Sunday, August 14, 2011

Home Sweet Homes (Babble)

We’ve just returned from two weeks of vacation.  Typically when Ian has his two weeks of Army training sometime in the summer I close up the store and take the kids to visit friends and relatives in other states.  This year got complicated because we were planning our trip around one set of dates, then that plan got scrapped for a new and improved set of dates, and then the Army decided rather last minute that never mind, not this summer.  (The Army is fun on so many levels.)  The upside to all that confusion was that, in the end, Ian got to come with us on our vacation.  It’s been a great couple of weeks.

The first part of our trip took us to the cottage, which by the end of the trip was our cottage.  I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that, but one of my cousins who is a lawyer wrote up the appropriate paperwork, and while Ian and I and my mother and uncles were all gathered on a Saturday evening we signed papers and wrote checks and now the place is officially ours.  Amazing.  But I have a whole separate post I’d like to write about our cottage adventure after I’ve had a minute to sort through our photos.  Today I want to express gratitude for the embarrassment of riches I have in terms of places I get to call ‘home.’

Because the second part of our trip was to the Sunny Detroit area, which is where I grew up.  About twenty people gathered at my parents’ home on what would have been my grandmother’s 93rd birthday.  People from Baby Kate, the youngest member of the family at 13 months, to the oldest members of the family (none of whom look a day over 39 I swear) were in attendance.  My mom cooked some of my gram’s best loved recipes, including her cheesecake, something called a blitz torte, and her famed orange jello.

The whole Saturday party was a bit of a whirlwind.  Lots of people and food and a lot of work for my mom who already had too much on her plate between my dad’s health issues and the closing of their art gallery (the contents of which she has somehow fit into the house which is a ninja level feat of organization).  But it went well, and it was nice to be with people who remember and miss my grandma.

Aside from the big party, the real event for me was just spending time in my childhood home.  I love to walk around my old neighborhood and see what things have changed (lots of house additions and gardens) and what things haven’t (the old section of sidewalk down the street with paw prints in it).  I always appreciate walking among trees that seem like old acquaintances, and watching my own children play in the same park where I spent every recess from kindergarten through sixth grade.  Hearing my kids clomping down the steps to the kitchen in the morning the way I must have done, and eating at the same table off the same plates is surprisingly moving to me.  Being in my childhood home is one giant reminder of ‘the more things change the more they stay the same.’  That house is still home.

But the cottage is also home.  It always felt like home, but now that it’s legally ours, it is truly and officially our second home.  So we traveled from Detroit (which I think of as ‘back home’) to the cottage (which is our ‘vacation home’) back to Milwaukee (which is simply ‘home’).  So in a way we were gone for two weeks without ever being away from home.  That’s peculiar and comforting all at once somehow.

I don’t know what it’s like to function without a place to call home.  I am fortunate, because I need that sense of place to accomplish anything.  I need to feel grounded and safe or I become agitated and fearful.  I remember when Ian and I broke off from the rest of my family during a trip in Italy to visit Cremona.  It’s the city where Stradivari lived and worked and it is still filled with violin shops.  (It’s also the place for which Mona is named.)  When we arrived in Cremona it was sunset, we didn’t know where we would stay, and I was anxious.  Everything looked dirty and sketchy as we walked from the train station looking for a hotel.  After we found a place to sleep and drop off our bags–a temporary home–we headed back out into the streets to explore the city and find some dinner.  It was like seeing Cremona with new eyes because I noticed for the first time it was full of fine shops, like a Rolex store.  But when I didn’t know where I was going to sleep I didn’t like the look of any of it.

I think the stress of actual homelessness would be damaging in ways I can’t even imagine.  When I read about teens forced to live on the streets, or people whose homes are destroyed in a disaster, or refugees in exile, my heart breaks for them.  Everyone should have at least one place to call home.  I have three, which seems beyond decadent.  As for my husband, he says wherever I am is his home.

I think a lot about what home is to my children.  I want them to have that sense of place where they are loved and safe; where they have a foundation they can take for granted so they are free to be creative in ways they might not be if they were searching for things that are currently a given.  My kids are at a stage where they love their home so much they insist they will never leave.  When I say things about ‘one day when you grow up and move on’ they all get very upset and insist they want to live with me forever.  They want to raise their own kids here.  That’s actually fine with me, but I tell them if they change their minds it won’t hurt my feelings.  It’s okay to build a new home.  They can always come back and visit this one.  Or the cottage.  They have many homes.  (And I’m glad.)

And now, for the worst segue ever, photos!  Among the things that changed yet stayed the same was the community pool six blocks from my old house.  They remodeled it, added cool new fancy wading pool things that pour water on people different ways, and made the changing rooms and snack area much nicer than when I was a kid.  But there is still the dreaded ‘Adult Swim’ for the last ten minutes of every hour where all the kids must leave the pool just long enough for their suits to dry out and make adjusting to the water annoying all over again.  However, my brother and I got to enjoy being adults in that pool for the first time in our lives, taunting our poor children waiting on the edge while we swam back and forth with no one in our way.  That was awesome.
(Quinn at the water’s edge.)
(Dumping buckets.  How fun is that?  Even my kids who don’t like getting splashed liked all of that.)

I also came downstairs one day to find my four-year-old son playing Scrabble with my dad.  Quinn understandably needed a little help and they did not keep score, but the whole thing was adorable.  Quinn reads at about a first grade level, so he’ll be beating his grandpa at a real game soon enough.
Our time in Detroit was too short, but it always is.  I did get in a dinner at a restaurant with my friends (which was a lot of catching up and laughing), some nice walks at night with my mom, and my dad showed me a folder he recently put together of old photos from his side of the family.  I don’t think I’d ever seen pictures of my great-grandparents on that side before.  I wish being able to pop over to my parents’ house was a simpler event.  It would be nice to play a game of Scrabble, share some dinner, then go tuck the kids into their own beds on time.  But our life is in Milwaukee, and that’s the trade off.

What a problem to have–too many places where we are happy and want to be.  Life is sweet in any of our homes.

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