long, sandy beach with sandstone bluffs on the left side

there you are.

Years ago, I wrote a piece for ParentMap that included this sentiment. It was aimed at parents who were paralyzed by helping their adolescent choose the right school for them, but for the last few days, that phrase has been appearing in my head when things are quiet, this time for a very different reason.

Wherever you go, there you are

A few days ago, I woke up with a horrible thought: what if my youngest and her boyfriend decide to move back to Seattle from LA? Some of you know that their move to Los Angeles was what prompted me to start thinking about relocating away from Seattle – the notion that none of my kids would likely choose to (or be able to afford to) live in Seattle, and my absolute refusal to be a plane ride away from all of them. I didn’t uproot myself to follow them, but I did feel as though this new town was close enough to them and also had many of the characteristics I wanted in a new home that it was the right thing to do.

Best laid plans and all that….

It’s not unusual that I’d be taking some time to find my footing here. I want to create strong, foundational relationships and a community for myself that feels nurturing and vibrant and rooted in my values and passions and I know that will take time. And I also know it’s terribly unlikely that the kids will decide to leave LA for somewhere a plane-ride’s distance from me. But it got me thinking about where I am mentally and emotionally and my conclusion seems to be (at least the phrase that is emerging over and over again is):

wherever you go, there you are

This morning, the emergent wisdom that accompanied that phrase was that my work right now is to really get to know and like myself. Not just get comfortable in my own skin, but celebrate it, revel in it, make no apologies for it. My work is to become so clear on who I am that when I am complimented for it, I don’t shrink back or demur, I expand into it and embrace it.

So how does one go about learning to like themselves?

I don’t know, which is why I make a better writer than a lawyer. Lawyers are taught to never ask questions they don’t already know the answer to. Writers are the ones who ask all sorts of questions they don’t know the answers to. My friend Susan calls me a “seeker,” and she’s quite right. I always have more questions than answers and the good news is that I am very comfortable in that space.

If I figure out how to do this, you can be sure I’ll share. For now, I’ll sit in the sunshine watching the hummingbirds and chickadees feed and listen for guidance. Because here is where I am at the moment.

Moving to the city has been a form of insulation-removal for us.  It occurred to me this morning as I walked the dog through our new neighborhood, as has become our morning ritual, that I have lived in the suburbs my entire life.  Or, if not technically in the suburbs, in a small enough town that I had no idea what living in the city would be like.  And Bubba, well he was born and raised in the same house on a few hundred acres bordering a wide river with nothing but cattle and sugar beets for neighbors.

Our new house, while spacious and definitely in a residential neighborhood, is not insulated.  I don’t mean it lacks that fluffy pink fiber stuffed in to the walls and attic. I mean that if we leave the back doors open on a sunny afternoon we have to be careful not to crank the music too high because the neighbors might be having dinner on their patio next door.  I mean that four doors down is an old Victorian that has been converted into four apartments and across the street is a 60-something Caucasian woman who is ragged raising her daughter’s two half-black sons by herself. I mean that our front lawn is seen by dozens of people each day, some strolling by slowly with dogs of all sizes and others rushing to catch a bus a few blocks south, ears sprouting speakers or bluetooth devices.

In every other house I have inhabited, the front lawn might be a playspace for children or pets, but mostly it served as a buffer. A way to set the house back from the street and give us some space. Some insulation. On our quiet cul-de-sac, nobody ever saw our front lawn except the neighbors.

In the suburbs the grocery stores were not walking distance away and so each had spacious parking lots, landscaped with trees and shrubs and, in some cases, herbs and other edibles.  Each car had its own ample space. A separation from the others.  Here in town if there is a parking lot at the store it is nominal with no room for plants beyond the occasional weed poking up through a crack.

Since we moved I have noticed more. More people close by. More noises. More light. More life.  At times I have found myself uncomfortable with the lack of insulation as though I’m sitting outside on a cool evening in just a tank top. The activity around me, the closeness of others not just like me – they act as a cold breeze raising goosebumps on my arms.  This heightened awareness is disconcerting but electric all the same.  I feel more aware. More exposed. More available to everything.

For most of my life I have been able to surround myself with open space and a cushion of comfort. Our previous neighborhoods were quiet and serene. If we wanted action we could go find it. If we visited the city for a day to attend a cultural event we could come right back home and lament the sad spectacle of dirty streets and panhandlers and crowds in the cocoon of our home.  We could remove ourselves.  Insulate ourselves.

