Coming Home

Our family finally realized the dream of owning our own house! We moved in one week ago, and I have subsequently had little time to touch the keyboard. In honor of the new place, I’m posting a recycled essay about the sweet little rental we just left:

I cried in the car on the way home from the hospital with our new baby. From what I’ve heard, many mommies do this. I cried because the pediatric nurse and lactation consultant acted like the baby was going to starve since my milk had yet to come in and the baby had lost ten percent of her birth weight. (This is totally normal by the way.)

I cried because I was angry at the doctor who botched my stitches after the birth, causing a horrific delay in finishing up the whole thing. I cried because I was sore and tired. I cried because I was still reliving the birth, bracing against each phantom contraction and rubbing my empty belly like an amputee scratches a lost limb.

I cried because my older daughter was a confused mess and I hurt for her. I cried because my mama-hormones made me love my children so much that I ached like I had the flu.

But then I came home to our old house with its cozy little rooms and the walls that we painted ourselves and the shady backyard and the view of Bernal Heights from the front porch. And, although instant peace didn’t completely overtake me, the intensity of my emotions slowed down and I was able to take some yoga breaths and unclench my jaw just a little bit.

Our front door greeted me by ejecting the inside doorknob onto the floor as I stepped over several pairs of sparkly children’s shoes. I put the infant carseat down on two plastic tubs filled with essential survival gear for the event of an earthquake and I immediately remembered that I now needed to add diapers. The cat tried to sneak past me and weasel his way out the front door. Everything was normal. As normal as it could be after giving birth three days ago. I was home.

The notion of home has become somewhat fluid in recent years. Most middle-class, professional people I know have mortgages by now, unless they live in San Francisco. In which case “home” is often a dusty old house or apartment, full of character and charm, and actually owned by a nice couple who hit it big during the dot-com boom and now live down the peninsula in a neo-classical, ranch-style, pre-colonial, Spanish-influenced, gothic-revival, mid-century-modern subdivision.

Renting sometimes makes it hard to devote myself to my home. The house is full of crappy repair jobs, thrown together by my slumlords—oops I mean landlords—who ensure that the shareholders of Ikea and the company that makes duct tape stay in the black. For example, our back stairs had no rails along the sides until my then-two-year-old daughter plunged off and onto the concrete below, prompting a quickie lawsuit-preventive repair job. Such infuriating incidents always keep me up at night wishing we could win the lottery and buy a zillion dollar house, all the while thinking, “This is supposed to be my home?”

Sometimes I feel guilty for questioning this idea of home, because I know it’s a lot more than what many people have. Every time I see a homeless woman in Golden Gate Park or catch some of the endless heart-shattering footage of New Orleans, I cross my fingers and thank my lucky stars that I am blessed with a roof over my head.

And on the day that I cried my way home from the hospital, introducing my three-day-old baby to a place she had yet to experience outside the womb, I remembered all that I love about my oft-derided home.

I love the shrieking wooden floors that must have been used for sound effects in a Hitchcock film. I love these ancient boards that caught my eldest when she learned to crawl and walk. And I look forward to seeing a duplicate performance from sweet baby sister.

I love the cardboard walls, which conduct noise better than NASA equipment and have the same thickness as a well-doused, grocery store-brand disposable diaper. We have no need for a baby monitor, and should we still live here with teenagers, no sneaky shenanigans will get past our privacy-deflecting walls.

Our lovingly rented home also shelters spiders and bugs. The dirt encrusting its hundred-year-old windowsills carbon dates back to an era when San Francisco was known as “The Barbary Coast.” But I love it anyway.

I love the view out the front window, where my eyeballs wore a groove while I nursed my first baby girl for hours and hours, and where I plan to repeat the act for my new baby.

I love the dining room table where we gather to eat, work, create art, play music, and make noise. It is where we do our version of a family prayer by playing the grateful game.

I love the small bed where I lie down each night and stroke my four-year-old daughter’s hair as she falls asleep, and where I ritualistically sniff her cheek before putting myself to bed.

I love the music that surrounds our house. Our neighbors to the left play jazz saxophone every evening to serenade our dinner. Our neighbors to the right have their bluegrass bandmates over to practice on Saturday afternoons. I crank open the windows to listen while I write this story. The whiz of the J-Church MUNI train at the end of our block puts me to sleep each night and greets me at dawn.

I remembered these reasons to love my home as I eased my way into our bedroom with my tiny baby girl. There was no fanfare, no ruckus, no party. But I didn’t care. I wiped my eyes, blew my nose, and settled in to nurse my newborn. A perfect welcome to her imperfect home.

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