Flavor of the Day

During my first pregnancy, the ligaments near my pelvic floor, somewhere around the base of my thighs, had to stretch. They were literally being pulled by my growing belly. It was a new, strange, and decidedly uncomfortable sensation. But it was cool, too. It was this visceral way of knowing that something was happening. Something sacred and magical and occasionally unnerving and, while scientifically explicable, utterly unknowable. (Her name is Aviva.)

I sense that my ligaments are stretching again. (Mom, if you are reading this: it is a metaphor. I am not pregnant!) This time, I see the evidence in my inward demeanor: I am craving quiet, alone time (and conversely struggling with my own presence, or lack thereof, much of the time, since much of the time is not quiet and not alone). The fact that I’m growing also shows up in my residual impulse to move, to run, to be anywhere but here, as if there was anywhere else I could ever be. We are only ever in the present moment!

It is always a red flag for me, or a head’s up, or a symptom, when I start getting fixated on something external. It could be some training or program that will surely make me more qualified and successful at my work. It could be some item, like the elusive pair of jeans that the Gap doesn’t even seem to make anymore (I am telling you, size 2 is the new size 8, or something like that). It could be money, a location, a lover or a housecleaner.

It’s the flavor of the day. And it’s always a fantasy.

Today’s flavor is called “house.”

I read an article last week about a writer named Meghan Daum, whose recent memoir is called Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House. I haven’t read the book and don’t know if I will, but the title alone made me nod in recognition. I have, for the last ten years, been intermittently obsessed with houses. Some of it’s just that I love what we call “house porn” – you know, the virtual tours, the beautiful pictures of rooms with no clutter. It’s not so different than leaping into the non-existent world of a Crate & Barrel catalog, with matching bedspreads and bright cheery kitchens. Life would be better in that house, we imagine, because there is no life in that house! And life is what we are trying to get away from, damnit! The piles. The pms. The plans.

I loved our first house. And no doubt, I was always scheming, even then, to improve it, to change it, and ultimately, to get out of it. We bought and sold it by owner, and bought our current home at the height of the crazy Burlington real estate bubble that had people in bidding wars. We knew moving in that the house would work. What we didn’t realize, having closed in early April (which is really barely spring here), was that we had hit the neighborhood jackpot. Two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve kids on our street, yards that bleed together, swing sets everyone shares, a widow who opens her pool to us all each summer, little traffic for daredevil two-wheelers and skateboard stunts. A chart updated annually with everyone’s names and numbers. Walking distance to the free shuttle bus that runs downtown every fifteen minutes during the week, and a mile from school and work.

So why, oh why, would I ever again look at another house? It defies reason.

When I’m growing, part of me wants to run. To move. And definitely not to take myself with me, thank you very much. I am expert at spinning a fast web for my mind to get caught in like prey. The web tells the story of why life will be better in x house. Often, it relates to money, i.e. the house in question always costs less than this one, which will ease financial pressures. It relates to setting, i.e. surely being that close to the lake would mean we’d spend so much more time just being together as a family. And more than anything, it probably relates to the fact that what I need isn’t a new house, it’s simply to clean mine to the point that someone (I) would walk through the front door and gasp, “Oh! This is so nice!”

So today we cleaned. Well, first we went to soccer and then we hiked up Mt. Philo in fits and starts and then Pearl scraped her knee running, and then she fell asleep in the car and I wanted nothing more than to take a nap but instead we came home and started scrubbing. I got out the Meyer’s lemony-smelling stuff and dismantled the burners; Greg tackled toilets. Aviva even got involved (Pearl was asleep in the car) by doing the laundry without any help. That girl is so going to be ready for dorm life.

The house still doesn’t look nearly as amazing as the pictures of the latest one I’m coveting, imagining our lives in, sure that if only we moved everything else would reorganize itself accordingly. But it does look like we live here, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing. We live. Here. How could anything be better? And yet sometimes I feel plagued by my own restlessness, stricken by this condition of always searching out something else, wondering if I will ever settle in, just simply BE.

I visited a friend last weekend who is currently separated from her husband of almost fifteen years. They have three kids. She is renting a condo and just beginning to get unpacked. Over the years, they have lived in countless rentals and owned three different houses, one of which they designed and built themselves. At one point, over bowls of cereal, she gestured around the room. “None of this shit matters!” she said. And I thought, I want to feel that. I want to believe her. To be either so attached to this neighborhood that I can’t fathom living elsewhere or constantly coveting something different.

What matters? My girls, for God’s sake, my children are sleeping in their beds. I am so blessed to have them, to know where they are, to be able to walk up the stairs, enter their room, and breathe them in. What matters? We were able to pay our bills this month. What matters? We have family, parents and siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. We know these bonds matter, no matter that they are sometimes difficult. Why wouldn’t they be? What matters? Having a husband who is honored to be with me. It is almost too sacred to write, and yet if I am to be honest about what matters, how could I – why would I – leave that out?

I know. Of course I know. Life will not be better in a different house. Life will not be better with a different job or a different body or a different time management system or a different cell phone. Life will not be different with a better website or a prettier desk or more money to save or more money to give away. This is not to say none of things bear looking at or even addressing. They do! But to address them deliberately, in the spirit of asking what’s really missing and with the intention of deciding what I want to create, is the difference. Only then am I truly being in my life, this one here, the one where I already live. I want to cultivate my ability to know, to trust, to feel that everything is just as it should be. No bigger, no better, no different.

This post has gotten terribly long. Maybe it should be shorter. If it edited it, it would be better. And such is my practice. Publish. Move on.

6 thoughts on “Flavor of the Day

  1. tracy says:

    What you are putting out right now, is so what I need to hear….again! That’s twice in one week – thank you…again! Man, I can so relate to this post….the whole time I was reading,I was nodding along. I get it all….every morsel! I am there ;)


  2. Renae C says:

    Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with the growing pains. But I like the idea of intentionally deciding what you want to create. I will come back to that again and again as I feel my own ligaments stretching. And tomorrow we clean!


  3. Beth says:

    Oooohh lah lah, this one hits home! I’m always scheming about the next place to live. Funnily enough, though, since we moved to a new apartment (bigger, prettier, more comfy, outdoor space) last October, I’ve felt a little more settled and like it’s less temporary. But it’s probably just my age! Big warm hug to you, Jena.


  4. Kelly says:

    Thank you for understanding me without even knowing me! I never knew that someone else has the house obsession that I do, the hopes, the dreams of something different based on a street address, square footage, price or geographical location. My family and I are actually moving (yes, pushed by me) in a few weeks. I will hold your post close to my heart when this new home begins to feel like the wrong place, like it inevitably will, and remember that it is my home, where my children grow and live and lots of love is shared. And, that it is wonderful, even if it doesn’t look like a scene from Crate and Barrel. Thank you.


  5. Lisa says:

    This is a fantastic post ~ perfectly timed for me.

    How wonderful to find myself in your words and know that I’m not alone in my current state of escapist wanderings/wonderings.

    Thank you, dear Jena.



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