A House Is Not Always a Home: Leaving Home As An Adult

I came from a small (correction: tiny) town in Kansas. Because of that, I think I’ll always want to live in a small town. Berthoud, Colorado perfectly fit the bill of a small town for the 11 years I lived here. Today, my little home in my little town went on the market.

As I write this, tears are flowing freely down my cheeks. They are, however, tears of gratitude and fondness and affection for the life which I have been afforded — up until this very moment and from this moment forward.

In 2007, I moved to my little house on the corner of 1201 Cedar Dr. — my seventh move since I turned 18 years old. At the time I moved here, I was legally separated from my first husband, and he had moved to the Berthoud area already. Although our relationship was a little tumultuous, I was determined to provide the kids with two parents who were at least geographically close.

As I searched for houses in Berthoud, my final decision was narrowed down to two choices — #1) the newly built house on the edge of town, just off the highway, with modern upgrades, in a new neighborhood with an HOA, zero character, new landscaping with tiny sapling trees and no fence, and immediate equity upon purchase due to seller distress or #2) the simple 20-year-old house in an older part of town, directly across the street from the elementary school, on the quiet corner lot of a one-way street and dead end, no air conditioner, and in a non-HOA neighborhood full of families.

I picked the charming option #2 and never regretted it for a second. I picked the house that could use upgrades; it seemed untouched by modernity. As soon as we moved in, I thought, Oh my gosh, I have got to replace that dreadful, yet somehow captivating, green octopus chandelier and paint that kitchen!

This old house had 20-year-old trees in the front yard big enough for the kids to climb and set up a pulley system so they could transport buckets of goods between trees and a back yard with a fence big enough for Pepper, the Great Dane. None of the previous owners’ decor decisions ever made sense to me, and some may have called it just-shy-of-hideous. Over the years, I cooked meals in the kitchen surrounded by mismatching green and yellow walls complemented by blue and gray tile backsplash and electrical outlets that had been painted stuck to the walls. All three of my kids spent many mornings eating breakfast within the confused color scheme at the kitchen bar covered by cheap countertops. From the front porch, I could conveniently supervise the kiddos as they toodled across the street to school, but the best part (other than the safety and security benefits of living right across the street from the school) was never even having to put on a bra or brush my teeth because I could do all that work without even going near another human.

My life as an ER nurse was still down in Parker, where we had all moved from. Since that job was a pretty sweet gig, I continued my weekend-only assignment for another three years. On Fridays, I would leave home to go work for a 3pm-3am shift, then turn around and work Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-11pm. A friend of mine let me sleep in her basement for free so I only had to make the 75-mile commute once a week. This arrangement allowed me to work full-time while still leaving the weekdays to be a mom.

I also still had a house in Parker that had been on sale at the market value I bought it for for awhile. *Groan,* what a wretched time for selling a house…2007. After a few weeks of no bites, it became painfully apparent that the recession was going to pry its way into my life one way or another. As a seller, that Parker house caused me grief and anxiety during the beginning of the recession, but as a buyer, the loose financing and loan regulations that contributed to the recession allowed me to buy a second house in Berthoud. I decided I would ride out the recession by living in Berthoud as planned and rent out my Parker house for a few years so I could sell it later in a better market. Sounded simple enough….

What a complete disaster! I went through two rental families in Parker. If you’ve ever heard my bitter rants about being a landlord, it’s 100% due to the second family. The mother was an ER nurse in the very ER where I worked. When I decided to rent to her, I had no idea she was so mentally unstable and completely irresponsible. She and her family signed a one-year lease, and within three months, I was making calls frequently to nag them about the rent. Later, after numerous interactions with the HOA, the city, and the family, I evicted them. When I assessed the damage to my house, I was overwhelmed with their negligence, ignorance, and utter disregard and was in even more shock that they treated my house like that when they knew me so well. In the midst of my sheer anger and resentment, I wanted to hunt them down and give them a stern talking-to! A calmer mind prevailed so I didn’t make any hasty moves, but after calming down, I sued the assholes. I easily won the lawsuit but they filed for bankruptcy and fled the state, so I’ll never see that $7,500 in damages.