In our new house we certainly are able to come inside and close the doors, retreat to the basement and watch TV in peace if we so choose.  I can curl up on the couch with a book and delve in to a different world.  But the buffer around us has been pared down.  Our neighbors are closer and more diverse than anywhere I’ve ever lived.  It took the dog a few weeks to figure out that every car or truck that came down the street was not stopping at our house. He barked excitedly at the door every time someone walked by on the sidewalk or drove past the backyard through the alley, certain they were coming to visit us.  I know how he feels.

And yet, I am so grateful for this shift in my life.  The opportunity to take a step closer to life in the city is keeping me on edge in a good way.  In the past I was able to convince myself that distance was normal. That I could retreat from my surroundings with a wide cushion around me and venture out on my own terms. The suburbs gave me the impression that control was possible. No massive tree roots were allowed to push their way up, tenting sidewalks to dangerous heights.  You could always tell what day the garbage pick-up happened because house after house sported the green and blue plastic bins at the end of the driveway. Neighborhoods with single-family homes sat apart from those with condominiums and apartments.  Here in the city our mantra has become, “Watch your step” as we take a family walk with the dog. When I asked the former owners what day garbage and recycle service came they looked blank despite having lived here for five years. The trash bins simply live in the alley behind the house where the massive trucks rumble through once a week or so. There are renters and ‘owners’ alike in our neighborhood in the city and many homes with multiple generations living within.

While it remains true that I dip a toe in the water only when I choose, the world is closer now and, for me, that is a reminder that life is meant to be tasted and experienced.  That the bright colors and sharp noises of the city represent a brighter mosaic that I have decided to be more fully a part of.  The chaos and disorder of old next to new, wild bumping right up against sculpted, tribal music in the park as I lie quietly reading on a blanket gives me a new sense of imbalance that feels a little alarming. A little sensory-overload. A little like a really good scalp massage that takes me by surprise and sends shivers down my back but wakes me up and leaves me wanting more.

Imagine this:

A family of four (plus a dog, two hamsters, a cat and a fish) were moving. The new house had been purchased and would be available on June 6. The current house had been sold to a lovely couple with three small boys who wanted to take possession June 6. Sounds good, right? Perfect timing.

Until Bubba remembered he had a business trip that week (where his client was oh-so-lovingly putting him up at the Ritz Carlton).  Until I realized that in order to let the new family have our house on June 6, we had to have our house packed and emptied and cleaned by then.  Which necessitated at least one night’s stay in a hotel on our end. With the dog.

And the one hotel in our area that allows 80-pound retrievers (but not cats, hamsters or fish) charges $250.00/night.

I made a reservation anyway because, what are you going to do?

So Sunday night the girls and I packed a suitcase each (for two nights plus an additional night or two of not really knowing where our stuff was in boxes at the new house) in anticipation of moving to a hotel while our house was (THANK GOD) packed up by a moving company on Monday and loaded into a moving truck on Tuesday.

Monday after school we headed to the hotel to check in after settling the cat and the hamsters for the night in the old house. The fish, sadly, died a few days before moving. Perhaps it knew what was to come….

We arrived at the hotel only to be informed that it was under a great deal of renovation and we had been put in a room on the 6th floor. With our dog. Meaning that every time he had to pee, I had to take him out from the top floor of the hotel. Despite having requested a ground-floor room for this very reason.  But I didn’t make a fuss.  The receptionist assured me it was a lovely room at the far end of the hotel complex and she was sorry for any inconvenience.

Oh, and had someone neglected to inform me of their new policy regarding dogs? They needed an additional $100.00 non-refundable deposit since they had decided to shampoo the carpets in every room following a pet’s stay. Whether you stay 2 days or 32.

I had no choice. With two tired, hungry kids, a rambunctious dog, three suitcases and a 30# bag of dog food in tow, not to mention the fact that there was no other hotel I could likely sneak the dog in to, I paid.

We drove to the far end of the complex, unloaded the car, walked in the door and saw a prominent (read: LARGE, RED) sign on the elevator door: CLOSED FOR CONSTRUCTION.


So now every time the dog has to pee, I have to schlep down (and then back up) six flights of concrete stairs. And first, I have to lug three suitcases, a dog, and a 30# bag of dog food up them simply to get in to the room.

We made it through Monday night and the girls headed to school on Tuesday.

Had you been anywhere in the vicinity (did I mention this hotel is attached to a mall?), you would have seen a pajama-clad woman in flip-flops trudging outside in the pouring rain at 10:30pm or 6:15am, a sopping wet dog in tow and green plastic doggie-do bags in hand.

