In this second part of Little Green’s goodbye post, I wanted to share with you an article that I have often thought about since I first came across it in Kinfolk Magazine. The author discusses how she believes that certain homes are alive and can become part of your family. I just find that concept to be so beautiful and so truthful. I have always believed that Little Green was awakened once we became her owners, and that living within her was like always having a protective mother to watch over us. I think that is why letting her go feels like such a loss. However, grieving is a part of life, and from it we always grow and tend to come out a little stronger in the end.
I hope that we were able to repay Little Green with the same amount of devotion that she gave to us. Thank you for everything, my magnificent old home. We are living our adventure, but it really only began after living in you.
WHAT GIVES A HOUSE LIFE? AFTER THE BIRTH OF HER FIRST CHILD, ONE WRITER DISCOVERS HOW HER HOME BECAME A LIVING, BREATHING FOURTH MEMBER OF THE FAMILY.
Becoming a parent is difficult to talk and write about, not because the words are hard to find (though they are), but because when you find them, they feel too intimate to share. The smells and sounds and stirrings of the heart are individual and holy. There’s a sense in which the universal experience is yours alone when the opposite is actually true. You hesitate to say anything at all, as if staying quiet better preserves the miracle.
When my son was born, my house became alive. I noticed it in the first week. The structure I’d come to accept as ordinary—an early-1920s middle-class home with a stone foundation, hardwood floors and limestone moldings in the porch—started acting extraordinarily. In the otherwise silent night, save for the sounds of a suckling newborn, I was sure I could hear the house breathing. The creaks and clanks turned to sighs and moans as my ears attuned to raw infant cries. The water in the pipes was lifeblood, quenching my nursing thirst, washing swaddling blankets and bathing the delicate babe. The old battleship furnace in the basement chugged along, a burning beating heart, thumping steam through galvanized-steel arteries and regulating the temperature of each room.
A pregnant polar bear stays awake in her den in order to keep her temperature high enough to give birth and then nurse her cubs. Like her, our house stayed warm—and awake—that first winter. I imagined the floorboards tracking our movements and the windows monitoring our breaths. They were drawing maps of our quotidian behavior, charting sleeping statistics, mealtimes, visitors. It could’ve all been sleep deprivation and cabin fever but, without question, I came to believe our house was in some way conscious. We were not three: We were four.
The architectural theorist Dr. Hélène Frichot believes in the idea of a living building with fluid boundaries: walls that change with the life inside them. Weather and people and time should affect buildings for the better. Space stretches to accommodate life. It adapts to humans instead of the contrary.
In 29 years, I have called six places home—seven, if I distinguish between our house before and after my son was born. Of these, I have favorites. I liked my brightly painted first apartment with the rusty bath and windowless kitchen. I liked my lonely mat on the floor with the spiders and geckos in the attic in northern Thailand. And I like my messy, living house now: one where I’m awake nights and tired days, where things are ad hoc and provisional. Home and house are not one and the same.
I say that having a baby brought my house to life. And by coming to life, it turned from a structure into an environment, a possession into an ecosystem. A house is a geographic location, a street address. A home is where, and with whom, life happens. In my first apartment, home was my roommate and a third-story-window view. In Thailand, home was a pillow and a pile of letters. Now, home is a sweet 10-month-old and the words I can hear his dad reading to him in the other room: “A comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush…” That miracle I hesitate to describe.