And so, we have moved.
The change has happened, the page has turned, it’s done. It was fluttering in the breeze for weeks, if not months, before we left. Yet I could somehow delude myself it was reversible until the removalists arrived, took our stuff and suddenly… our house no longer felt like home…. Or didn’t it?
Strangely, the most emotional I felt leaving our house was walking around it empty, the morning after the furniture had gone, checking all the rooms, picking up the rake lying on the back lawn, looking back at the cubby house, the empty chicken coop, walking up the steps that Mr L built last year so Master L could toddle up and down the back garden more easily. His preschool teacher had suggested we say goodbye by lighting a candle and going through each room, recounting a memory we had from that room. This was a ridiculously impractical suggestion, apart from the fact that at age 2, Master L has little concept of time as well as a limited number of memories, it would have been incredibly time-consuming and I would have essentially been talking to myself and thus felt stupid. And light a candle with a toddler??? Are you serious?? Just as well it was a stupid idea, I don’t think my fragile emotional state could have withstood such an indulgence of sentiment. It was bad enough watching Mr L tear down the jungle sticker frieze from Master L’s wall that we’d carefully chosen and mounted in the months before his birth.
And so we camped out in limbo for a few weeks, sleeping on an inflatable bed in the rented house that had seemed so fabulous with a full complement of (another family’s) furniture. It’s hard to feel at home sitting in a camping chair and eating out of plastic takeaway containers in an empty, echoey dining room, but I consoled myself with the fact that if I thought I felt strange in this (lovely) empty house, how downright awful it would have been in any of the less lovely (ie totally grim) houses we looked at.
And when our belongings and furniture arrived, I thought “Hooray, now it will feel like home!!” Unwrapping our plates and cups, our bedding, our pictures, our DVDs and books, the familiarity and comfort rating soared…
So is it “stuff” that makes a house a home? Before we left I would have said no, it wouldn’t matter if our house burnt down (I mean it would, but not that much) because our stuff is just stuff and we are more than that. So when all this “stuff” arrived and I felt the excitement that came with it I thought maybe I’d been wrong, maybe home is where your belongings are, after all, not for what they are, so much as what they represent and the memories they hold with them.
But less than a week later, all (well ok almost all) unpacked and our stuff squeezed into our lovely rental house, this place does not feel like home. I have felt more homesick this last week than ever, yet when I try and figure out what it is I miss, all I can come up with it the very thing that motivated me to come on this adventure in the first place- the familiarity. The old cliché says familiarity breeds contempt and I didn’t want to end up feeling that. But there’s a lot to be said for routine, familiarity, comfort. The big things like work & friends, I never expected leaving them to be easy, and even the silly little things, like which supermarket you decide to go to depending on what else you need (you want a coffee as well? Go to supermarket [a]. Need a bakery? Supermarket [b]. Side-trip to the playground? [c]), I wondered if familiarity with details like this made a place feel like home. Well, I have sampled approximately 10 supermarkets in the last month and still it doesn’t feel like home.
Some languages have a word for a feeling that’s kind of like fond, happy memories of home or times gone by. In English we don’t really have a single word that I’m aware of that translates… I think nostalgia is probably the closest. I knew as we made the decision to leave that we were closing the chapter on several happy years and saying goodbye to our home. And so, as we try and establish ourselves in this new place and turn an adventure into a lifestyle, I know that we will gradually start writing our new chapter and filling it with fond memories. Eventually, it will be less about homesickness and more about that foreign concept approximated by nostalgia.