Tuesday I picked both girls up from school and we headed back to our room. This, after I spent the day helping load our earthly possessions into the moving truck and making sure the house was ready for the new owners. Both girls were tired and asked if we could have take-out for dinner and I heartily agreed. I left them doing homework and headed out, but not before realizing that the deadbolt on our newly-remodeled room’s door was stuck in the ‘on’ position, effectively rendering the door incapable of closing.  The deadbolt stuck out and slammed into the door frame despite all my efforts.  I figured I’d solve that problem later and went in search of dinner.

The girls and I sat down to a feast of Thai favorites and then worked on the door unsuccessfully for a while.  Eve offered to run down to the front desk and ask for help after I phoned them and it rang unanswered 30 or 40 times.  She returned 15 minutes later saying nobody had been at the desk.  We barred the door with our massive cooler, full of the remains of the fridge from the old house and fell asleep.

Around 3AM, I heard Eve’s alarmed voice, “Mom?!?” and sat up just in time to see her hang her head over the side of her bed and start barfing.  I leaped out of bed, pulled her long hair out of the way and watched her entire dinner make its way on to the carpet next to the pull-out couch.  After about 20 minutes she sat up and said, “Whew! I feel a lot better, now!” All I could think was, ‘Wonder when Lola and I will start regurgitating dinner…’

She fell asleep nearly instantly and I spent the next 5 minutes locking the dog in the bathroom so he wouldn’t eat her mess before I could clean it up.  Lola slept through the entire event and by 4:00 I was back in bed, having cleaned it as best I could.

The following morning, Eve assured me she felt just fine and we packed up to leave.  I headed to the front desk to retrieve a luggage cart so we wouldn’t have to make more than one trip and, while I was down there, I informed the staff of the malfunction with our room’s deadbolt.  They fell all over themselves assuring me that I was mistaken about nobody being at the desk last night, and I simply turned to walk away and said I was checking out.  I was furious at this point and, unfortunately, probably translated that to the girls as I stomped back to the room and asked them to hurry up and get their stuff together so we could get them to school on time.

As we made our way down the now-working elevator (on the day we were checking out, of course) with three suitcases, two backpacks, two lunchboxes, a massive cooler and a 30# bag of dog food on the cart, not to mention the dog and the girls, we rounded the corner and the entire bag of dog food tilted crazily off the side, spilling kibble in all directions. Just then, my phone rang.  It was Bubba, calling from the Ritz.  I silently handed the dog’s leash and the phone to Eve just as Lola burst into tears and fell to her knees to start scooping dog food.  I heard Eve tell her father, “I spent the night throwing up, Lola’s crying, Mom’s pissed, and the dog food is all over the hallway!”  Bubba wisely told her he loved her and hung up the phone.

Somehow, we made it out to the car without the help of any of the staff or other residents of the hotel (don’t ask me why – they all saw the chaos that happened. Perhaps they found the steam coming from my ears intimidating).  We missed Eve’s carpool, headed to the house to retrieve the hamsters and the cat and drove to the new house, dropping Eve at school on the way.  Lola decided to skip her last day of school and help me get the pets safely to the new house instead.

Through it all, I didn’t crack.  I wanted to, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t.  I kept thinking that something was bound to go wrong during the process of the move and, if this was it, I’d take it.  Better than broken treasures or really sick kids or financial issues.  In the end, we laughed heartily at the mishaps and craziness and after a long, very calm but pointed email to the manager of the hotel detailing our horrible stay, the cost of our entire stay was refunded to the tune of about $650.00.  I don’t feel a bit bad that they had to shampoo the carpet where Eve tossed her cookies – they were going to anyway, remember?

It could have been a whole lot worse, but when I look back on people’s pitied reactions to the news that we were moving (things like ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Moving sucks. Good luck. You poor thing. I hate moving. Etc., etc.) now I get it.  There are so many moving parts, so many balls to keep in the air, that moving is bound to have some insanity involved.  I’m just glad I’m looking at it from this side now.  And, yes, Bubba did come home after all the chaos and insanity and yes, we welcomed him with open arms despite his perfectly lovely stay in a lovely hotel.  He knows how lucky he is.

I’ve been absent for a while, thanks to the upheavals of moving our home from one place to another.  While I have had some access to my computer, most of my waking hours have been filled with logistical challenges of getting kids to school from in-between places and unpacking boxes, boxes, boxes.  We are now mostly settled in to the new house and are loving our transformation from the ‘burbs to the city.  There are three coffee shops within six blocks (only one of them a ‘chain,’), locally owned restaurants and galleries and hardware stores close by, parks and shaded sidewalks in every direction, and the dog has never had so many walks.

