I was in my early twenties by the time I stopped having children. In fact, I was 23 with the very last one which, in this day and age, sounds odd to me considering that women are getting married and having their first baby much later than 23. My body had given life to 4 beings by 23. I had graduated college having raised 2 of them while taking classes and surviving on food stamps and some measly scholarships for disadvantaged students. Even though I had children first, I married young, too. We lived in several apartments that were always cramped or in neighborhoods that didn’t lend themselves to our children playing outside without supervision. While most of my decisions might seem “backward” or out of order to some people, it’s how it worked for me and I longed for the vision of the Perfect Life. That Perfect Life included a home of my own.
After working for a few years as a teacher I began setting aside enough money in our savings account to put a down payment on a home. At the time, my (now ex-) husband didn’t think we would be able to afford a home during my time frame. When his parents decided to move out of state, they offered us their home at a discount. At the time, I was torn because I wanted a home and needed desperately to find something with more space for our growing family. After much deliberation we settled on the price (it was an easy sell) and bought our first home. It was a small 750 square foot split level with a one-car garage and 24 trees on the back lot. But a nagging voice inside me told me, for many years, that this wasn’t my home. It didn’t feel like it belonged to me. Even our first night sleeping in the master bedroom that belonged to my husband’s parents felt weird for him because this was his childhood home.
We did the usual fixer-upper kinds of things like buying new carpeting and painting a room or two, but the big things on my list included taking down the godawful wood paneling that made me feel like the 1970s never ended there. The first time we decided to plant something in the backyard my husband called his mother to ask permission. Another time, when my in-laws came to visit, I planned on buying a new set of silverware but didn’t have time before they arrived. I told her that and she put her finger in the air, went straight out to the garage (her former garage where she left us a lot of, shall we say, “stuff”?) and got some old flatware she left and said, “See? You don’t need anything new!”
She was unaware just how wounding that felt to me at the time. What she said and what I heard were two different things.
I didn’t need a castle or anything, but I desperately wanted something to be mine. Or to at least have it first and not feel like such a hand-me-down. Much of it stemmed from the shame I carried from doing things the wrong way according to, well, everyone it seemed. All around me it seemed like friends, in just about the same financial boat that we were in, were building homes or buying new ones and managing to have nicer houses than us. Part of me felt like I didn’t deserve it for getting it all backwards, but I still wanted those things. I looked at the outside of their lives and it made the inside of mine seem inferior.
And then, we got divorced. And I moved out because it was his house and I lost all the equity in that home in the divorce. That was a hefty blow, too.
By that time, I had finished graduate school and moved into administration and was making enough money to afford my own house. One that I could decorate and fix up on my own. I went house shopping until I was actually sick of doing it. One day, while driving through a newer neighborhood, The Cuban turned to me and said, “Why haven’t you brought me here? This is a nice neighborhood.” I didn’t tell him precisely because it was newer and no one ever seemed to put their house on the market.
Right then, we passed a house with a For Sale sign in the yard. “Oh? Like that one?” he smirked at me.
We called the number while sitting in front of the house and the owner told us to give her 30 minutes to freshen up since she’d just had an open house. Walking through it, I began ticking off the things I always wanted in a home when dreaming about one.
An upstairs laundry room.
A large kitchen and family area since all parties end up in the kitchen.
A den/office for writing.
A full, finished basement.
An en suite bathroom with the master bedroom.
Tick, tick, tick. I could barely contain my excitement. “This is the one!” I whispered to him. He nodded back at me and later, while debating it, told me that this was my house and that I could do it on my own. It’s not that he didn’t want to sign a deed with me, but he knew that I never felt like something was truly mine like this before.
I signed the papers, I moved in and bought all the existing furniture for $25 (true story), and it’s been home ever since. I was just about to turn 40, but it didn’t matter how old I was when I finally did it. Claiming something for myself and believing that it was okay to have it was the real goal anyway.
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