Over Christmas week, my parents sold and moved out of the house they lived in for the past 40 years. The house in which I was raised. The place that I, at 39, continue to call my home.
It was sad, but not tragic. There was no death or illness or tragedy that forced them out. My mother has been retired for several years, and my father talks about it more and more. They are rational and practical people who are preparing for the next step in their lives, and they wanted to be well positioned to make it. The house had the potential to hold them back. They left it on their own terms, which is a blessing–but that doesn’t mean I didn’t cry.
I live in Maryland, and went back to New York to be with my parents for the sale and their move. I brought my husband and two children with me. The house didn’t “look” the same as the one I grew up in. It hasn’t for a few years. Long ago my parents took the wallpaper off the walls of the bedrooms, opting for a new palette of paint colors. Some carpeting was replaced by new flooring, new couches were purchased, central air and heating were installed. But it was still my house, and there is a lifetime of me in it.
There is the landing by the front door where I remember running, grabbing the doorknob, and threatening to leave, because my parents were daring to try and take a painful splinter out of my hand. The upstairs hall bathroom where my grandmother would bring me and my brother, shut the door, turn out the lights, and spell our names in the air with the ash of her burning cigarette (probably not the best idea but such a powerful memory that both my brother and I included it when we independently drafted eulogies to read at her funeral last spring). The creek and woods that surrounded the property, where my brother and I spent countless hours of imaginary play, conquering the world as Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. The kitchen where my parents and I would sit and talk when I arrived home for another visit.
This was one of the few places left that I could visit where I shared physical space with all of my now deceased grandparents.
This was my home, and now it is gone.
When my parents left for their closing, I busied myself by taking my kids to a favorite bakery. As we were on our way, my father called. “It’s done” he said. The “moment” was not dramatic. It was a feeling reminiscent of when my grandmother passed away. I knew the event was imminent. I had already said my goodbye and made peace with it. And when “it” happened, I exhaled.
My parents were moving into their first apartment in 40 years. Being an old hand at moving (eight moves in 17 years), I was there to offer advice and counsel. On moving day my husband and I stayed around the house long enough to watch the movers arrive and begin taking furniture. I didn’t want to see the house completely empty. I didn’t want my last memory to be of a vacant property. I needed to preserve an image of the house as I knew it. My son and daughter came with me to my bedroom to say my last goodbye. As we sat on the floor, I could feel my past. The sound of my best friend’s voice on my princess phone; the view of the driveway from my room where I would watch for arrivals and departures; the chill of the air, given the location over the garage. My daughter hugged me. We were leaving the past, and heading to the future.
My parents stayed until the house was empty and said their goodbye alone. It was, after all, their house.
When we met them at their new apartment, the scene was familiar: my parents surrounded by boxes and movers. Only this time, it was their boxes, and not mine. Being much more organized than me, my mom’s move and unpacking was seamless; rooms quickly took shape. Even my 4-year-old helped, excitedly opening “presents”–bubble wrapped pictures and vases. I did what my mom normally does and tried to make myself useful by cleaning dishes, making beds, and suggesting strategies for organizing a small kitchen. My husband and I offered our own touches, providing a champagne toast and the distraction of toddlers, but the scene was familiar. One generation helping the other unpack, get settled, move ahead. Transition.
We all spent the first night in the apartment together. My parents didn’t ask us to stay over, but how many times did I not ask for something, but appreciated their offer, gesture, and presence?
As we prepared to head back to Maryland the next morning, my mind was racing. Was this the right decision for them? Will they regret it? What will their neighbors be like? Is this development safe? Will they be happy? I woke up that next morning and found myself thinking about the needs and well being of my parents as much as that of my children.
And that’s how it happened; my initiation into the sandwich generation through the selling of my childhood home. I will continue to be sad for all that we said goodbye to, but look forward to what the future holds as, together, we redefine “home.”