When the recession really dug in, I couldn’t find renters who would or could pay rent in the amount to just cover the rental house mortgage, let alone make a profit. Even though my job allowed me to pay mortgages on two houses, that meant going without a lot of other things. I mean, a lot! For a couple of hard months, we just ate staple foods, maintained a tight budget, and went without luxuries. Sadness annoyed me, but I never let it get past annoyance. I wasn’t going to raise kids as a sad, powerless mother, so after I pushed through some shame and embarrassment of the inevitable decision that needed to be made, I shorted the Parker house just to get out from under it and move on with life.

That Parker house was just a house. A commitment. An obstacle. A burden. Moneypit. Time-sucker. All in more ways than one.

Our Berthoud house quickly became our home. Not only has it been home for me and my kids for 11 years and Dusty for nine, but even (I would argue, especially) in it simplicity, it was my outward statement to myself and the universe that I could do this life by myself. I didn’t need a man to support me, fix my sink, or make important decisions. (I later snagged another man, but I’m pretty sure the octopus light in the background of my Match.com profile picture is what really drew him in.)

Life did indeed go on, and this house is full of memories — good and not-so-good. Here are some of my family’s favorite memories:

  • Sydney coming to get me at parent-teacher conferences across the street because Connor was “hurt really, really bad and bleeding all over the place” — Connor had climbed a tree, jumped from a tree branch to the trampoline, then bounced right off onto the ground, where his knee got shoved into his face. When I got home mere minutes later, I found him lying on the concrete patio in the back yard in a fetal position. I asked him what he was doing there and he said to this ER nurse mom, “You told me never to bleed on the floor.” Right he was. Good boy.
  • When Sydney brought home the first guy to take her on a date — I suddenly realized how terrifying it was for my own parents when I was a Freshman bringing home a Senior.
  • Pepper, the Great Dane — She honestly believed she was the kids’ mother and knew she got to go everywhere the kids went, but it took her jumping through the living room window screen to teach her she couldn’t go to school with them (and to teach me just how devoted she was to them).
  • Clarence, the old man across the street — “CR” was an old Dane who held a PhD, built a bachelor pad for himself, and spent his retired life refinishing endless projects. He loved watching young life happen from the wire chair in his front yard. At the end of his life, he wrote “To the best neighbor ever” in the book he wrote when he gifted it to me after I helped him through some home health issues.
  • Stitches and glue — Poor Westin required stitches to his hand, stitches to his arm, and glue to his eyebrow — all done at home on the kitchen counter.
  • Connor’s ornery antics — Poor little Anna from up the street antagonized Connor often. She probably had a crush on him, but he’d had enough. He wasn’t going to have any part of that nonsense, so as she was riding her bike one day, he threw a metal bar through her front tire spokes, tossing her over the handlebars. Needless to say, I had an angry mom at my doorstep that afternoon.
  • Sydney insisting on riding her scooter “all the way to school” every morning — I mean, seriously, how cute is it that she was so dramatic about having to walk “all the way to school” every day that we had create easy access to her transportation in the garage.
  • Blizzard of 2008 –I braved the snowstorm to travel 70 miles away to sue my renters. While I was in the courthouse, I got a call from the school telling me they were sending all students home early due to the blizzard and I needed to come get them. I explained my circumstances and that the kids lived literally across the street and gave them my permission to send the kids all the way home in the blizzard, but rules are rules, and a parent had to pick them up. So essentially, they wanted me to come pick up the kids to put them in my car to drive across the street to my driveway. Okay, fine, but after I told them just how delayed my arrival would be, the fifth grade teacher walked them home. Same kind of transportation as I suggested (walking) and still at home without a parent, but more convenient for the staff. Sydney probably rode her scooter.
  • Fish hook in Sydney’s finger — I don’t totally understand why people put fish hooks on the bills of their hats as decoration. Seems dangerous to me. Anyhow, Sydney did it too. One day, when she reached for the bill of her hat, the decorative hook hooked her finger. Surprisingly calmly, Sydney walked in and showed me how her hat was attached to her hand via a large fish hook. The calmness turned into sheer panic when I told her how we had to remove it. A little numbing medicine, a tried and true kitchen counter turned treatment area, and a few screams later, out it came!
  • The kids hiding in the trees in the front yard — Each Thursday evening, their dad came to pick them up, and they would climb high in the trees in the front yard. Their giggles always gave them away, but their dad continued to pretend he didn’t know where they were each new time he picked them up.
  • Westin and his friend Robbie taking a walk — One afternoon, six-year-old Westin went to play with Robbie down the street. About 30 minutes later, Robbie’s mom was at my front door asking if the boys were at my house because she couldn’t get a hold of Robbie on his walkie talkie. I didn’t worry too much, but she wanted me to stay here in case they came home while she went out looking for them. As she drove around, she continued to try communication through the walkie talkie and eventually heard Robbie on the other end. When she asked him where they were, he said, “I don’t know. There’s a sign that says ‘Loveland’ with an arrow.” I think my giggles perturbed Robbie’s mom in her freakout about how far they went, but come to find out, their adventure to the junk yard really only took them about a quarter mile away.
