There’s a house around the block on Church Avenue that was my inspiration for the things I had wanted to do to my own house, once upon a time.
We moved into our house when we were in our mid-twenties, with one baby (and one on the way, which I hadn’t quite known about but made much sense with the hormonal warfare I had inexplicably caused before, during, and after our move … and maybe for a few years after that).
It was something I associated with pride, being young and investing in a home that certainly wasn’t a starter home, but definitely would feel smaller and smaller with each child we were lucky enough to add to our family.
I remember being able to happily host extended family members on any given week, with room to spare. But as of late, as I’d drive down the through street of Church Avenue that would lead me to our house, I’d glance to my right and survey the beautiful additions that this particular house had undergone. I found myself wanting to make some changes, to build an extension to accommodate the four boys and baby girl housed in the place that once seemed so much bigger than it did now.
That house on Church Avenue represented a lot to me. It stood for possibility. It stood for growth in our lives, both financially and physically, making space for the family we worked hard at creating. It stood for the simplicity of my life before what happened changed that. It stood for the topics that would occupy my thoughts “before” vs. the things I think about in the “after.” And the before and after are like night and day.
Today, I drove past the house on Church during my final weekend carpool and observed as the homeowner tossed around a football with his sons, their arms extended, anticipating and excited.
I felt the familiar tears start to collect, as I looked on at the picture of familial bliss, one I’m sure a lot of people take for granted because they don’t think it’s anything but commonplace and, dare I say, ordinary.
But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and the things you have that you don’t think of as blessings are someone else’s goals in life. It’s the way of the world, and sometimes people who have so much feel like they’ve got nothing, while the ones who have little in material ways are blessed in the things they hold dear to their hearts.
So much is relative; so much of our subjective experience and contentment comes back to perspective. Isn’t it something to pause in life and take stock of what you have and truly be thankful for it? Maybe even the bad as well as the good.
To not wonder what will occupy your time in the years you have to child-rear and do endless tasks for others, to bask in the ordinary of life and be blissfully happy in it?
Not wondering about the next vacation or house addition. The next party or social event. The next reason to look forward to something, when, in reality, there’s so much laid out in front of you, in plain sight.
We overlook so much because it’s a given in our lives. Sometimes sayings are clichéd for a reason; they are so fundamental: “Who is wealthy? Someone who’s happy with what he has” (Avos). “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” (Joni Mitchell, l’havdil).
I had so much. I wasn’t unhappy with it, but I definitely didn’t appreciate it the way I do now. Both what I lost and what I didn’t. It’s my “before” and your “after.”
I look through my phone sometimes at the pictures of my kids or myself with friends, of the “before” life we led. Any day before March 27, 2019, serves as a perfect example of what we had. The ordinary “before” that I’d love to have back.
I see a lightness in our faces that’s no longer there. I see an innocence and trust that our lives will proceed as planned, the status quo being blasé at times. A carefree quality that I can’t quite remember the feeling of.
I remember the stresses I would agonize over in my “before” life.
- The kids doing well in school, socially and academically
- Dinner coming out well
- Having good content for my Instagram and Facebook pages
- Not fighting with family members
- The kids surviving the sudden death of their father
- Doing well in therapy, communicating their needs and feelings
- Figuring out how to do everything two people previously did and condensing it down to one person.
Feeling like a frazzled mom of five who never opened up regular mail, checked her email, knew how to fix the Wi-Fi when it stopped working, how to fix the leg of a chair when it breaks, or how to say the right thing when children miss their father and all you can do is hold them. And validate their feelings.
(Dinner is still a concern. At least some things never change.)
Good content for my page will never be an issue. Welcome to my never-boring life. Enjoy the ride.
Fighting doesn’t really happen as often. Because instead of wasting time over pettiness and minutia, we’re too busy actually keeping everything in order. Keeping the kids happy. Keeping the house running. Keep on keeping on.
With the real-life fallout and potential emotional breakdowns came a new and deeper appreciation for the things I thought would always be there and the things I never wanted to wonder if I could take care of.
These days, I pass that house on Church and glance to my right with a smile. I wonder what my life would have been like if we could choose alternate endings, like those “choose your own adventure” kid books. If things had remained somewhat the same and I ended up doing the extensions and additions to my house. If all I had to worry about was the color paint and type of fixtures I’d choose.
I slow down as I pull up to my own house. The house that saw the years of joyful seasons of our complete family, the years we took for granted. The not starter, not huge, not fancy home that was and is filled with love, where my children took their first steps, where I found my voice and learned to cook and bake way beyond its walls.
The house that has witnessed the renovation of our family, and the days, weeks, months of crying; I imagine the very beams and bricks already miss Moshe.
But after all this, it’s still here, still ours, still filled with light and laughter. It contains our memories and our hopes. We still host friends and family. It may show signs of wear and tear, might look a little more run-down than the updated one on Church, but maybe our house will stand for weathering a storm we never imagined we would or could.
Our house has grown and expanded, not the way I’d imagined. Over time, it feels like less house, but more home. I’m grateful that it’s still standing and so am I.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.