Noun: any place of residence or refuge, a heavenly home
Nautical Adverb: into the position desired; perfectly or the greatest possible extent: sails sheeted home
We are getting ready to move and it is making me think a lot about the meaning of “home.” For 18 years we have had a wonderful life in this home, in this town. This is where my children were born, this is the yard where they stumbled around learning to walk, that is the tree I hung a wiffle ball from so my son could take his first swings with a little plastic bat. Here is the stepping stone they made with ‘jewel’ stones, the Japanese maple tree that has grown at the same rate they did, the one the plastic porpoise swing hung from when my daughter still allowed me to put a bow in her hair (I didn’t know yet that she is not the bow type).
This is the pool that went from floaties to floats to canon ball contests off the diving board, to “Mom can you just stay in the house while we’re out here?”
This is the house where sports started with soccer and t-ball and moved through basketball, baseball, softball, flag football, cross country, lacrosse, track. I think the equipment from every single sports season is still in our garage, waiting for me to purge and redistribute it.
This is the house that welcomed two children, two dogs, a series of turtles, a disappearing crayfish. A blur of playdates, a whirl of book clubs, family BBQ’s, a carousel of babysitters. Where we went from bubblegum flavored toothpaste to Scope. From Leapfrog to Playstation to Xbox 1. From Pat the Bunny to The Hunger Games.
This is a house that was made into a home.
The feeling of home, it is so visceral, we feel it in our very bodies. Home is the same thing as ease, as comfort. Feeling ‘at home’ somewhere is the ultimate compliment. Where you can be your real self, not the curated one you show the world. Where you can relax your vigilance, that animal instinct to scan for danger, enough to rest, to sleep even.
When hard things happen, when the day is going badly, you just want to be home. You go away and feel homesick, literally sick in your body to not have the familiar, the comfortable. After a brutal trip to Disneyland years ago (we all got so sick we renamed our room ‘the toxic cave’) all I wanted was to be home. I literally knelt down and kissed our none-too-clean carpet when we finally made it back.
Home is where we make our mess, untidy ourselves. Where the bra comes off, the sweats come on, the fuzzy blanket waits on the couch. Where you can wake up with smelly breath and messy hair and still walk around.
Home is where Mom’s arms wait when you didn’t make the team. Where Dad’s humor cuts away some of the sting of a breakup. Where your dog nudges you with his snout for the ten thousandth time, ready for a pet on the head that turns out to soothe you even more than him.
Home is where the rituals happen, the repetitive actions that weave a group of people into a family. Every year the red wreaths on the front door signal Christmas. The pineapple cake with the cream cheese icing means it’s a birthday. Every morning the smell of coffee and the ‘time to wake up’ whispered, then yelled, into bedrooms. The calm and not so calm reminders to ‘put your stuff away.’ The ‘I love you’ to each as they exit every morning, regardless of the level of grumpiness.
All the things that say ‘a family lives here,’ in all its messiness and love.
Because home can be a crucible, too. It is the hot arena where siblings battle and parents disagree and homework nightmares last deep into the night. Where hopefully the survival of the battle, the disagreement, the homework, ultimately prepares you for the outside world instead of weakening you. Where you learn to forgive, over and over, because we feel most betrayed when the wound comes from inside the house.
So what does it mean to move?
Is it even possible to make a new place feel like home?
My son walked in our new place (we are lucky enough to have the new place to visit before we leave our current home) and said “I don’t like the smell here, it doesn’t smell like home.”
It didn’t smell bad, it just didn’t smell familiar.
I understood in an instant what he meant.
Every home has its own smell. And the sense of smell is so linked to emotion, to memory. When we were kids my brother used to take his comforter to our grandmother’s house and leave it so that it would absorb the smell of her house. And he could then take it home and feel wrapped in my grandmother’s love, sleep with that smell all around him.
So I told my son, “I can make this homey.” That once we cooked there and used our soaps and cleansers there and sprayed our hair products there and used our laundry detergent that it would start to smell like home. That once our favorite stuff was there, the books, the pictures, the Xbox, it would feel more familiar.
And that I know the other touches that make a house feel like a home.
Home is where someone paid attention to what you need and what you like. The bubblegum flavored toothpaste, the cupboard of school supplies with the exact kind of book cover your middle school requires, the original flavored goldfish. And where someone cared about the house itself. Had an eye for the accented throw pillows, the arrangement of candles on the dining room table, the whimsical cookie jar. The lavender pump hand soap, the bedside lamp placed to throw just the right light to read a book in bed. The line of framed family photos up the staircase wall. These are the details that bring a house to life because they come from someone caring.
I love this house, I love the memories that were made here, but I also know that while this house has been home, it is not the physical structure that made it home. The love and fighting and forgiving and toothpaste preferences are what made it home, and we can take that show on the road.
We can make the new house a home, and we will.