The other day, I was at my parents’ house.
I call it their house, but it was also the house I grew up in.
My mother sold it recently – mazel tov – and is moving into a condominium, not far from where I live now; a fresh start for her that I know will be wonderful.
I haven’t lived in that house for 15 years, the last time a six-month stretch in between my undergraduate and master’s degrees. Most of the belongings I still had there were ancient, like camp photo albums that made me grateful I came of age long before social media.
All that stuff, of course, took twice as long to pack as I thought it would. Every picture needed one last look before going into the keep or toss pile. And that was just my own stuff. How my mother did that with decades of family belongings is beyond me.
Somewhere in all the packing, I paused to reflect on when, exactly, the house stopped feeling like my home.
Sure, over time, the belongings I kept in my childhood bedroom dwindled down. I remember going for a visit once and realizing I’d lost a sense of where my mother kept things in the kitchen, and discovering at that moment an awareness that I really no longer “lived” in that house.
But, still, it was always the place I called home, even after I married and my husband and I set up a house of our own.
It could be that my sense of home was always attached to that red brick house and its black trim because of circumstance, an understanding in the first years of my marriage that where my husband and I were living was temporary. He was still in the training phase of his career and I in the early stages of mine.
We never put down real roots in the cities we lived because we didn’t think we’d stay; so those cities were never “home,” and the houses we lived in there weren’t either.
The choice to move to Ottawa was simple. We both had excellent job offers that would allow us to get ahead in our careers. My family was here, and raising my own children near them was important to me.
Yet, it was still difficult to come back. It was difficult to adjust to living in the city and not be at my parents’ house; to explore and learn it my own way, not just doing the things they did. Getting involved in Jewish life here was challenging for that reason as well – it was important to me to find my own way in, my own way to contribute, and not just do it because my parents had.
And, then, there was the house. It felt so bizarre to me to be living in Ottawa in another neighbourhood, another space.
But, like many life lessons it seems these days, I learned the new meaning of home because of our child.
In my parents’ house, the fourth stair from the bottom had a particular creak. Hearing it at night was like the National Research Council long dash on CBC radio – it signalled that it was a very particular time: my father was going to bed and now the house was quiet and dark for the night.
In the house I live in now, the hallway outside my daughter’s room also makes a particular creak.
There was a night, she was probably around six months old, that I stepped on the creaky part by accident. Normally, I’d try to skitter around it, terrified of waking her.
She didn’t wake up, but the sound triggered the memory of that creaky step at my parent’s. The creak on our floors, I realized, would one day be the same kind of soundtrack for her.
With that, my own house finally became home.