Goodnight, House

Goodnight, House

Moving to a new home

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It’s 5:30 a.m., and I can’t sleep. Not because a small child is demanding to watch a purple, over-caffeinated dinosaur on TV or because the dog is nudging me with her cold nose, incredulous that I would stay nestled under a comforter when it’s trash day and there are so many disgusting things to sniff outside. But because it’s our last day in the house where my children have grown up.

They’re getting older. Sweet Bella is, too. She’s curled on her bed in a corner of our room, paws twitching, as she dreams of some dastardly squirrel-related adventure.

I rise and head downstairs, make a cup of coffee. Our house seems different today—bigger, neater, quieter. Lonelier. I wrap both hands around my mug to absorb its warmth.

Soon the movers will arrive to carry our belongings to our new home, which is a good thing—a wonderful thing, even. We need more space, and a better yard. We’ll leave behind the wooden jungle gym our kids used to turn into ships and castles and forts. It’s falling apart, and no one really uses it anymore, except for the time one of our sons dared his brother to skateboard down the slide.

I look up and see the faint line where our kitchen ceiling was replastered—twice—after water sloshed over the edges of the bathtub and leaked through. I remember exhaustedly gathering towels, mopping floors, throwing soaked bath mats into the dryer. Yet I’d give anything to relive that colossal mess if I could once again wrap those little boys together in a single towel and inhale the lavender scent of their body lotion. (Though that commercial that promises your child will happily drift off to sleep thanks to that lotion? Never happened. Not once.)

I go into the living room and look at the space that always held our Christmas tree. One Christmas morning, our youngest son unwrapped a Frisbee and immediately lobbed it, with surprising force, straight into the new lava lamp his brother had just opened (setting an impressive record for quickest destruction of a present).

From there I wander into the playroom, where the memories are etched into the very walls. The new owners undoubtedly will paint over the lines we’ve drawn to mark pivotal points in our family’s history: namely, the growth of our kids. Now our oldest two sons are up to our shoulders, and their younger brother is catching up fast. In another few years, I’d have to reach up to draw the line. 

I run a finger over the marks one final time, remembering the phases that went with them. The time one of our boys, in protest of having to attend preschool, crawled into his classroom and barked like a dog when the teacher asked his name. The time I held a child on my hip as I made a call on a pay phone and he reached out with a tiny finger, pointed to the zero and said, “O,” demonstrating that all those hours with Dr. Seuss had finally paid off. The time we made one of our sons go back to be measured again, certain we’d misdrawn the line, because how could a kid possibly grow so fast?

How could they all grow so fast?

If we could peel back the layers of paint, would we find growth charts drawn by the families who lived here before us? Some of the kids who ran through our backyard must be parents now, and doubtless they’re carrying on the tradition, trying to keep their kids still as they uncap a marker to record their growth on the wall. 

Like me, they probably say, “Stand up straight, now,” before drawing the line and standing back to look at it. Like me, they’re probably torn between the joy of seeing visible evidence that their kids are growing—soaring, even—and the wish that they could stay small just a bit longer.

I photograph the marker lines to preserve them in my memory, then listen to the sound of footsteps thundering down the stairs.

“Are the movers here?” my middle son asks.

“Not yet,” I say. “We can stay here just a little bit longer."

Sarah Pekkanen’s latest novel is The Best of Us (Washington Square Press, 2013). She can be reached at sarah.pekkanen@bethesdamagazine.com.

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