego tower or peed on his watercolor toucan painting. So my dilemma is this: stay here, in this cracker-jack box of a house, and have generous, kind children (although I’m pretty sure at least 3/4 of them would end up joining a monastery just for some peace and quiet), or move to a larger place and have my daughter grow up into a french-fry-stealing shrew?
I know it’s not that simple. And yet it’s also not that complicated. As usual, I have made a normal life event into the Gordian Knot. I know, deep down, that my children will turn out to be functional, law-abiding citizens because of the things we teach them, and how we love them. It’s the parents who shape the child, not the house. Unless of course you live in a re-possessed brothel.
*Child #1 ran through a sliding glass door during his first week of kindergarten and slashed his face open. As in, I-can-see-your-teeth-but-you’re-not-smiling open. Emergency plastic surgery and the passage of time have left him with a barely visible scar.