Sunday, April 13, 2014

home

Home.

That word has meant a lot of different places for me through the years, and it's pretty likely that it will mean a few more before we settle down. I'm in a place right now where I'm ready for "Home" to become something permanent; I'll be 30 this summer (I'm not sure when that happened...) and I'm more than anxious to get to a point where Nathan and I can put down roots and stop moving our kids around all over the place.

So to get my mind off of the future, I thought I might take a trip down memory lane...would you like to join me?

Home was first a little house in Bentonville before Bentonville became what it is today. Just to show how small this word really is, my first home was 2 houses down from where my sister-in-law lives right now. That first home was a place with next door neighbors who became my third set of grandparents. It was the place where Ralph would take me to get candycorn at the grocery store less than half a mile from the house by way of the airport that was 3-and-a-half miles away. It was a gnarled old tree in Ralph and Velma's front yard where I spent untold hours climbing. It was a big backyard where I picked wild onions and dandelions and it was the neighbors' screen door where my big brother slammed my fingers. I lost a couple of fingernails from that one. It was where I got so dirty playing next door that Velma sprayed me down with the hose before sending me home because she was afraid of what my mom would think. It was Ralph and Velma's bedroom carpet that was so thick your socks would stick to it when you walked and my first bedroom painted purple and with the "big girl bed" I insisted on sleeping in even after I fell out of it. It was the place where I learned about losing someone for the first time when Ralph died when I was just 4.

Next was the blue house in Green Forest, when we went back to the town my parents had always called home. It was a sponge-painted room I shared with my baby sister and countless bike rides I took all over town with my big brother. It was rides home from the library with bags of books hanging from the handlebars. Home then was a trampoline and a balance beam in the back yard. It was a basketball gym until all hours of the night and my mom's painting greeting us on the big stove in the living room. It was the baseball field and allergies all spring and summer and football games and hot chocolate in the fall. It was trips to gymnastics early on Saturday mornings when other kids were sleeping in and then watching cartoons and it was trips to the farm to stay with my cousins. It was RV trips with those same cousins, my big brother, and my grandparents every summer. It was getting in trouble the first time I was allowed to walk home by myself because I thought it would be fine to stop off and see the rabbit in a friend's mom's kindergarten classroom without anyone else knowing. It was where I learned about the strength of a woman fighting cancer and the strength of my mom as she fought just as hard by her mom's side until the very end.

Third was the white house in Bonner, found for us by a woman who later became one of my mom's closest friends. It was a room of my own, albeit a tiny one. It was sleepovers in the basement and an attic fan rattling into the night all summer. It was a giant dog riding in the bed of my brother's truck and then him climbing through the tiny back window when we went into the store to get something. It was being told to wipe my fingerprints off of the chrome when I got out of Michael's old chevy when we pulled into the high school parkinglot. It was cheerleading and swim team and tennis and high school musicals. It was being a preacher's kid and "Little Mike" and all the while trying to figure out my own identity. It was teenage crushes and teenage heartbreaks and basically teenage drama. It was finding out that family doesn't always mean blood relations when I discovered my "other parents" through my best friend. It was discovering that you can go home again, but that it hurts to leave friends behind when you do.

After a short stay with my grandparents, Home #4 was Pleasant Hills Farm. That was where I discovered just how early 3 a.m. really is and how to overcome your fears by jumping into the middle of a holding pen full of massive Holsteins. It was getting a tan while driving a tractor. It was wandering through the fields on days that seemed to pass just a little slower, yet realizing there were never enough hours in the day to get all the work done. It was more cheerleading and bus rides late at night. It was stopping the milking in the morning to watch the sunrise with Pop. It was helping pull calves and then bottle-feeding a dozen hungry babies. It was laying on hay bales and counting stars and being thrown off a horse only to climb right back on. It was high school graduation parties and where the only guy I've ever loved first told me he loved me and where he got down on one knee and asked me to spend my life with him.

Number 5 was a tiny apartment above the barn where I started married life. It was raccoons fighting in the ceiling above our heads at night, rolling down the eaves. It was kittens rescued from the barn out back after hearing them crying through the tiny bathroom window. It was sitting out on the tin roof to watch a storm roll in and sleeping on the futon in the living room because the bedroom was too hot. It was Nathan recovering from surgery only a month into our marriage and me serving my little sister sticky spaghetti when she was our first dinner guest. It was where I was shaken to my core when my brother was killed in Iraq and where my life started being rebuilt on all that was left--a foundation of faith in the God who understood my questions.

#6 was in Coast Guard housing in Astoria, Oregon. It was a duplex and sleeping on couch cushions on the floor until our furniture was delivered from Arkansas. It was trips to waterfalls and taking the rottweiler and great dane to play on the beach in the salty waves and eating razor clamstrips. It was seeing the Goonies house and the elementary school where Schwarzenegger's character went undercover in Kindergarten Cop. It was doctors visits and hospital tests and asking questions for a year to try and get a diagnosis for whatever was causing Nathan's kidney pain. It was learning to bake bread and making chicken and dumplings all the time because it was cheap and baking pies from the blackberries picked from our backyard. Home then was leading youth group at the First Church of the Nazarene just up the road. It was Mount St. Helen's and Mt. Hood and the Colombia River and Portland. It was getting addicted to coffee thanks to the coffee stands on every corner. It was calling home to tell parents they were going to be grandparents and later calling to say we would be coming home because Nathan was being temporarily medically retired from the USCG.