The other day I couldn’t find the toilet plunger (and when you need one, you need one) in any of the boxes I tore open, so I snapped the leash on the dog and walked eight blocks to Shop Well, a corner store that sells everything from lighted Seattle Mariners caps to tupperware to allen wrenches. These guys could give anyone on the television show “Hoarders” a serious run for their money. The ‘aisles’ cleared for patrons are more like deer paths through the woods, and while there are shelves stocked with every item imaginable, the floors are lined with boxes of smaller items as well.  After searching in vain for five minutes or so, I walked to the counter where I heard voices (but couldn’t see the owners over the towering displays of pens and gum and candy bars) and asked for help.  Without rising from his chair, a heavily-accented man said he would direct me.  Without seeing me, he asked me to turn around and head straight forward until I could go no more without crashing into something.

“Turn right and go four paces. Then turn left and take two paces. Then take a hard left and look down at your feet.”

I stuttered at the second direction because I saw PVC pipe and toilet lids of every color hanging on the wall in front of me.  Instead of continuing to listen, I made my way toward the plumbing display and scanned left and right, up and down for plungers.


Feeling slightly embarrassed and somewhat bewildered that he thought he could direct me without even laying eyes on me, I hollered back, “I’m lost. I don’t see them here. Maybe I didn’t get the directions right? I see plumbing things, but no plungers.”

A moment later the man rounded the corner, eyes twinkling, pointed behind me where I should have taken a hard left, and cocked his head to the left.

“Sorry. I got distracted by the toilet lids and stopped listening.”

I felt like a child as he simply picked up a plunger and handed it to me.

I’m pretty sure this is my new favorite store.  It gives me the beginnings of hives to go inside because of the clutter, but I love that the owner knows every inch of his store so well that he can tell me how to find something as unusual as a toilet plunger without ever getting out of his seat.

I refused a bag and walked the eight blocks home with a big black dog on a leash in one hand and a fire-engine red plunger in the other.  Nobody batted an eye.

I am having a little bit of seller’s remorse. I’m having a little bit of buyer’s

remorse. I know that’s perfectly typical when you sell or buy a house, and I’m
trying to keep that in mind as I navigate these difficult emotions.

At first I was caught up in the excitement of finding our new home, so it wasn’t until I started really working hard to get our current home ready to put on the market that I began feeling a little stressed.

The first issues I had, actually, were panicky feelings about the damage we’ve done to this house over the years. The dinged walls, stains on the carpets, places where the kids took a Sharpie to a cupboard door or a pen to the window casing – those all became magnified in my head and seemed like total deal-breakers. The remembrances of septic tank alarms in the middle of the night and standing water in the backyard after weeks of solid rain – those things seemed insurmountable.

And then the listing agent came through the house with her critical eye and tucked all of my favorite things away.   Down came my electric tea kettle – stashed in the cupboard.  I had to pack the fragile blown Easter eggs the girls made one year in school for fear they would break if I simply put them in a drawer and the agent was certain they ought not to be on display.

“It shouldn’t look like you live here.  It should look like someone lives here – someone generic and random, not you. No personal photos. No personalized towels or jewelry, toothbrushes on the counters or worn blankies on the kids’ beds.”

I feel like I live in a model home. And not in a good way.

One day before the Open House, the agent was here with a rag and some cabinet cleaner wiping down all of my kitchen cabinets and scrubbing the wooden pillars on the deck back to white.  She mopped the dog prints off of the front door and asked if we had any touch-up paint for a few spots where the kids had missed the keyhole in their rush to get inside.

She assured me this is what she does with all of her clients and that I shouldn’t feel bad about her nit-picking.

She told me the house looks beautiful and it will show well.

And still, I feel like I am only visiting this place.  This lovely house that has been my home for over ten years.  This place we moved to before Lola was born. The only house she has ever known.

After a busy weekend of showing the house and nine families coming through for Sunday’s Open House, I collapsed in a lawn chair in the backyard yesterday for a few quiet minutes and looked around.

The beds are full of fresh barkdust – still red and cedar-scented.  The flowers the girls and I planted to add some color are all standing tall in their pots, glorious after a few days of warm sunshine.  The deck and front walk are newly pressure-washed and look lighter and fresher than I’ve ever seen them, and the outdoor kitchen is staged to look like Bubba’s heading around the corner with some thick steaks to lay on the BBQ.  This place is gorgeous. This place is home.

Why am I leaving?

I closed my eyes and picture the new house, warm and inviting with hardwoods and sturdy radiators in every room.  The magnolia tree in the front yard was blooming the last time I was there and sunlight was streaming through the leaded glass windows.

