The shape of a home

Hello! Hi. It’s me, Jessica. I haven’t posted here in a long time, and I miss you. I miss my blog and the few folks who read it. Things just got very busy, and I’ve been overwhelmed and stressed. I needed to write, but I didn’t have the energy to do it. All my energy was going to work. I gave notice to a job that was too hard for me, but I gave two month’s notice, and those two months lasted a really, really long time. My other jobs asked for extra hours, and I needed the money so I said yes to almost everything.

It was good. Most of it was a lot of fun. I took the kids to museums, the beach, the zoo, parks, playgrounds, for walks in the woods. We played soccer, catch, baseball, tag, hide and seek, Jedi Knights, Ninjago, sword fighting, card games, board games, and lots of silly made-up games. I made snacks, packed picnic lunches, applied sun screen, cheered children on when they got discouraged, faked energy when I didn’t have it, and spent more money than usual on liquid energy at Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Cafe Nero, Citifeed, and wherever else I could find it.

It was fun, and I’m proud of myself for pushing through and finishing well. I really cared for the family I gave notice to, and it was a hard decision and hard to say good-bye, but I know it was the right decision. I could feel my health slipping these past few months, and I learned the lesson the hard way that I need to stop *before* I’m completely burnt out. My last day I bought the kids pretty, knit hacky sacks and taught them how to use them. We had an awesome day. I started a joke where I would pretend to throw the sack but let go of it right before the throw so that it landed behind me, then scold the sack for not doing what I told it to do. They thought it was hilarious, so of course I had to do it a million times.

I cried when I left. The youngest, W, is 1 1/2, a tow-headed toddler who called me Mommy (he called his father and siblings that, too) and hugged me joyfully every morning. That age is my favorite, the sweet little games, the inside jokes that elicit belly laughs (he thought it was hysterical when I would offer him something and then pull it back and say, “Psych!”), and the complete trust — though not always without protest. He blended into my hip, the way each toddler I’ve nannied has for the past ten years, the way A did before her family moved to Colorado, and M before her family moved to Texas, and N before he started preschool and didn’t need me anymore, and Z before I left to pursue a ministry job. They feel like my own children, but they’re not, and when they leave I mourn their loss. My arms and my hip feel empty.

*****

The former Pinebank Mansion

The former Pinebank Mansion

A few weeks ago I took W for a walk at Jamaica Pond. It was a beautiful day. I had my Cafe Nero’s iced coffee, the breeze off of the pond was ruffling W’s blond hair and my salt-and-pepper hair, and we had no agenda except to follow our noses. We tossed pebbles and sticks into the water, ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the baby ducks and geese, and then made our way up to the Pine Bank Promontory overlooking the pond. The mansion that used to stand here was torn down several years ago, and in its place granite slabs were laid, flush with the ground, in the shape of the old house.

I started walking along the path made by the stone slabs, past the two majestic American Sycamore trees, and W fell into step behind me. We walked quietly, intently, as if perambulating this house was a sacred task assigned to us. Something in me felt wistful, and I realized it was the house that made me feel that way. The border of an old house, of a home lost to time, of a home that someone had once owned in the way that I have never owned a home, only borrowed them, shared them, inhabited them for a time. I pay rent to my landlords and I set up my things. I collect a salary from my employers and come to know their own homes as intimately as the family that lives there, the quirks, the feel of them. Which windows to open to create a cross-breeze, how to lift the gate before swinging it in so that it does not damage the lawn. The home that I have been in longest belongs to the family whose nanny I’ve been, off and on, for ten years. I never lived in a place that long, either as a child or an adult.

I dream about houses — it feels like almost every night. Sometimes the dreams are nightmarish, I’m back in an old living situation that was unhealthy, or I’m living once again with an old roommate who was difficult, and don’t understand why I’m there, why I let this happen again. Sometimes the dreams are beautiful; I’ve moved into a spacious mansion with lovely, sun-filled rooms. I set up my things and find I have more clothes, more furniture, more art and plants than ever before. And it’s mine. My house. My space. Not shared with roommates or borrowed from a landlord who can decide not to renew my lease.

I dream about that in real life, too. It’s one of the things I’ve always wanted, since I was young, along with a husband and children. My own house that I could organize, decorate, putter around. My own yard with flowers that I pick out and plant. I grieved the death of my dream of children in my late 30s. It’s still not impossible, there’s always adoption, but as an unmarried 42 year old with health issues and without a lucrative career to support a single-parent household, I don’t think it’s likely that I’ll ever have kids. It’s true that anything can happen. But it was important for me to let go of that dream in order to place my energy, love, and gratitude fully in the life I already have.

For seven years I lived in an intentional Christian community in Boston. There were some really wonderful things about the community and about my experience there, but there were a lot of things that were really unhealthy for me, too. I stayed longer than I probably should have, because of the wonderful things, but also out of fear. I was afraid of leaving the support of a built-in community. I was afraid of leaving my room, which had been a refuge for me during some extremely hard times.