  • Curfew signaled by the porch light — On long summer nights, I wanted the kids outside playing as long as they could so I never really gave them a time to be home. Instead, it was as simple as turning on the porch light. (Sometimes it took a polite yet firm holler across the playground when they just couldn’t seem to see the light.)
  • Being so close to the playground — The value of being able to hear and see my kids across the street at the playground was worth more than I ever paid for this house.
  • Feeling such a sense of ownership and empowerment — As a single mom making life work as best I could, sitting in my swing, smelling the freshly cut grass, and reading a book in the shade after I spent a day doing all the yard work and housework was priceless.
  • Love-hate relationships with the blemishes my family has inflicted on this house.
    • Holes in the drywall and doors where where kids’ follies proved the house was undeniably lived in.
    • Some people journal; Sydney needed to write on the walls. And by god, I let her. Her old room has since been painted, but when I was packing up that room, I removed a wall decoration and noticed one last sentiment from her written in Sharpie marker…”Surprise!” And of course, we no longer have that color of paint to cover it up, so I’m leaving it for the new homeowners.
  • Waking up and hearing all the birds in the trees — When I moved in, the house didn’t have central air conditioning, as with many houses of that age. I slept with windows open for cool air to come in during the night, and the mornings greeted me with all the birds singing in the yard. I loved it! Well, Dusty came along and dug his heels in on the idea of installing A/C, but now I don’t hear the birds in the mornings because the windows are all closed. (Don’t tell Dusty because I’ll never live it down, but summers are indeed much more pleasant since we got A/C.)
  • Pepper digging holes in the back yard to bury bones — Aarrgghh…I hated that she was digging. Big dogs = big holes. To this day, we continue to find little reminders that we she was around.
  • Sydney’s ridiculously unnecessary tri-colored Dodge diesel dually parked out front — Why does any high school girl need such a thing? Well, my daughter thought she did, so she went out and bought it herself. I never really knew what she’d use it for, but I’ll admit it was pretty cool to ride in something that sounds like a locomotive.
  • The chatter of young brothers — Our house was small, but they still thought we couldn’t hear them in their shared bedroom whispering and giggling way past their bedtime.
  • Familiar sound of the kitchen->garage door — In spite of my face turning blue telling the kids to use the front door, they used the kitchen->garage door as their primary entrance and exit to the house. The incessant opening and closing always produced busy kids with toys in hand and big plans being made and giggles and arguments and endless inquiries about what snacks I made. I just gave up on them using the front door.
  • Dusty throwing football passes to the boys — Don’t most little kids have dreams of being professional athletes at some point in their lives? Connor and Westin pretended to be professional football players in all-too-small living room while Dusty threw passes to them and they landed dramatically on the couch or the dog bed as they caught the ball Santonio Holmes style.
  • Connor’s use of the living room wall as a racquetball court — Constantly and I think even unconsciously, Connor bounced whatever ball he had in his hand for the week against the wall. We would tell him to stop 100 times, and his nervous energy just started moving his arms to do it again.
  • Rubbing all the kids’ little feet each night before they went to bed — For an hour each night, I sat on one end of the couch and massaged each kiddo’s little feet and tickled their legs to relax them for bed. Within minutes, their little faces would be relaxed, their bodies calmed, and their minds settled.
  • Connor’s hops — Since he was in preschool, Connor’s been excited about sports, but especially football. While he watched football games on TV, I always smiled when Connor would jump to his feet and start hopping and flapping his arm with excitement. I believe it was this activity that built his calves up to be able to qualify for State in high jump.
  • Wounded Soldier — After I had all the kids relaxed from foot rubs and ready for bed, without fail, Dusty would rile Connor and Westin back up to play what they called Wounded Soldier, where Dusty would shoot them dead with finger guns, they would fall to the floor dramatically from their wounds, and Dusty had to carry them over his shoulders like wounded soldiers to the bedroom. Then they would sit in there and giggle for another hour.
  • Manipulating time limits on computer — All the kids had assigned times and limits to the computer when they were smaller. Connor and Westin worked the system and combined time with their friends’ time (without friends actually getting any computer time) to “get things done,” aka Minecraft. They’ll be good politicians, those boys.
  • School mornings Dusty style — Each school day, the neighborhood came alive with parents flocking down the streets escorting their little ones to school. While most parents had to leave their yards to get to the school, we had the luxury of watching all the action from our doorstep. Dusty took advantage of the convenience of being able to embarrass the kids but quickly retreat back in the front door. One morning, Dusty told them he was going to walk them to school and came out of the bedroom wearing a bra over his head, D-cups over his ears, and shorts pulled up to his chest. The kids didn’t believe him, but before we all knew it, there was Dusty in the front yard in full character (of what I’m not totally sure), and three kids running from the house.
  • Trees in the front yard — Decades of Colorado sunlight, rainstorms, and soil had given nourishment to these sweet-smelling trees. Apparently, they tasted sweet, too, because we could hear and feel the collective buzz of the thousands of bees that spent weeks there pollinating.
  • Feeling “home” — No matter what was happening in life, we all had a home to go to. It wasn’t always happy and carefree, but this house was home for my kids’ childhoods and for my growing-as-an-adult stage and for Dusty and me both as we figured out our places in this universe.