I forced myself to think back to last Thursday night when I had to pick Eve up from cross-country in the rain.  Lola and I reluctantly climbed into the car at 4:15 for the trek across the lake and a few minutes later I realized this was likely to be a long journey.  It took us the full 45 minutes to reach Eve’s school to pick her up at 5:00 and the first thing she said when she got in the car, her ponytail dripping steadily into the hood of her sweatshirt, was, “I’m starving!”

We drove back across the lake in the now-rush-hour traffic in the rain and arrived home after 6:00.

This is why I’m leaving.

The new house is 10 minutes’ drive from the school.  I could have been there and back inside

of a half an hour and Eve could have been warm and dry with her belly full by 6pm. 

But I still asked myself, “Am I doing the right thing?’

Of course it is an entirely moot point at this juncture.  We have bought the other house. Closed the deal.  Shelled out the money and the check has been cashed.

Besides that, it’s not “I,” it’s “we.” Bubba signed those papers, too. He looked at the house and fell in love, too. He agreed that moving across the lake was the right thing to do, too.

But I am still compelled to ask, and so I did.

Fortunately, I was able to recall asking myself the same question when we bought this house. And frequently over the years as we were forced to install an expensive sump pump and repair the septic tank and grieve over cats lost to coyotes who roamed the neighborhood, I had occasion to ask again.

As I sat there in the backyard looking back at the beautiful house we live in, I felt good. Ultimately, questions, concerns and all, we took this place and made it in to a home.  We put our O’Driscoll stamp

on it – expanding the outdoor living areas to fit the way we live and interact with friends and family and using every inch of space to enjoy our lives together.  In the end, I feel good that we will all grieve as we move on, that we are all so attached to this place where Lola took her first steps and Eve taught herself to ride a bike, this home where Bubba and I have played a million games of Scrabble and eaten
some of the most delicious meals of our lives.  We have spent evenings shooting baskets with the girls and wicked winters huddled inside near the fireplace when the power went out. We have cleaned up vomit at midnight and laughed until we nearly peed ourselves here.  We have barbecued with neighbors and walked their children to the bus stop and received dinners made with love when Bubba was recovering from surgery.  The girls have gone from making sandcastles and mud pies in the back yard to skateboarding and painting each other’s nails on the deck.  We came in to this place a family of
three with a cat and are leaving as a family of four with a dog, a cat, two hamsters and a fish, richer for our experiences, older and wiser, and ready to move forward to whatever adventures await us next. 

These thoughts gave me hope that no matter where we end up, we will manage to make a home for ourselves that reflects who we are as a family and as individuals.  And while the stage may be different and we may wish we could take some parts of this place with us, it will be exciting to create new spaces where we can live and laugh and play together.  This house, this home, holds a special place in all of our hearts and it will be hard to not be here anymore. It will be difficult to say good-bye.  But like Bubba says, “Once you’ve made a decision, it’s the right one,” and so we will look forward to making our newhouse in the city a home for us as we feel the bittersweet sadness that comes with saying good-bye to this one.

Over my lifetime, I have often found myself looking at my house through a different lens.

As a teenager, the hold-over gold velour couches and brown shag rug in the living room were generally ignored by me until the occasion arrived to invite a school friend inside. They became mortifying, shameful objects that mocked me as a poor kid whose parents had no style. Not that most of the families in town were better off, but, still, I wished for something classier at those times.

As a college student, I rarely considered my surroundings more than to discern whether or not there were enough clean bowls for a rapid-fire breakfast before my first class or if the sheets smelled sour. Until Dad came to visit, and then it was a race to clear the kitchen of the silverfish that were constantly scurrying through the cupboards and wash every stitch of clothing and vacuum the cat hair up as best I could so it wouldn’t coat his white athletic socks. Nobody but him ever took their shoes off to come in my apartment.

After marriage, it was my in-laws who most skewed my lens, giving me the critical eye for dust or crumbs swept into the corners of the kitchen. This intensified more after having children despite the fact that their house is not immaculate, either.

I will occasionally don a new pair of spectacles for gatherings we host – a barbecue helps me scrutinize the weeds growing in the cracks of the deck and the fingerprints on the windows always look worst at night for dinner parties when the light from the kitchen is reflected off of the smudgy panes.

