So This Is What Building a Home Feels Like

Building it, piece by piece

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Last Sunday afternoon, I found myself elbow deep in homemade purple play-dough, discussing the location of Elmo’s home. Elmo probably lives upstairs next door, we decided. And Big Bird has a nest… indoors, where he’s nice and safe. Once we cleared away the play-dough, I started peeling apples for this apple-loving toddler’s first apple pie. It was something that, frankly, I didn’t have the energy to do. But as I peeled apples, and managed mischief, and explained the rules of baseball as the World Series played in the background, I realized that this was the home I’ve wanted for years… and the one I’ve somehow avoided creating.

The past few years have been full of changes for us. When we got engaged back in 2008—or really when we decided to move across the country together in 2007—we unleashed the flood of “big years.” Highlights included: moving across the country, David starting law school and then became a lawyer, me switching from professional theatre to investment banking (ugh) and then starting APW from the ground up, me writing a book and doing a book tour, having a baby, and on and on. That’s all in eight years. Eight years where we went from being twenty-something theatre professional New Yorkers, to thirty-something professional Oakland parents. Eight years that went by in the blink of an eye, where we struggled to maintain some sort of internal consistency.

When everything is changing, you cling to old habits with startling ferocity. When the outside world is defining and redefining you—single girl, New Yorker, theatre professional, fiancé, corporate finance worker, wife, self-employed, author, pregnant lady, small business owner, mother, married lady—it can help to find and hold on to some of your own labels and habits. I’m the laid-back one! The girl who likes dive bars! I’m the artist! And that can lead to you clinging to routines and habits long after they stop serving you.

This September, when APW’s theme was growing up, I dove into my real life “get your shit together” to-do list. And while we have in fact gotten through almost everything on that list (with varying results—my new trendy glasses look like Groucho Marx glasses, our yard is halfway re-landscaped… you know the drill), it turned out that there was something bigger hiding under that list of tasks. The reason so many things were unfinished was that I was resisting, with every fiber of my being, making changes I knew had to be made.

So in September, with the theme of “Growing Up” hanging over my head, I grimly looked at our life and got to work. We needed to carve up our time so we could exercise regularly, even if that meant getting up earlier. We needed to start taking our toddler to the park every weekend morning, even though I didn’t want to give into that dreary seeming routine of parenthood. We needed to be nicer to each other, what a pain in the ass. But it doesn’t matter much what my list is, because I suspect every person has their own list. It’s the list of things we need to do, but we don’t want to, because none of it sounds fun. Besides, what does it mean to be the kind of person who always renews your AAA membership? The person who always renews their AAA membership (which is of yet un-renewed), is not the same kind of person who frequents the best dive bars in America (#14 is our bar of choice).

When you’ve been delaying something endlessly, you’ve focused most of your energy into fighting the inevitable. And apparently giving up the fight seems like sweet relief. It turns out, toddlers are much happier when they start their days running around the park—making everything that follows easier. It seems that when you re-arrange things, so long needed workout routines can happen, the weight you couldn’t kick falls right off. That when you’re not spending the day fighting with a toddler who never got a chance to run off their energy at the park, you can spend it making things out of play-dough and (somewhat tiredly) baking apple pie instead.

It’s hard to find the confidence to paint over the home I built for myself in my twenties. To realize that as much as I’d loved visiting bars when the city was empty on Thanksgiving weekend, that wasn’t my always-future. It’s hard to have faith that it’s worth putting in all the effort it takes to create a home, when I saw so many of the efforts of my childhood end in tears. (Though my second grade year when I shook down the grocery store clerks for wooden crates to build a life-size nativity under the tree in super secret, was worth all the effort.) But this year, I’m taking it one memory at a time. I want my kid to remember fall afternoons with the smell of pie baking. So I gathered up my energy, and peeled apples. I want him to remember making holiday cookies with his mom, so I’m planning “painting” with cookies soon. (What? Do all the treasured memories you want to create not involve food?)

There are many parts of this new life that we built over the last eight years that are exhausting. There is the payroll I’m responsible for running, the AAA membership I have yet to renew, the middle of the night wakeups. But as I’ve aimed to not add one more thing to my plate, I almost missed the good stuff. The fact that we have a whole new person to teach about pie, that I finally have another (tiny) meat eater in the house to cook for, and that this is my chance to try out the traditions I hoped for as a child, now for someone else.

I’m always going to love the best dive bars in America, even though I have time to get to them less frequently. And I’m nowhere near sitting on the porch, watching the life I built play out around me. Instead, I’m in the middle, and I’m finally willing to own it. One lumpy cookie and lopsided Styrofoam Hanukkah-Christmas ornament at a time.

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