From my couch in the family room, I can see my kitchen, dining room, the stairs to my basement, a bathroom, and the staircase that heads upstairs.
My whole world.
It wasn’t always this way. Our home was our in-between space. In between school and work. In between sports games and play practice. In between book club and birthday parties. In between weekend outings and weekday commitments. Now it’s our everything. Our home office, our school room, our date night destination, our play space, our computer lab, and summer vacation.
Before this, I was a woman with a plan and a detailed, color-coordinated Google calendar. I needed it to manage four kids, ages 9 to 13, a full-time job, and activities that ranged from Fluid Movement swim practice (mine) to Lego Club (theirs). And then, suddenly, stillness. A calendar that went from jam-packed to blanker than a white wall—seemingly overnight. I’ll admit it was hard for me. It’s like going to bed on Earth and waking up the only inhabitant of a strange planet: “Hellllooooo is anyone else out there?” No? Okay, might as well start decorating.
My first trip to Target since the pandemic started was at the end of May to buy new cushions for our porch furniture. We also ordered a handwoven wicker two-seater bench and my husband Ron planted an abundance of flowers and vegetables, including two stubborn tomato plants, yarrow, and celosia, all procured from local farmers markets. Almost every morning since mid-March, when the state quarantine began, I’ve sat outside, first bundled up in blankets, and then fewer and fewer layers as the seasons have changed. Most mornings, I’ve had coffee in one hand and the hose in the other. I’ve spent more time on our porch in the last seven months than in the previous three years. What was once merely a place to park our bikes and dirty shoes is now a haven—an extension of the small footprint we are all forced to live in.
Sometimes it’s cozy with our tight-knit family of six, plus Lulu, our dog. But other times, I feel like I’m drowning. And I go upstairs to my bedroom and dramatically slam my door while yelling, “Mom needs alone time.”
But mostly I like my vantage point. I’ve memorized every plant and scuffed up floorboard and I know where the dust bunnies like to collect and where the dog hides her bones (in the couch cushions and sometimes under the TV console) and how many steps to my record player (eight) and how often someone will yell they need a roll of toilet paper (on average twice a week). I can hear the hamsters—Leo and Max—drinking from their water bottle in my daughter’s room and when the printer is out of paper. I can take in the artifacts of my home, from the new (a bowl of masks by the front door) to the old (a portrait, hanging in our stairway, of our very first house in Baltimore). This time has allowed me to fall in love with my home again.
But like any love affair, it’s complicated. And it’s a lot to ask of our house, any house.
This time has allowed me to fall in love with my home again. But like any love affair, it’s complicated.
It creaks and groans under the weight of its new role. There was the time the basement toilet exploded from what the county said was “too much usage.” And lately our interior design aesthetic can best be described as “ransacked chic.” It’s like an understudy suddenly being called upon to perform the starring role while we try to convince ourselves we want to be in the audience. Being home is fun, we tell our kids (and ourselves). We can do puzzles! And watch Disney Plus! And be together!
Early on, we instituted Thursday theme nights with a few rules: We had to decorate the table with only items from around the house and everyone got a turn to pick a theme (with some help choosing the menu, playlist, and after-dinner movie). We’ve had Space Night where 9-year old Zeke resurrected his Halloween astronaut costume, we cut stars from Amazon boxes and hung them all over the kitchen, and watched The Martian. We had ’80s Night in which 11-year-old Willa wore my vintage charm necklace and we decorated the table with roller skates and scrunchies and consumed Crush orange soda and TV dinners. Prom Night—my pick—featured corsages and boutonnieres made from tissue paper, rainbow sorbet punch, and slow (hilarious) dancing. We even did a Luau Night with the grandparents safely on their deck, to make up for their missed anniversary trip this past summer. Everyone wore leis and Hawaiian shirts and we all tried Spam for the first time—it wasn’t terrible. It will forever live on as the Themed Thursday to beat when my parents surprised everyone with the Kona Ice Truck.
I think, maybe, this is a good thing. Forced togetherness. Slowing down our lives and mostly confining ourselves to our small dead-end street for a brief time. Because even though right now, it feels like f o r e v e r, it’s not. This will be just a brief blip on our family’s trajectory. A year (goodness, please let it only be a year) in a lifetime of adventures.
Our house is small for our sizable family, but it mostly feels pretty perfect. We’ve done the big, old, charming house—read fixer upper—and it didn’t feel like us. It caused stress and hardship and almost felt like a life sentence. We had to be there all the time to justify the money we spent on buying and fixing it. But this house is forgiving to both our movement and our idleness. “Go for a hike,” it whispers to me. “Get out for a bit, it’s okay.” And I did, we all did, in the spring when the roads were as clear as the trails. But pulling into the driveway each afternoon, as the golden hour cast her spell, I would breathe a sigh of relief. Home. There was the round dining room table, tucked between two windows, that’s often bathed in light. A bar cart that has never been used more. A desk—whose installation almost caused a divorce—squeezed behind a door in my oldest son’s bedroom. A couch that is so beaten down the springs lost their groove long ago, but is well-loved. We can’t all fit on it anymore, as our teen is now the size of an adult, but we try.
Sure, there is fighting and negotiating and threats (mostly mine)—which our thin walls publicly reveal. But I’ve also witnessed four heads huddled together—a teenager, a tween, and two “annoying little twin brothers”—playing video games and Ping-Pong and watching movies, with no outside distraction for hours.
And, that’s all we can really ask for as we watch the seasons change once again from our home. Every morning, I’m back on my porch a few minutes before the chaos of virtual school and work begins, a blanket wrapped once again around my shoulders. Each day is filled with uncertainty, but I watch it from a place of comfort—and that’s plenty for now.