Making a home found in the house that nearly broke us
When I saw the ‘For Sale’ sign outside my neighbor’s house, I couldn’t believe it. The Benedicts had been my neighbors across the alley for 37 years. Todd’s grandparent’s owned that house since 1922. Todd and Chris purchased it from the estate when his father passed. I understood why they wanted to sell. I just couldn’t fathom the ‘how.’
At 56-years-old, I had lived in a total of two houses. My mother still lived in the same home I grew up in. When I was 19-years-old, I moved from their home to the house I live in today.
When I bought my house in 1980, it was a duplex. The rental income from the upstairs apartment covered the $135.02 mortgage payment, taxes, and insurance. This was where I started my family.
My first baby, Ryan, had a sour stomach, although he was a super sleeper once I got him to sleep. It was always the same. I fed him a bottle, he spit up curdled milk. I remember walking around in circles, rocking him in my arms, from the kitchen to the living room until he fell asleep. When Ryan was 13-months-old, I remember hobbling home from the 4th of July parade in 90-degree heat, two days past my due date. Stephanie was an easier baby and rarely cried. She ate, burped, smiled, and slept. My third child, Jennifer, I can still picture swinging contently in her baby swing, in my Z-Bricked kitchen, while her siblings raced around the house in their super hero costumes. My fourth baby was born the same day as my mom’s birthday, 60 years apart. Kristi was the first child I had to bundle for the 12-block ride home from the hospital. Her bedroom was set up in the remodeled basement where it would be quiet for her daytime naps.
My babies were my joy, having a family and a big house to raise them in were the only things I really wanted in life. I loved my old Victorian house and dreamt of the day I could revert it back to a one family dwelling. I wanted each of my children to have their own bedroom. I wanted a dining room where I could entertain large family gatherings. What I wasn’t prepared for was the horrific accident that changed everything I knew about life and parenting.
Kristi suffocated when her crib broke and her head got stuck between the mattress and railing. My youngest sister, Shell, was babysitting at the time. When Shell found Kristi’s body hanging like a ragdoll in the crib, she ran screaming through the house to get help from the upstairs tenant. Thankfully Judy had the emergency numbers posted by her phone. The attendant coached Judy through the steps of infant CPR. My house was three blocks from the fire station, and although the response time was immediate, the damage was done. The lack of oxygen blanketed my child’s developing brain with a fog of mass destruction.
Kristi wasn’t what you’d call paralyzed. Her brain could still process the senses of touch, taste, sight, and hearing. But her body parts were rendered useless all the same. It must have been a horrid reality for a baby who was once a healthy and agile human being.
I hated my house.
My baby’s high chair was replaced with a wheelchair. An electronic communication device replaced the toys. Medical supplies cluttered the dresser tops.
Therapists, nursing staff, and support workers paraded in and out of my house. I was extremely grateful for them and their services, but my children and I were no longer entitled to a private family life. I felt trapped inside, watching through the seemingly glass walls, how the seemingly normal world carried on without us.
Working through the grief and accepting my family’s new way of life took years. The healing power of music was something I embraced. Songs of hope played on the radio, the hours of travel as I’d seek out doctors who were skilled in the latest technology. I’d sing along with the songs of joy when reports were good. When I sat in church, I couldn’t sing the hymns, as I’d allow my suffering to surface. In my house, I had an old piano to play nighttime melodies. The soothing notes floated along the cracked plastered walls, filtering into the bedrooms, gently cradling my children to sleep.
Finding ways to entertain my children had to start with letting go of what was no longer fun. Beaches, parks, social gatherings made us all feel bad. Weekend trips to the mall, a $5 spending allowance for each of us, and eating out at a nice restaurant were the activities we began to look forward to. Strangers sometimes stared, but we also met some very nice people. I learned quickly what genuine kindness looked like.
Wednesday night skiing, ceramics class, and sleepovers started replacing doctor’s appointments. The demands of being a parent forced me through the stages of my grief. Although Kristi would forever be disabled, I was still a parent. I still had my big old house. It was just going to be different.
I finally was able to convert my duplex into the one-family dwelling I dreamed of when my oldest turned 13. Each of my four children had their own bedroom. I had my huge master bedroom and bath.
Ten years after the accident came the blessing of my newborn son, Cory. Appreciating all those wonderful stages of his childhood was what I think eventually healed me.
I know my house isn’t perfect. The molding work isn’t finished. The stairs creak and the wood floor heaves in the fall. I throw a towel downhill to catch the spills. But maybe loving my house isn’t so much about the sticks and stones that I’ve remodeled over time, but more about the lovely memories of the people who were transformed and strengthened, both on the inside and out.