Eleven years have flown by. Sydney is out on her own. Connor is off to college. Westin will be going into his junior year of high school and lives with his dad. It’s time for this old house to serve another family in the same capacity it has served us. Home.

The other day, as I stood in a nearly empty garage, I remembered proudly walking into the same empty garage on the day we moved in and watching the kids drag out all their toys, beginning to stamp memories on that space-time with their excitement. Standing in the same spot in reverent silence, I reflected on my family’s 11 years here and felt so much gratitude for what has manifested in my life. Then I walked into the kitchen and living room and felt more disappointed than grateful for a few moments. Per the real estate agent’s request, I had removed personal objects from the house so he could take photos for the house’s website listing. I hardly noticed while I was in the process of de-humanizing my home, but in those few moments, I looked around at my little home and realized how sterile it looked. Un-lived in with no signs of 11 years of lots of life that happened. It just felt staged to fit this strange modern practice of calling a house a home before it’s even been lived in or in between owners.

Despite my best intentions, this tired mama never re-painted or upgraded the backsplash. Nor did I replace the octopus light…well, until it was time to sell and I thought it wise to make potential buyers believe I had more taste than to display such a repulsive thing. This simple house that was full of ugly charm brought us warmth and a roof over our heads while it held space for our frustrations, laughs, victories, challenges, pain, arguments, hard conversations, and loving decisions. We didn’t need a modern house with all kinds of upgrades to do all that for us because a house becomes a home with love and gratitude and overcoming challenges together. A trendier chandelier, new paint, and more modern backsplash wouldn’t have made any difference in how I feel about this home, and in fact, I think living here has taught my kids many lessons that will unfold for them as they mature.

If I love this house so much, why am I leaving? Well, is a house worth keeping just for the memories of the past? Or to have just in case the kids want to come home once or twice a year? It tugs at my heartstrings to leave, but simultaneously, I’m so excited for Dusty and me to begin this next stage of our life together. As Dusty says, we’ll always have the ole hard drive in our noggins til the day we die. So we’re off on an adventure to find the next small house in a small town that we can call home in a few years.

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