We were back in the barn apartment for #7, this time with a baby girl in a crib in the corner. It was where I became a substitute teacher for a semester before we moved to Home #8 to finish college. That one was an old house in Russellville that was hot all summer and cold all winter, but we moved in with a 1-year-old and it was ours. It was where I cried over bad physics test grades and put my feet up after a long evening waiting tables. It was where my little girl danced and sang with the Backyardigans and where we learned she would have a little sibling when we weren't quite expecting it. It was where Nathan finished his History degree and where I struggled through physics and wondered why did I ever choose this major? #9 was an apartment for the summer in Toledo when I got the chance for an undergraduate research internship. It was where we slept on blow-up mattresses and sat in lawn chairs in the living room. It was where our little boy had his first birthday and where our little girl went on her first date--a movie with her Pa. It was where I got interested in the world of medical physics and where we met family we didn't really know but who took us in anyways. It was where we heard a gun being shot for reasons other than hunting or target practice for the first time.

#10 put us back in Russellville, a 2 bedroom apartment where our babies shared a room and Nathan worked security at night while I finished my Bachelor's. It was where I applied for grad school and where the rejection letters got sent. It was where my kids got to jump on the bed because it was just a mattress on the floor anyways so what could it hurt? It was where I frantically searched for somewhere to teach and where we were blessed with the opportunity to move to Lead Hill so I could teach science.

Home #11 was a 3 bedroom house outside of Lead Hill, a place where we could see the lake from the back deck in the winter once the leaves had all fallen. It was where our little girl started pre-school and where I graded papers. It was where I questioned my sanity for thinking I could ever be a teacher and where I was humbled by the kids I got the privilege of teaching. It was where my baby boy learned that there is such a thing as being too close to the heater when you're trying to warm up after a bath (burned bottoms aren't fun for little boys still in diapers). It was where I cried over not being good enough to teach and where I made my self sick from worrying that I wasn't doing right by my kids and where I learned I had been accepted to grad school and where I wrote a gut-wrenching resignation letter I was terrified to hand in.

#12 took us back to Toledo, the downstairs half of a duplex. It was where I juggled classes for a PhD in physics with being a mom to 2 young kids and being a wife and where I cried because I didn't feel good enough for any of them. It was where I found out that some people have no idea what it means to have kids but will still tell you just what you're doing wrong. It was where I realized that attitudes are contagious when my sweet little girl came home from Kindergarten with an attitude I didn't recognize and where I learned that my creative little girl might just have some issues in school with teachers who want her to always color inside the lines. It was where I learned that my little boy doesn't see skin color when he looks at someone--that the "orange man" is the one wearing an orange shirt and the "black girl" is the girl with the black hair. It was where I realized that I couldn't put my family through 6 years of me juggling them and school and where I switched over to the Masters in Medical Physics even though it meant losing my stipend and being forced to rely on loans for a while.

We're in #13 now, south of Toledo and east of Bowling Green in a 4 bedroom house. So far, this has been where my kids choose to sleep together on the futon in the playroom instead of staying in their own rooms. It's where I've been thrown another curve with the retirement of my advisor (who, of course, was the only one in diagnostic imaging for the medical physics program) but where I've come to realize that the curves are just part of the roller coaster ride that is my life. It's where my little girl has learned to ride without training wheels and where I've gotten to find out just how much both my babies love music of all kinds. It's where my little girl has asked the Savior to be the Lord of her life and where I've been humbled by the faith of one so young. It's where my husband has started working over night because our baby boy still has a few more months here at home before he starts Kindergarten in the fall and where my little girl has once again found that she loves to learn. It's where she climbs 25 feet up a tree in the front yard and where her little brother prefers to keep his feet firmly on the ground, thank-you-very-much. It's where I've published one novel and one devotional and where I'm currently working on typing up a second story to publish soon and where Nathan encourages me to write because he knows that writing is as important to my well-being as breathing (and because he much prefers me sane) and tells me that my stories are good. It's where he'll start his Master's in Education this fall so he can teach history and hopefully coach basketball and it's where he holds me together when I start to fall apart.

I don't know where Home #14 will be, or how soon we will find ourselves there. I don't know if that's where we'll settle, though it's likely there will at least be a #15 for me before we get to set roots.

What I do know, though, is that Home can be all those places at once. Home is family, love, faith, laughter, and tears. It is hard lessons and deep breaths to calm quaking nerves. It is safety and adventure and risk and opportunity. Home is being with the people you love and clinging to the memories of the people you've lost. It may sound quaint and overly simple, but it's true: home is where the heart is.

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Thoughts? I would love to hear them!
~Mandy