Sold

Our next door neighbor’s house sold today. She lived in that house for almost 40 years. Now in her 80s, without any kids or family, she needed the money to pay for her care. For almost a year she had 24/7 caregivers in her home as her health deteriorated. She was still smart as a whip but unable to tend to her daily needs. She told me that the caregivers became too expensive. She could pay for them for another year or so but then what? She needed the money from the home sale to last her a lifetime – literally the rest of her life.

So many emotions from that conversation. Sadness and a sense of loss. She began to cry when she told me. She didn’t want to leave. It was her home and she wanted to stay in it. It made me think about the passage of time. She was in her early 40s when she moved in, and one year became two became four became eight…How many steps between our lives now and then?

It made me think about family. She jokingly said she was waiting for a rich granddaughter to emerge from the shadows. Aren’t we all? I think about the legacy of descendants – the good, the bad. I wonder what her relationships were like, who she loved, what she thought about children. I thought of our own parents – getting closer to that age. They still have a decade or two but soon this will be their fate. And then what do we do? How do we do what we need to do with the distance between us?

I think about the neighborhood as it was 40 years ago. We have neighbors who have lived here for half a century (or close to it) and they were the young parents (or singletons) with little ones (or not) who got to know one another, helped each other out, socialized, gossiped. And then time passes and new people move in, and neighborhoods are continuously decorated with the tapestry of these lives – one on top of the other, on top of the other. Life is a wheel, my grandmother used to say.

It feels like the end of an era. We spoke with our neighbor when we came to view the house years ago, before putting in an offer. She said it was a nice neighborhood, a quiet one. When we first moved in and I was pregnant, about to burst, she helped me prune some rose bushes and move them into a planter. That planter still stands at the edge of our driveway, roses blooming each season. She noticed one of our trees dying and alerted us to it before it could fall and cause damage. She would always tell us that our children sounded happy, that she loved to hear their joy while they played. We purchased basic essentials for her during the pandemic. I walked over Thanksgiving dinner. I answered her call and went to check on her when her health problems began in earnest – when she started to have trouble with her balance. She came to the door naked from the waist down because she had wet herself. It felt like the beginning of the end.

I’m going to miss her. I don’t know who the new neighbors will be – whether they will be a family, an elderly person, a developer who will raze the home and put up something modern, white and all angles. Change makes me nervous, but change is also the way of the world. One day, we will move. Maybe it will be in a few years, or maybe we’ll be in our 80s as well. Life is a wheel and it never stops turning.

Toddler tears

Tonight is our last night visiting our families, who live on the opposite coast. We fly out here often (and vice versa) so that our children can still be close to their grandparents, even though we live far apart.

I tucked my kids into bed tonight and reminded them that I would wake them up early in the morning (“tomorrow”) to fly back home. My oldest seemed to process this information quickly, but then called me back into the room a minute later. “What does tomorrow mean?”

“Tomorrow will be when you wake up,” I said. His eyes welled up with tears and his lower lip quivered. “But I don’t want to go home!” he said. “I like being at grandma and grandpa’s house. I don’t like our house and I don’t like my school!” For reference, he is 3.5 years old and has never expressed a dislike of our home nor his preschool.

His words broke my heart. The back-story here is that I myself often wonder if we’re doing the right thing living far away from family. I have discussed moving back home countless times with my husband (ad nauseam really) but he’s adamant that we are building a better life for our kids by staying where we are, and in many ways I think he’s right.

I didn’t feel a desire to flock back home until after I had kids. My husband and I both left home at 18. We come from involved and attentive families who sacrificed their own quality of life to provide us with everything we needed, and we subsequently both attended the same Ivy League college. After college we went our separate ways but found ourselves living in the same city (not near our parents) a few years later. 9 years after college, we moved together to the opposite coast because it’s what we wanted to do. We had both flirted with the idea and thought it would be a great time to try it. We ultimately stayed because my husband achieved some career success locally, even though, had I been single, I would have likely left the state. After our first was born, we stayed because we had a house and great jobs, and we have stayed since for similar reasons: it’s comfortable, we have short commutes, we have great careers, we love the area.

I grapple with staying a lot (my husband, who is very rational and pragmatic – as I have mentioned – does not). I often wish we had extra sets of hands to help out with the kids. We are on our own in terms of childcare, with the exception of that which we pay for. I also think the kids would grow to be more well-rounded if they had different caregivers intimately involved in their care. We have a lovely nanny, and she has been around since my first was born, but as much as we trust her, it’s just not the same as family. My closest friends are also here, and I find it so time-consuming to make adult friendships, especially with kids and working full-time. I also think about the fact that our parents are getting older. These are the years they will enjoy with their grandkids – when the grandparents are young enough to spend quality time with them and the grandkids are young enough to love spending this time with them, before they become self-absorbed teenagers. If anything happens to our parents, will I regret not living closer when it mattered the most?

More and more of our friends and acquaintances are moving out of state, for one reason or another. Some days I yearn to be one of them as well – packing up the house, putting it on the market, starting our lives elsewhere. But really I would only move back home, which is funny because I didn’t particularly love growing up here. As I’ve mentioned, my parents were great, but I moved when I was about to start high school, and this put a bit of a damper on everything. Adolescence is tough! I actually disliked my house for the longest time, but now that I’m an adult who has purchased a home in a high cost-of-living area, I can’t help but think: it’s so large! Look at all of this space and land! What a steal!

I am sure my oldest will wake up feeling fine tomorrow morning, but I don’t think my own feelings will be forgotten so quickly. I don’t know what the right answer is, and I don’t want to pressure my husband into making a decision until I am certain it is the right choice. And so I’m stuck in limbo, flying back and forth, feeling not-quite in each place, trying to put a positive spin on the situation for my kids. It reminds me of a few lines I read in the book “This Is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel:

‚ÄúThis is how it always is. You have to make these huge decision on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands. Who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don’t get to see the future. And if you screw up – if with your incomplete contradictory information you make the wrong call – nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake. It’s impossible. It’s heartbreaking. It’s maddening. But there’s no alternative.”