Despite all of that, there is nothing so soul-baring as readying your house to put up for sale. The knicknacks have to be banished and the caulk in the shower – black from years of mold – has to be scraped out and replaced. The carpets need to be shampooed, or replaced altogether, after years of chocolate milk and coffee spills, muddy shoes and dog-treasures dragged across them. I never realized how many doors we have in our house until I had to wipe them all down and touch up the paint where it has chipped off from slamming or furniture dinging into them or canine claws scratching to BE. LET. IN. ALREADY. I also never noticed how tarnished the brass door knocker is or paid much attention to the gap between the washer and dryer that fills up with lint.

After a few weeks of packing things and purging others, culling through what goes and what just goes away, I thought I was ready. I thought I had busted my butt preparing the house. And then my real estate agent came in. And she brought with her all of her “feng shui’ wisdom and years of experience and pared down and shifted and, while I never quite saw things through her lens, I began feeling tired.

Which is how I generally feel when I see parts of my own life through a different set of eyes. Tired. That’s because it usually means I begin making to-do lists for myself and bending over backwards to conform to a standard other than my own and, I’m not sure which of those things is more exhausting – running through a list of new tasks, or running through a list of tasks that didn’t originate with me – but I’m not sure it matters.

In the end I know that, for this one purpose (selling my house as quickly as possible), such a process is necessary. But it has caused me to question whether it was necessary all of those other times I chose to look at my life or my house or my parenting from a viewpoint other than my own. I do think it is important to be able to see things from other perspectives, but when it ends up giving me a different set of values about myself, maybe it is all a bunch of hooey. Especially if it makes me feel judged and defensive and not good enough.

So this one time, I’m going ahead and wearing myself out. Pressure-washing the front walkway to get rid of moss and replacing the front door knob with a new one and packing away all of my favorite photos and mementos. If only so that I can sell this place and settle in to a new house where I can put them all out again and relax into my own point of view again.

“Tell her I said this isn’t a fun game.” Bubba’s face was dead serious as his fingers swiped across the screen of my iPad. It was 10:15 at night and we were supposed to be playing a rousing game of Scrabble (which he usually wins, by the way). Instead, we had our county’s sex offender location website pulled up and there were thirteen little flags planted within a five mile radius of the house we had just put an offer in on.

Our real estate agent had sent me a text message fifteen minutes before to ask me to call her. She couldn’t say exactly why, but something had made her pull up the list of sex offenders living in the neighborhood of the house we fell in love with. She wanted us to look up the site.
We did.
Bubba was not amused.
Thirteen flags. One with a notation that said “multiple offenders” instead of offering the name and photo of one man (they were all men, in this case) and the subsequent description of his offense(s) and likelihood to offend again.
I wasn’t sure what to think and our agent wasn’t, either. For comparison purposes, we pulled up the list of those who live near the house we’ve lived in for the last ten years. Seven.
I had to go through each and every one of the individual profiles, reading about their crimes:
sex with a minor
indecent liberties (what does that even mean? Could be sexual harassment, even)
statutory rape
rape of a child

Oddly, the ones that were noted as “noncompliant” didn’t bother me in the least. That means they haven’t checked in with their probation officer and there’s no way to verify they actually still live there (or ever did). That gave me hope that they had moved on.
The one that bothered me the most was the house with two offenders in it that was less than a block from a daycare center held in someone’s home. Home-based daycare less than a block away from two known sexual offenders. I wonder how often that happens. I suspect more than we think.
Within this five mile radius, there are four home-based daycare centers, four schools, three parks and hundreds of homes.
I went to bed not knowing what to think.
I woke up and searched the directory of families at Eve’s school and learned that also within this five mile radius there are seven families whose children attend the same school as Eve.
I looked at Bubba and said, “I don’t want to be ruled by fear.”
We knew that moving from the ‘burbs to the city was going to prompt different kinds of discussions with the girls. We knew that it would require some adjustment on our part – smaller lawns, closer neighbors, more noise – but were focused on the benefits to this point. Benefits like driving ten minutes to school instead of 45. Benefits like being able to walk the dog without having to put him in the car and driving to a park or trail. Benefits like being part of a more diverse community.
Methinks we got diverse.
Ultimately, we didn’t change our minds about the house. We still love it and feel like it is a good neighborhood. We may have to have some challenging conversations with the girls about freedom and independence earlier than we anticipated, but it is situations like this that force us to find clarity around our family’s values and principles.
Perhaps the most uncomfortable part of this entire exercise was when I began asking myself deeper questions about where convicted sex offenders ought to be allowed to live. I am a bleeding heart liberal who knows that people are products of their environment. That said, while I can have compassion for someone who has lived a life that led them to sexual violence, I wonder whether it is possible to be rehabilitated from that and I am not willing to put myself or my children in harm’s way to find out. I do believe that housing two convicted sex offenders four doors down from a daycare provider is a bad idea. I also can’t imagine how difficult it must be to find a place to live if you carry that past on your back. But the consequences are so enormous that I find myself wondering if stopping the cycle of sexual violence might require some ideas that I find uncomfortable.
I suspect that my abuser was himself sexually abused and that led him to an understanding that, for him, power could be gained by abusing others. In my case, the abuser actually lived in the home where the daycare was being provided, harming untold numbers of vulnerable children whose parents trusted his mother to care for them. Because of the shame and stigma associated with being a survivor of sexual abuse, and the resulting low percentage of cases actually reported, I wonder whether, once someone has shown that they are capable of that sort of violence, it ought to be shouted from the rooftops for all to hear. I know that is cruel and perhaps overzealous, and I truly do not want to be ruled by fear, but as I imagine my girls asking to walk to the corner store on a sunny summer day, I want to be able to tell them which people to avoid at all costs. And the truth is, short of memorizing the faces of each of the offenders living in the neighborhood, I can’t.

