Home is in the eyes of the beholder.
Family members may live under the same roof and sit around the same dining table and see different things. Or see the same things in entirely different ways.
In my memory, the ranch house of my childhood was a tight squeeze. Short on bedrooms, big on bedlam. Age-wise, I fell dead center of six kids and our home felt crowded and always on the verge of utter chaos like a good party. I recall when my mother blissfully announced she was “expecting” and the general reaction of the older siblings was: Where’s this kid going to sleep? I was all in favor of a neighbor’s house. Instead, my dad single-handedly remodeled the basement. I watched him measure, cut, pound nails and, occasionally, fists. He built and hung all the cabinets himself greatly expanding our storage space, and my vocabulary.
My two older brothers happily moved down into the pre-man cave sparing us all a lot of punches. In my position as middle child I was uniquely qualified to give and receive.
My youngest brother’s clearest memories of home are quieter. The four oldest siblings had already moved out when my parents decided, inexplicably, to build an addition. Space was never an issue as far as he was concerned. He grew up playing board games with our parents for hours at a time. The only time I can recall having both my parents all to myself was when they returned from a teacher/parent meeting. They both wanted to talk to me. Together. I think it was a safety in numbers thing.
My brother’s home life looked charming. When I’d come back for a visit I’d marvel at the orderly fashion in which life was conducted under one roof. We shared some of the same genes — and jeans — but I hardly recognized this family. It wasn’t until I tried to brag about the time back in high school when I’d been selected to attend special classes at a prestigious art college downtown, and my parents had absolutely no recollection of it, that I knew for sure; these were my people.
I felt grateful to have shared those lively, crazy, busy years together. Not being remembered was, for me, a fond memory.
When it came time to creating a family of my own, I determined to be an equally good homemaker, not in a house-cleaning, cookie-baking, hot glue-gunning way. I wanted to make sweet home memories.
Unfortunately, I was a homemaker more in spirit than execution. My intentions were good.
For example, when my husband and I were young urban professionals shopping for a house to call our home, I knew we’d found the one when we opened the door to a knotty pine bunk room where I imagined vague future children playing pirates in three-corner hats I’d make out of folded newspapers. Turns out, pirate hats? Not that easy to make. And the skull and cross bones stencil, with just the wrong amount of tweaking, looks like a dead deer with antler deformities.
I loved the idea of being an Earth Mama to my girls. I helped chubby little hands plant vegetable seeds in rich earth that smelled good with worms. But my follow through was weak. It was difficult to explain how Mommy killed the carrots by neglect. Children were very forgiving.
Then there was the doll bed debacle. I took an innocent child to a fabric store where she thoughtfully selected red corduroy with the intention to make a doll-size bedspread. This was going to be a memory-making moment in self-reliance. Why buy over-priced, mass-produced doll crap when we could make our own? All we needed was a bit of material, scissors and imagination. Also helpful would have been a sewing machine that didn’t require an advanced engineering degree to thread. If the kid ends up playing video games in our basement until she’s forty, I’m pretty sure we can blame it on the incident of the unfinished doll blanket.
Making sweet home memories is never how you plan. I once overheard an adult compliment my young teen daughter on her sophisticated conversation skills. I took a ridiculous amount of pride in that comment until I heard my daughter’s response.
“That’s because my parents dragged me to so many cocktail parties when I was a kid.”
For the record, we did no such thing. At least, that’s not how I remember it. That’s why I’ve asked my kids to sign a waiver: No memoirs.