But, oh, what a beautiful home I have stumbled into now. It’s so peaceful, so spacious, so sunny. It is a rental, and the landlady is going to want it back in a few years. It’s not mine. But what a lovely, soft place to fall for now. What a gift to have someplace to land after a leap of faith. My friend Mark and I found it together. Our current housemate is leaving, so the last couple of months have been made even more stressful by having to look for another housemate. But we found one, finally, in the eleventh hour, just as we found this place, just when we thought we wouldn’t.

As I walked around the border of the old mansion, W toddling behind me like a little duckling himself, I thought about houses past and houses present. I thought about how I have no idea where I’ll be five years from now, which house, which city, which housemates. And then I thought: But no one knows that, not really. Even Sadie, Sadie, married lady, with her husband and kids and bought-and-paid-for house doesn’t know what the future will bring. As someone once said: Anything can happen — and usually does. We don’t possess the future any more than we possess the past, except in our dreams and memories, and in mementos like these stones to mark what used to be. All we have is right now, what is right in front of us, rented or borrowed, given as a gift with no receipt, no life-time guarantee.

What I have right now is beautiful. What I have right now is enough.

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14 comments on “The shape of a home

  1. missistine says:

    Jessica,
    This is an amazing post that resonates with me in many, many ways. I nannied on and off for many years- in between stints as a preschool teacher. I am a minister currently searching for a church position, but one that I can balance with my current Pre-K teaching job- that I am in no way ready to leave…..

    I am married…..but we were unable to bring children to life in this world- though I have three children with Jesus who will be waiting to meet me when I get there.

    I completely and totally understand this post…..I know EXACTLY what you mean by becoming familiar with the house where you nanny. It is an interesting spot to be in- almost like trying on somebody else’s life for a while…And then you fall in love with those kids….And then time moves on and they don’t need you anymore…..

    I feel like I have been exactly where you are at times. My husband and I just cleaned out and sold my family home- and we experienced owning it for a few years- while taking care of my Mom who has Dementia. Home ownership was ultimately not for us. I found it incredibly overwhelming and financially terrifying. Renting and communal living has perks that you might not appreciate but there definitlely ARE perks to NOT owning a home….

    I live outside of Boston….I am 50. I feel like we have quite a bit in common….
    If you want to get connected I would love that. I am on FB as Christine Schrade-Keddy. I live in Canton, Ma.

    Keep writing!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Judy Skorka says:

    So beautifully expressed. You have such a deep understanding of yourself and the world around you. You are correct in saying that we never know what will happen in the future, but I dearly hope and pray that you will somehow have a child of your own and I know they will be blessed for having you as their mother.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hope Wiltfong says:

    Thanks for sharing, and glad to see you back!

    Like

  4. mattbays says:

    This made me smile many times and then feel a little sad in the best way and finally, remember that we are all real…not commercials or tv shows, but real live human beings. Thanks for the reminder.

    Like

  5. Jules says:

    Always love reading your posts. Welcome home! The timing of your entries never ceases to amaze me (as I fruitlessly search for “a new space called home”)-no coincidences. Thank you for a loving reminder of acceptance and the courage of letting go-I am home wherever I am.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. soundtek says:

    So glad to see you back and be able to read a blog post with some substance (I read a lot that don’t)… hope you were able to find some rest in your break.

    I really loved this post – I can feel your longing…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. judithkunst says:

    Am in the throes of finding and buying a house right now! It is more terrifying to me than any of our other ten moves and homes, because of financial stress, yes, but mostly because of is-this-the-right-place-to-put-down-roots stress. Do all our different paths take us through the same dark forests? Maybe so.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Juanita says:

    First I wanted to say I have sincerely missed your blog, I love your writing, and you seem like such a thoughtful interesting person. I also knew you lived in MA, but didn’t connect how near you are to me. I also live in Boston, just last week I was at Jamaica Pond looking at the same outline of the old Pinebank Mansion. So that’s cool.

    About your post, I resonated with a lot. Right now I’m married and living with three other housemates. We aim to be an intentional Christian community, it has it’s ups and downs, but in my waking moments I often dream of this home I hope my husband and I will fill with children, happy dinners, and our own memories, but it feels very far off.

    I loved how you have felt like a mom to so many kids, I can only imagine the impact you’ve had on these families and their children what a heart you have!

    But I especially resonated with this:
    Anything can happen — and usually does. We don’t possess the future any more than we possess the past, except in our dreams and memories, and in mementos like these stones to mark what used to be. All we have is right now, what is right in front of us, rented or borrowed, given as a gift with no receipt, no life-time guarantee.

    Sometimes that scares me too, but I can see the beautiful hopeful side of it too! We have a gift to use today, to bless and love and pray for others. Live into the life you have now, I’ll remember that as I imagine my life is stretched out before me, thank you. And please write more 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. So good to get this update!

    Liked by 1 person

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