“Even on the most exalted throne in the world, we are only sitting on our own rear end.” Michel de Montaigne

And I want my rear end to be in a comfortable place. It doesn’t have to be exalted or even fancy, but I want to feel at home. And this house-hunting is exhausting. A few weeks ago I thought I had found IT. The One. My realtor and I walked through the house almost silently, reverently, neither of us willing to break the spell by speaking. The kitchen was a dream. The family room opened just off of it and the back of the house was lined with eight french doors leading out onto a private patio. The bedrooms were big for a house in the city and there was a basement complete with storage and carpet and an updated laundry room. There was light and a gorgeous gas fireplace and a big porch with a swing. I felt cocooned. Cozy. Comfortable. I felt at home. I could imagine us living in this house.

Until I stepped outside. I am not terribly familiar with the neighborhood and there is a busy street half a block away. The back yard is bordered by one of those pockmarked alleyways that some of the neighbors take care of and others disregard. Fine. I just stepped back inside. Ahhh. That’s better.

I arranged for Bubba and the girls to come look at the house that weekend with me. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and the girls happily skipped through the house, imagining their bedrooms and spaces to hang out. Bubba was more reserved, knowing how I felt about the house, and he was determined to look in every nook and cranny. He took his time strolling through every room, opening drawers and looking behind furniture, taking photos and not saying a word.

After about an hour inside the house, we took the girls on a walk through the neighborhood, noting the local cafe and two schools within walking distance. I was nearly afraid to breathe, not wanting to influence Bubba or the girls, although the girls were already sold. They’re fickle.

It was nearly two hours later, as we were back in our house, that Bubba dared to ask me whether I still loved the house. I had a hard time answering. I wanted him to give me a definitive opinion that would then inform my feelings. If he hated it, I could give up. If he was head-over-heels, we could celebrate and I could put my misgivings to rest. Oops, I just admitted I had misgivings.

The fact is, I could imagine living in that house. Entertaining in that house. Raising our kids in that house. Hosting family in that house. But I was stuck on what it felt like to be outside. The neighborhood behind and to the north is great – tree-lined sidewalks, lots of families. But the street that the house was on was busy and only half a block long before it dumped out onto a four-lane road complete with stoplights. Could I live in a neighborhood that attached to the back of my home?

Ultimately, Bubba and I decided to wait and see what else comes on the market. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I still felt unsettled. It took me a few days to figure out why.

I want to be done. I want to know where I’m going to live come July. I want to picture it in my head and decorate it a thousand times in my mind before we ever move. I want to start boxing things up in this house and make a list of furniture to sell that won’t fit in the new house. I want to feel settled.

The realtor and I went out again today and, while I know she isn’t trying to pressure me, she told me that with Spring approaching, houses are flying off the market, being snatched up within days of going on. I know this, having watched two potential houses I wanted to see come and go before we could schedule appointments to see them. We went to see two houses today, both in neighborhoods I know well that I know we would like to live in. I woke up with a smile, feeling optimistic that today would be the day we would see something great. Lest you laugh too loudly, can I tell you that we’ve been at this since October, looking three out of every four weeks in a month? We have kissed a lot of toads so far. More than I can say.

The first house was creepy for reasons I can’t properly explain. It had a very strange vibe, not exclusively due to the deadbolt on the outside of two closet doors and the laundry room door. (Why would you lock someone in the laundry room?) We couldn’t get out of that house fast enough.

