Sometimes we look at our personal history in terms of segments or eras, each one separated from the next by major life events.
I know I tend to think of my own life as four large chunks of time: birth to marriage (which I am now maintaining consisted of only about eight years, given that I am going on three decades married), marriage until I had my first baby, babies until the big move to Arizona, and then all the rest.
Now, however, I think I may be moving on to a fifth major phase: empty nesting. For the most part it’s been a great time so far, a time of self-discovery, a time for new creative interests, a time of…well, just a time of time. Quiet time to myself, something I often craved when my kids were little and underfoot.
That’s all well and good, and it’s great to see your children being self-sufficient and independent, and the house stays a LOT cleaner (though I discovered to my surprise that a seldom-used toilet still requires a lot of cleaning). And as much as some of the younger family members who are still in the throes of child-rearing may react with longing when they hear of our frequent date nights, movie outings, couples hikes, and spur-of-the-moment weekend getaways, I would tell them two things: 1) don’t worry if your house isn’t clean right now and 2) there are some days when I just miss my babies. When I would like, just for a day or two, to go back to hands-on mommying, of being asked to play, to tie a shoe, to make a snack, to be taken to the library, the park, the mall, all of it requiring my full participation.
And the thing about having left ‘home’, no matter where that is, is that large portions of your memories will forever be connected to and wrapped up in another place. When I think back on my years in New Jersey, I think not only of the people and the places I left behind, but the “me” I left behind. A younger version of me, and a younger version of my family.
For example, the other night I had a dream about my old kitchen. I should explain here that my dreams are usually quite creative and vivid. Often I dream of a hidden kitchen that I keep forgetting is in my house. And this room shows up in dreams so regularly that it almost feels like it does exist somewhere, and I either really forgot where it is or am still looking for it. (But perhaps that’s a column for the psychology Examiner.) Anyway, this time I was dreaming of my real former kitchen, the kitchen that heard nothing but the patter of little feet on its floor for years. And as I was standing in it, in the dream, I was aware that the last time I was there my kids were much smaller. And I wondered if they would show up any second as their younger selves.
But that’s part of moving. A part of you wonders what it would be like if you still lived there. Like speculating if you could recapture the same feeling you once felt at a favorite vacation destination if you went back again.
Of course, we all know time marches on whether you stay put or move away. Kids grow up, parents grow older, people change.
But somehow the passage of time is more clearly marked when you leave a place. It’s like: okay, I was this age the day I left, so everything that happened after that date happened when I was older than that. And when you go back to visit, and you see certain people every few years instead of every few months, their aging is more apparent.
And boy oh boy, some people don’t age so well.
So that’s probably why they say you can’t go home again. Because nothing ever really stays the same. But after you move away, it’s easier sometimes to imagine it does.
To let yourself think, for a split second, that if you went back to the house where your babies learned to walk, that you just might see their little footprints still on the floor.
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