By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I was expecting to be sad when I closed the door on my old room. Just as I anticipated, memories flashed through my mind as I looked around one last time – jumping up and down on the yellow canopy bed when I was a little girl, sitting at my dresser putting on make-up, lying on the bed talking with my best friend, and putting on my cap and gown before graduation. That room is the visual backdrop of my whole childhood.
Even though the memories did come flooding back during those last moments in the room, the tears did not. And I wondered, as I closed the door and walked out of the house for the last time, if the absence of tears means I’m somehow emotionally detached. Saying goodbye to my childhood home was supposed to be tough.
My parents sold the house and were scheduled to turn over possession to a new family in just a few days. Their things were boxed up and waiting on the moving truck. I’d never see the house again and feel like it was “ours”.
So when the angst and tears didn’t show up, I remembered that old saying we’ve all heard a million times: “Home is where the heart is.” And the heart of my family home – my parents – is moving to my town, just a mile away from where Tom and I are raising our kids. Maybe I’d be sad about leaving the house I’ve known for 38 years if I weren’t so happy that the people in it are finally moving closer to me, after many years of persuasion.
I don’t regret leaving my hometown two decades ago to build a life of my own. Moving away from parents and extended family can teach you a lot. It forces you to build your own network of friends and neighbors who become like family. You learn to map out a city for yourself instead of relying on parents to show you the way. It makes you resourceful and more confident in your ability to make it on your own.
But living hundreds of miles away can also show you how much you’re missing. After our first child was born, I began to understand why, for hundreds of years, most extended families lived in the same town or on the same street, and, in many countries, under the same roof. There’s an undeniable sense of stability and security that comes from being surrounded by people who know and love you best.
When your baby has a high fever, you don’t just want to talk to your mom on the phone. You want her to come over and assure you everything will be okay and hold your crying baby while you brush your teeth and catch your breath. When your dad is in the emergency room, you don’t want phone updates about what the doctor said. You want to be in the room and ask the questions and see for yourself that he’s getting better. Email and cell phones are great, but they just aren’t the same as being there.
Now, after a 20-year separation, my house is only four minutes away from my parents’ new house. My kids will be able to ride bikes there, and we’ll celebrate birthdays and holidays together. They’ll be able to see the kids’ soccer and basketball games instead of seeing a video. If someone gets sick or hurt, we’ll be right here to help each other. The 20-year separation makes me realize just how big a blessing this really is.
Even though I feel nostalgic about my old house, I know the real love is in the people that made it special in the first place. And one of the best things that can happen to a home is for it to be passed along to another family. There’ll be another girl who grows up in that room with the pale green walls and the tiny little window on the second floor. She’ll jump up and down on her bed, stay up too late with her best friend during sleepovers, and stare into the mirror while adjusting the tassel on her cap and gown.
Maybe one day, she, too, will come back to that old house and help her retiring parents pack boxes, move furniture and make way for another family. Then a new family story will begin again in an old, beloved home.