I wanted to like the second one. It is in a terrific neighborhood. It has a backyard. It’s not even officially on the market yet – a girlfriend of mine knows the agent. It is in our price range. It’s Bubba’s choice of neighborhoods.
The ground floor was lovely. Not perfect, but lovely. The upstairs? A great master suite and three itsy, bitsy, teeny, tiny bedrooms (one with only room for a crib and a rocking chair and a changing table). The realtor started on about knocking down walls and expanding things and putting in a murphy bed for guests and I tried to follow her. I really did. I wanted to think that these things are no big deal and simple and “just sheetrock.”
So I’ll bring Bubba and the girls to see it on Saturday. It’s a shame to let a house this close to great in such a great neighborhood go without a second look. Or is it? I don’t know if it’s crazy to expect perfection, but I want to know that The House is out there somewhere and I’ll find it. I’m willing to keep kissing toads as long as I know that when I need it, one of them will spring to life as a cozy home in a friendly neighborhood that won’t require me to bring an architect or a plumber along.
In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep resting my rear end on this throne I’ve got and hoping the toads keep presenting themselves.

Just before the beginning of the school year Bubba and I had a serious conversation about moving. We live about 20 miles from Eve’s school; a commute that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour depending on traffic, the weather, and the time of day. Lola goes to school a mere three miles from home, but will start at Eve’s school this fall and, as girls are wont to do as they reach adolescence, their focus is becoming increasingly outside the home. Eve is desperate for sleepovers and shopping dates with friends. She plays sports and is interested in going home with friends after school. With Bubba’s travel schedule, I often have to decline invitations for her to engage in after-school activities because it means Lola and I will spend two hours in the car, round-trip, at the end of an already long day.

I started the ball rolling, knowing that it would be a difficult conversation. We live in a fantastic neighborhood on two and a half acres bordering a creek, yet only three miles from a city with all the conveniences we could want. Our neighbors are friendly and supportive without being intrusive and over the years we have added things to the house that have made it our own. Over a period of months, however, we have all come around to the notion that living closer to school would make all our lives easier. Instead of leaving the house at 7:15, Eve could sleep until then. I could attend evening Parent-Education seminars or PTSA meetings with regularity. The girls could easily go home with friends after school without major reorganizations of carpool schedules or one of them having to bring snacks and a book for the car ride to pick the other one up.
We have the luxury of time, knowing that we won’t be moving until school is out in June, so I have been poking around neighborhoods near the school to see if there is one that feels right for our family. I have also had the entire inside of our house painted, the trees in the yard pruned professionally, and I have begun packing up some of the things that may seem like “clutter” to a potential buyer. Many of the photos have come down from the walls and boxes of books have gone to the local used book store. I have purged the last of the toddler toys and clothing we had lying around. But there are some things I simply cannot do on my own, so yesterday Bubba and I spent three hours in the garage making piles of garage sale items, recyclables, garbage, and things to donate. It is a beautiful sight. Never before has the garage been so clean and organized (no, not even when we moved in since the recently bankrupt builder left all of his sh*t behind when he left). Next weekend we will make a trip to the dump to get rid of all but the donation and garage sale items. I can’t wait.
Naturally, last night my mind turned to thinking about what I could do next to prepare the house. I decided to hold off and revel in the feeling of accomplishment for now, telling myself that Bubba wouldn’t probably tolerate another plea for marathon cleaning for a while yet.
And then, around 5AM, we heard the sump pump cycling continuously. My subconscious tried to ignore it and when Bubba got up to investigate, I reminded myself that it couldn’t be anything major. Those things only happen when Bubba is out of town and I have to deal with them on my own. But by 6AM it was clear that something was happening. The closet where the trap door to underneath the house is had been entirely emptied and Bubba was crawling around down there with a flashlight and our curious cat. A pipe had come loose thanks to the hundreds of gallons of water shooting through it and we needed to shut off the power to the pump and call a plumber.
By noon the pipe was fixed and the plumber declined to charge us since he was the one who had put the defective pipe in to begin with. I couldn’t believe it. What a day – first Bubba is home when something like this happens, and then the repair is entirely free! As I began replacing all of the items back in the closet, I realized the Universe had just handed me my next project. I hadn’t seen many of these items (duffel bags, ski equipment, an old steam cleaner) in years. Rather than putting any of them back, I spent the next two hours sorting them in to the piles in the garage and now the closet is tidy and vacuumed and contains things we might actually use. There is no way I would have thought about this closet until it was time to move without the sump pump breaking.
I am grateful that I was able to clean this closet out before my trip to the dump. That said, I think tonight I’ll just take a hot bath and not wonder what my next project ought to be. I think tomorrow will be a day of rest.