When life changes, it might seem like nothing will ever be the same again. That’s when the important things shine through and remind us where home really is …
When children are young, it’s easy to pinpoint where home is.
Home is that place where the kids come to every day after school, where warm cookies have just come out of the oven, where drawings of stick-figure families are held onto the refrigerator door with colorful magnets. Home is where they jump on their beds when they think you aren’t looking, where they stand tall beside the doorframe while you measure how much they grew over the past year, where they invite their friends for sleepovers and talk late into the night.
But when children get older and move out on their own, when life brings changes that you don’t expect, sometimes the word “home” becomes a little tougher to define.
A long way from home
That’s what Leslie was thinking as she opened up another box. She sneezed again — all that cardboard was making her allergies act up — and looked at what was in front of her. A stack of dishes, wrapped carefully in paper, ready to be brushed off and put away into new cabinets. She reached for another box and in this one found the glasses and bowls.
Carting them to the kitchen through a sea of boxes stacked almost to the ceiling, she started putting them away. She paused at the last plate, turning it over in her hands. It was so old that the markings on the bottom were faded to almost nothing. How many times had she washed this plate? How many times had she dished out casseroles and mashed potatoes and breakfast on this plate?
She put it away in the cabinet and wiped her eyes.
The divorce had been hard on everyone, but especially on the kids. Then came the really hard times, punctuated by the foreclosure at the end, like an exclamation point of anger. Now there was the new house, much smaller and quieter. Leslie thought about Erica and Robert, both children away at college, Erica in her final year and Robert just starting his first. They had chosen the same school, only an hour away from home.
But when they came home this time, they would come into a new house, a new space that didn’t have their handprints all over it.
Leslie shook her head hard, determined not to cry. She attacked the rest of the boxes with a vengeance, and by the time the sun went down she had made an impressive dent in the tall stacks. She was sipping on a glass of iced tea and contemplating the rest of the boxes when a knock came at the door.
“Home is wherever you are …”
For a long moment, Leslie froze. Would that be a neighbor, saying hello and welcoming her to the neighborhood? One of the men from the moving truck, saying he had forgotten to have her sign something? The realtor, checking up on her to make sure all was as expected? Those were the only people who knew she was here, weren’t they?
Then the knock came again, and she heard the familiar cadence. Three short, two long, three short…
She flew to the door, tearing it open, smiling already.
Robert and Erica were standing on her doorstep in the fading sunlight, their smiles radiant, their hands full of bags. Leslie ushered them in with hugs and kisses, suddenly surrounded by the scent of what could only be delicious Chinese take-out. She pushed aside things on the table and made room for the bags while all of them tried to talk at once.
“The plates are in the cabinet over there,” she said, and Robert went to get them. Erica pulled the chair out from under the table and it made a familiar squeaking sound as she sat down.
Leslie came to a stop, her hands frozen on the bags. That sound…the laughter…the clink of the plates…
Tears sprang to her eyes, and she covered her face with her hands.
Both kids were immediately at her side, urging her to sit down, asking what was wrong. But just as quickly as she had started to cry, she switched gears — and she started to laugh. Long, hard laughter, the kind of laughing that only comes with relief so bone-deep it feels as though nothing will ever go wrong again.
“I was so scared,” she said. “I thought this place would never feel like home. But then you showed up, and…”
“It’s not our old house. It feels different,” Erica admitted. “But home is wherever you are, Mom.”
Robert stood up and began putting food onto plates. Leslie ran her hands over the old tabletop and thought of all the dinners they had enjoyed there, and all the times they would gather around it again in the years to come.
“Let’s eat,” she said