This post was also published in the parents section of The Huffington Post.
My mouth went dry.
Suddenly, the room was spinning.
As I tried to focus on my husband’s cell phone, which was sitting in the middle of our dining room table, the 2 of us heard the words we’d hoped our real estate agent friend wouldn’t say.
Your realtor is right. It’s too late to back out. You have to sell.
To give you the quick version, we listed our beloved bungalow for sale when the housing market started picking up last summer. With a growing family, the 2 bedroom, 1 bath just wasn’t going to cut it for much longer. We got an offer on our house and put a bid in to buy our dream lot, a short sale on the water just off Tampa Bay. At the last minute, the appraisal for our waterfront house came back high. So we backed out of buying it. But it was too late to back out of selling our bungalow.
It was 2 weeks before Christmas.
The deal was set to close the day after Christmas.
And we had nowhere to go.
We spent the next 3 days feverishly searching Zillow and Craigslist for properties that fit our criteria. I was so stressed that I went into denial mode, not believing it was possible that I could find us a rental home, pack our whole house, move and take care of 2 boys under 3 at the same time, all with no family in town and a husband who travels frequently.
The rental options were bleak. After all, we had to move in 2 weeks.
We toured an historic house with a huge front porch in a great part of town, but the inside was a mishmosh of rooms, and I saw exposed electrical panels in the master bedroom. Another house had a pool and a nicer layout, but we would have had to share the lot with 7 other tenants who live in a back building.
With our tails between our legs, we pulled up to the last house of the day, a humble waterfront home, far from our preferred neighborhood. But the price was right, the rooms were clean and the owner even offered to help us install a child safety fence on the seawall. Later that afternoon, when our car broke down in the driveway as we tried to leave (that’s a whole other post), the next-door neighbor came out to help and asked if we wanted to come inside to get the kids out of the cold. It felt right.
On moving day, I sat in the living room of our beautiful bungalow and looked longingly at the mahogany ceiling panels. They were always the first thing people noticed when they walked in the door. They’re original from when the house was built in 1920, I’d proudly share every time we had new friends over. It always felt good that people meeting us could see that we had a beautiful home. This was actually the first house on the block. It was a Sears catalog home, and we bought it from the original owners, I’d say with a puffed-up chest, as I pointed to the sepia-toned, 1921 picture of the house that we’d hung on the wall.
As we’d walk into the hallway, my eyes would smile as I’d wait for new visitors to remark on how big and bright it was. We actually opened up the back wall to install these French doors and bring more light in, I’d tell them.
The bathroom was always a show-stopper. Oh wow, did you design this? they’d ask with big eyes. Yes. Don’t you love the Subway tiles and pedestal sink? I tried to stay with the period. But the tub and toilet are original. Aren’t they neat?
As I packed up the last of our things on moving day, I felt empty.
This house is mine.
I can’t be leaving.
How can I possibly be ME if I’m not living in this beautiful home? This home that is so impressive and grand. That impresses others and makes them think that I am grand.
What will I do without it?
Who will I BE without it?
The movers were tapping their feet, and I realized I’d finished packing the last box 10 minutes ago. I walked out of the house, turned around and saw a big yellow moving truck in front of my beautiful bungalow. This is it.
After Facebooking one last picture, I negotiated myself into the driver’s seat of our overloaded car (packed with the stuff we didn’t trust the movers with, like my breast milk freezer stash, seashell collection, clothes and our dogs), and pulled away from the house.
The house that was me. The house that showed everyone what a great homemaker I am. What a brilliant designer. What a stylish person. Maybe even someone they’d want to be like.
But what am I now?
About 15 minutes later, I was in the driveway of our rental. As I turned my new key and opened the front door, my eyes rolled over generic tile floors, scuffed baseboards and 90’s kitchen tile backsplash.
And I realized something.
I am not my house.
What makes me me isn’t amazing ceiling panels or Subway tiles or hardwood floors or French doors to the backyard.
It’s a warm spirit.
A generous heart.
A way of seeing someone and knowing exactly what they need.
At that moment, I realized how much pride I’d wrapped up in our beautiful bungalow. I realized that I loved having people over because it allowed me to show off my granite kitchen countertops and 6-inch white baseboards. I realized that I offered to host bridal showers, baby showers and birthday parties because I loved hearing others tell me how envious they were of our house. I realized that I posted pictures of my kids on Facebook, pictures that perfectly showcased our home’s beautiful qualities in the background, because I was proud.
Way too proud.
Let me tell you, I am sooo glad we moved.
Because I am not my house.
The friend who wants to have you over, just because I want to spend time with you.
We’ll let the kids get naked and play in the kiddie pool in the backyard. And I’ll ask you to ignore all our junk that’s stashed on the side of the house. Or, we’ll share a cup of coffee in the kitchen. And I’ll chuckle, as I tell you that our coffee-stained tile grout really needs a good scrub.
Now, when I have you over… there’s nothing in it for me.
I’m not going to wait with delight for you to ooh and awe over our custom-designed closets and choice of paint color in the boys’ bedroom. I’m not going to grin inside when you say you dream of owning a house like this someday.
I’m going to sit and talk with you.
And get over myself and my great house.
Being a great hostess is something I can do anywhere.
As long as you can overlook the mismatched flooring and disintegrating kitchen tile grout.
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It was very hard for me to be this honest about my own (nauseating) sense of pride about our old home. I think, as a stay-at-home mom, I truly did get wrapped up in believing that my house was really my proof of work. And it’s not. My proof of work is my attitude, my health and my children and husband’s happiness. Let that be your goal too. Because you are sooo much more than your house.