In the majority of the US, people rarely live in one house for their entire childhood. As adults, we hope and pray that we will be able to someday achieve our piece of the American dream by moving into our dream house and staying there. It is there that we will raise our kids, pets, and grow old with our significant other. But while that is the dream, for many that everlasting stability is far from a reality.
I remember well our family’s move to Illinois when I was nine. My parents struggled to sell our house in Detroit (a common problem for those who have been leaving the city for the last 40 years) and they had not yet found a new house to buy. They took the three of us girls from house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood, looking for the perfect, affordable home. They checked off one house after another in the large real estate book that refused to yield a new home for our family. In those months of uncertainty, with my dad starting a new job and us girls starting school, we lived in two different rental houses, finally moving into the house my parents would buy. We had a lot to be thankful for as we moved in shortly before Thanksgiving. It was unsettling to move our stuff and then move it again before I was finally able to unpack and put things on walls. Less than two years later we were doing it all over again, only this time moving across the country to Wyoming. While our limbo was short lived this time (we were moving into a house owned by the church) we still spent the first week we were in town living in the already crowded home of our pastor’s family. I’m pretty sure it was not that pleasant for the rest of my family, but for a dramatic, introverted eleven-year-old still reeling from the disruption in my life, it was horrible. Then, when we moved to Michigan five years later, we were once again in limbo while we waited for our house to become available. The house was purchased but not yet empty, and so our family of six moved into a double-wide trailer on a church member’s property. Again, space was at a premium and I remember the front screened-in porch being my one retreat.
Let’s just say that I’m not new to moving causing temporary disruptions in my life.
Back in June we took a family trip on a plane to visit Texas and look for a house. We were optimistic. We were going to fall in love with a house. We were going to find our home. We were going to be able to move right from our house in Indiana to a new house in Texas in what would be a seamless transition from one state to the next.
That didn’t happen.
We found a house. My husband loved it (at the time) and I really liked it, but it needed some work. At least, it needed some work down the road, and since one of the rooms that needed work was the kitchen, I was probably going to want to do the work sooner than later. So our realtor suggested we offer a lot less than what they were asking for the property. She wasn’t comfortable with going much over what we initially offered and not surprisingly, the sellers didn’t accept our offer. We decided to hold off. We would keep an eye on the house and if they got another offer, we would make a decision then. So I kept looking at realtor.com. I kept adding houses to our search list. We got closer to the move and we still didn’t have a house, so a joke became a reality. We made reservations and then fulfilled plans to move into our camper.
It wasn’t terrible at first. We did our best to cook, the kids fished in the lake behind our parking spot, we spent time in the resort pool, and we appreciated the fact that we still had air-conditioning. But it didn’t take us long to discover that RV living and RV camping are two completely different beasts. As our kids say “We like camping when we are CAMPING, not when we are living.” Put four people who treasure their individual space and occasional alone time into one small space with a very loving puppy who also loves her space and suddenly it starts to feel more like a crucible than an idyllic tiny house.
And for us it only gets worse emotionally and psychologically when we consider that we have found our house, we have an accepted offer, there is a pending sale sign in the front yard, and we are still waiting for the final paperwork to get through. We’ve been waiting for several weeks. Try explaining that to a four and six year old who just want to have their own rooms, doors so they can shut out the world, and toys that they haven’t seen in months.
So what does a family of four do to beat the heat and get out of our tiny space? We drive around town, walk around too many stores, go to home shows, and then visit Ikea to dream about what we will be able to do once we finally do have the keys to our new home.
Those kinds of shopping trips are not dangerous financially, at least not yet, because we quite literally cannot buy any more stuff. We have nowhere to put it. Those trips are dangerous because they make me, and I could probably argue, my children, irritable. There are days that our new house feels like the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones. I can see it. I can reach for it. But my INFJ self has convinced me that my ability to grasp it is teetering on the brink. I want the stability of home. I want our kids to have the room to run and play with their stuff in their own rooms. I want my dog to have the room to run around in circles without rocking the entire camper. I want to be able to walk around without stepping over dirty laundry because there are just so…many…dirty…clothes. I want to snuggle up with my husband on the couch and watch Fear The Walking Dead with our children safely asleep upstairs. I want to paint walls and make rooms in our new house OURS. I want to bring my grading home, spread it on a kitchen table, and just get to work. I want to cook. I so want to cook. I want to be able to stock my pantry with food so that I can easily prepare healthy and affordable meals for my family.
Yeah, I have a lot of wants and it might be driving me a little crazy. I didn’t think I would be the first to crack, but I was. Our kids quickly followed and my husband is getting close. I know that we are lucky. We have a place to live and it is our place. It isn’t borrowed, it isn’t a hotel, and we have four walls and air-conditioning. While we are homeless by official definition, we still have a home, even if it doesn’t feel like “home.” While I may be dreaming of a shopping trip to Ikea where I will actually be able to buy stuff, I’m also mentally purging as I remember all of the stuff that we have to move into a house that is 1000 square feet smaller than our last house. If anything, camper living has taught me the lesson that I have been teaching my writing students for years: “Less is more.” And while we are still displaced, the light is at the end of the tunnel. Some days that light seems dimmer, some days it seems brighter, but it is still there.
We’re praying we get good news by the end of this week, that all the paperwork is finally completed, that we will have been safely maneuvered through the hoops and all we will have to do is set the closing date. We’re praying and waiting, and I’ll admit, not so patiently.
And that first house? It’s still on the market two months later. They’ve dropped the price a little, but I can’t help but wonder if they are at all irritated that they said no. We’re ok with it. We’re getting a better house for less money. Or at least, God willing we will be one week.
And so we wait…and wait…and wait…