What Does it Look Like to Walk in the Front Door?

It’s precisely this view we may miss the most someday

Jen Maidenberg
Apr 19 · 5 min read
Photo by Jen Maidenberg

Last year, I moved into my mother’s house with my three teenage children. She had been considering downsizing and moving into a retirement community, and we had been homebound in our smallish apartment since the start of the pandemic. Buying it from her seemed like a boon for both of us.

This wasn’t my childhood home, but we had a connection to it nonetheless, as it’s the only place my mother lived throughout my children’s lives. We’d spent summers here in New Jersey while visiting the States when we lived overseas in Israel.

But this story is not about one house in particular, even though the photograph above captures a moment within it. This story is about the act of walking through a front door, how we rarely notice that view or celebrate it, and how we seldom see pictures from that vantage.

Maybe you have an old black-and-white photograph of your parents, all dressed up for a dance or a party, standing in front of the door. Or a polaroid of your daughter walking through the door to discover guests awaiting her, and a surprise Sweet Sixteen. I have a few like that.

But I don’t have a picture of my childhood home from the perspective of entering the front door— an act that occurs perhaps more often than any other during the period in which we live in a home.

Maybe in your childhood home, the “front door” was the side door, or the lobby door, or the garage door, as it was for me sometimes. Maybe the first thing you saw wasn’t the stairs, but the laundry room. Maybe an old refrigerator greeted you, or an overburdened coat rack, or a Labrador retriever now long gone from this world.

This morning, I opened the front door and was moved by the light coming in through the living room window. This happens to me sometimes.

Does it happen to you?

Are you ever mindlessly engaged in a seemingly mundane moment — walking in the front door, a hot drink in your hand, a to-do list on your mind — and suddenly something simple, such as the particular slant of light coming through the living room window, causes you to contemplate how precious and fleeting life is?

It was the beauty of the backlit rubber plant that first caught my eye, but that’s not what led me to pause and capture the moment with my camera.

It was the shoes.

There were pairs of shoes outside of the box I bought at Target for the express purpose of shoe containment. But I didn’t feel the usual pang of exasperation at the sight of my kids’ shoes indolently placed outside of it.

Instead, there was nostalgia for a moment in the not-too-distant future when there would be one less pair of shoes littering the floor, one less violator of the shoes-in-the-box rule, one less person to be exasperated with because he would soon be walking in a different front door, with a different view.

I stopped and took a picture of the moment, a moment in which I allowed the saddle valve inside my heart to turn, letting in only that which I could bear of the acknowledgment of his leaving, of a future in which his shoes are in someone else’s front hallway, not mine, not here.

I casually told a friend yesterday that I was looking forward to the day when all three kids are no longer living at home, no longer leaving dishes in the sink, no dirty soccer uniforms neglected for days inside the washing machine, no longer staining the carpet, no longer needing rides, no longer needing me as much they need me now.

All of this is true. Motherhood has burned me out in ways I never imagined.

And yet what I also never imagined was the depth of grief I would feel when the first one’s departure approached. How the poignancy of his growing up would be so intense I could only tolerate it in small doses, like the peanut powder he had to eat as a boy to desensitize his peanut allergy.

When my mother was going through the boxes in her basement before her move, we found a trove of photographs that never made their way into albums. Some of them were overexposed, some were blurry. It turns out that a lot of the photos that don’t make it into albums are pictures without people, pictures of rooms. We’re not as keen to display these rooms; we’d rather showcase the people who occupy them.

Many of the photos I kept are the ones my mother wanted to throw away. Photos that captured everyday moments inside my childhood home; the accidental chronicling of the apple juice on the kitchen counter; the framed photos on the fireplace mantle; the green Pyrex my mom used to serve Jell-O at holiday gatherings.

We don’t take pictures of the view from the front door very often, if at all, and yet it’s precisely this view we may miss the most someday.

And the shoes. We’ll even miss the shoes.

Jen Maidenberg’s essays have been featured in Psychology Today, Split Lip Magazine, Queen Mob’s Tea House, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the Ruminate Magazine Spiritual Nonfiction Prize, as well as a finalist for the Autumn House Press full-length book contest for her memoir, ’Til I Am. Two essays about her adjustment to life in Israel were included in the anthology, Becoming Israeli. She is currently working on her second book, a collection of linked short stories that take place at the curious intersection of magical thinking and mental illness.

Moms Don’t Have Time to Write

Essays inspired by what moms don’t have time to do.

Jen Maidenberg

Written by

Healthfully obsessed with dreams, time, music, memory, & love. patreon.com/jenmaidenberg

Moms Don’t Have Time to Write

Moms Don’t Have Time to Write is a new Medium publication inspired by the award-winning podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books, hosted by Zibby Owens.

Jen Maidenberg

Written by

Healthfully obsessed with dreams, time, music, memory, & love. patreon.com/jenmaidenberg

Moms Don’t Have Time to Write

Moms Don’t Have Time to Write is a new Medium publication inspired by the award-winning podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books, hosted by Zibby Owens.

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