Archive for October 2011

One House, Two House; Old House, New House

October 4, 2011

One of the fiction stories I remember writing in elementary school was a tale about a haunted house. The gist of it was something like this: through a series of spooky events someone discovers their home is haunted, and the entire family ends up trapped within its walls for generations. I’m sure my young brain conjured some fascinating images for that story. I do know that I pictured the house as a dark, three-storey structure, standing alone in the centre of a wide, grassy field. I think I titled it something very original like, The Haunted House.

I no longer believe in haunted houses. But I do believe in being haunted by decisions I’ve made years ago that spring back to me in the present like a sling-shot in time. As well, by more recent decisions that I see as having a domino affect on my life, long into the future. And I do believe I will forever be haunted by the choices I make on behalf of my children. It’s terrifying enough holding your own fate in the palm of your hand, never mind the fate of three other lives.

So my husband and I have moved into the fourth house we’ve owned together. It is our first-born’s sixth residence; our second-born’s fourth; and the baby’s third (the kids’ homes include a couple of rentals along the way).

If I’ve learned anything after four house-hunts, it’s this: if you go into it expecting perfection, you’ll never, ever be satisfied. So here’s my personal rules for success (keeping in mind that rules are easily broken, and “success” is a moving target):

1. Area is most important. When my husband and I moved to Sudbury, Ontario, a location four hours north of the sprawling city of Toronto, he wanted a quiet place on the lake, and I, the one who would be “stuck” at home with kids until I could find another job,  wanted a neighbourhood where I could meet other young families and walk to a library. I guess you could say I, with both those desires satisfied, won. We made friends spitting distance from our backyard with whom we could party, avoiding hefty babysitter costs. I was able to walk the kids to library storytime, and eventually, once I found work, to their respective daycares. A place on the lake would have been nice, but…..we had many great camping spots nearby instead.

2. Room for the kids to play outdoors is imperative. I cannot stress enough the fact that kids need outdoor play as surely as they require proper nutrition (so do adults, we’re just better at self-medicating to try to ignore this fact….something that will be the demise of us all one of these centuries, I’m afraid). If my family managed to get outside daily in Northern Manitoba, I’ll be damned if I’ll let the winds of the Atlantic force us to stay indoors most of the time here in St. John’s. This time around we found a house in the city, with a flat backyard (a rarity in this hilly part of the world), and we bought a terrific play structure on kijiji that we set up even before the moving truck arrived.  I am proud to say that the kids – ours, and many others in the neighbourhood – log many hours on that playset.

3. Once your family gets to a certain size, space is an important luxury. After living in a three-bedroom rental with the baby tucked into a corner of our room (which did not work out at all, as he was waking three or four times each night, a terrible habit that stopped once we moved the other two into a shared room, and the baby into his own space), we decided four bedrooms was mandatory (but very difficult to find).

The house we chose is like a mansion after the apartment we lived in downtown. But we have no garage. I can hardly begin to describe how painful this is. And, as flat as the backyard is, the front makes up for it by consisting of a steep drop off a short treed platform to the sidewalk and then the road, and a series of haphazard steps from the front door to the driveway. I have come close to chucking the stroller down that drop-ff in frustration many a time.

So no, it’s not perfect. Sacrifices have been made in order to satisfy the above points. But we do enjoy the area. Even better, we have great neighbours (we’ve always been lucky with neighbours!), and kids for our kids to play with. I guess you could say, we choose lifestyle over…..structure.

The other night I was lapping up some culture at a presentation by Jane Urquhart, who was speaking at Memorial University as part of their Pratt Lectures. Urquhart’s topic was, Inner Lives: Fiction and the Visual Imagination, and she emphasized that the inclusion of architecture is essential to bringing fiction to life. I can’t help but think how appropriate that topic is for my reality, the adult portion which could be titled: The Many Houses of Carrie’s Life. I could split it into chapters according to preference, first being the Thompson, Manitoba house. I could meander into a tale about how unlikely it was that in a place I never ever wanted to move to, we found our perfect abode.

However, for us, the outside is often drastically more important than the inner walls of our home. The Thompson one was a modest-sized house, but had the biggest backyard. It even backed onto green space in a place where we didn’t worry about crime or property damage (the worst that happened there was, you’d find squatters from the nearby reserves in the forest, who would sometimes leave behind thrift store finds like jackets and chairs, ooohhhh, terrifying!).

I think I’ve been somewhat sobered by this move. We’re faced with the highest energy costs we’ve ever known. We have one more little life to hold in the palm of our hands (and what a delightful little life it is!). Already, we look back on last winter and breath a sigh of relief that we survived it. We’ve finally closed off our moving claims, been compensated for the things that got broken or lost. My husband has a veritable gang of guys he goes mountain biking with and, although he only got his bike out of storage two months ago, I think he’s used it more this year than the last several years combined. I am giddy as a school girl over the amount of literary events and supportive network of writers here in this city.

Best of all, we are making connections that are, at last, feeling permanent and meaningful.

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