We went home again this weekend, to the home where Phil and I were born and raised, not the place we now call home, which is always confusing, even to me. I don’t know at what point Pennsylvania becomes our home. We’ve lived here six years, which is all the home our kids have ever known, the majority of our married lives. And yet, the people we are here are just a fraction of our whole selves. We have decades of life behind us in Illinois and so, it seems, that will always be home.
I still refer to them both as “home,” which can get confusing. I was talking to a woman from church about the nursery schedule a few weeks ago, and our Christmas plans, and I’m pretty sure in the same sentence I said something like, “We won’t be leaving for home until (this date) but we’ll already be home by (that date).” I think I eventually explained myself, but it’s just as muddled in my mind.
Because home, though small, is a complicated word.
Home is this city, our address, the place the post office sends our mail. It’s this state, the one on our driver’s licenses and license plates. It’s where we live, and yet I still find myself telling people that though we live here we aren’t from here. And it’s not that I think it’s bad if you’re from here, but I just have to make the distinction known. I will always and forever be “from Illinois.” It might seem like a trivial distinction, but it’s not. Not to me.
Last year at this time, I was attending my first MOPS meeting. My son was upstairs in a church not far from the house we had recently moved into, and I was downstairs getting to know people, which is like, an introvert’s worst nightmare. There was this getting-to-know you exercise where if you like one thing you go to one side of the room and if you like another thing you go to the other side of the room–a way to show a little about yourself and find others with similar tastes.
I clearly remember one of the “preferences” was between beach weekend or city weekend. At the time, I didn’t know how much I would love hanging out at the beach, so I chose city weekend. And then we were asked which city we would go to. And because I get awkward and a little obnoxious when I’m insecure and nervous, when it was my turn I blurted out: “Chicago–the greatest city in the world.” It was an attempt at humor a la Saturday Night Live’s Superfans (Think: Da Bears. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then I’m pretty sure it’s your loss. Oops. There I go again.)
I’m sure no one else remembers it the way I do, but when I look back on it, I think, geez, Lisa, were you trying to not make any friends? Because sometimes that’s how I feel when I talk about my Illinois home. Like I’m trying to separate or distance myself from people.
In a way, I am. Because connecting with people and then later leaving them is hard.
I’m not a part of that MOPS group this year because my son is in preschool and there’s a women’s group associated with that. And though my introduction there this morning was less awkward and obnoxious, I still feel like an outsider at times.
For us, home seems to be nowhere and everywhere, and I don’t know if that’s good, bad or neutral.
I tend to think of “home” as a place. The place you’re born or raised or spend your life. The house you raise your kids in, or the city where you finally “settle down” to raise a family. We have some of each of those in our life.
For me, home is a little blue house on Fargo Avenue with a creek in the backyard where I grew up and had space to dream and imagine and be by myself.
And it’s a turn-of-the-century home on the corner of Morgan and Jefferson where my grandparents raised their family and hosted us all for holidays. And even though it’s gone now, the fire that destroyed it can’t take away the memories.
Home is my first apartment and the roommates who came and went. It’s the college apartment that gave me my first taste of independent living.
There are dozens of addresses that I called “home” at one time and all of them left their mark.
There’s a one-bedroom apartment in a college town in central Illinois where two people learned to live as one and brought a baby girl into the world.
And there’s a little house in Amish country where that family grew from three to four and stayed for five years. The place where our family was broken. The place where we started over and began being made whole again.
And there’s the farmhouse where we live now, where we’re finding ourselves again and starting new chapters and leaning in to who we are: the good, the bad and the ugly.
All of these places will pass away. They will deteriorate, or be destroyed, or we’ll move on from them. And it’s no so much the structures that made it “home” but what happened inside the walls (and sometimes outside them.)
But there’s more to “home,” I think.
And it’s watching your other cousin dance with your kids and wrestle and giggle with them when in years past she couldn’t because of her health.
It’s hugging a groomsman from your wedding and listening to him talk about his grown-up job.
It’s long and meaningful talks with the brother you don’t see often enough.
It’s celebrating with the people you love, the people who’ve known you since you were a baby or who haven’t seen you since you were a flower girl 31 years ago.
It’s laughter and tears and the best never-ending hugs.
It’s lunch with your grandparents where dessert isn’t even a question (at least not one you can answer “no” to) and lunch with your in-laws at your favorite local restaurant (and watching your kids devour the soups and sandwiches you crave from 800 miles away).
And it’s a 4:30 a.m. phone call from a woman from church while you’re driving the 800 miles overnight, just to check in.
It’s the invitations to play dates, the Facebook messages that check in to see how you’re doing with life. It’s the offers of shared childcare and coffees out and companionship.
The more I write, the more I’m believing that home is not a small word at all.
It might be the biggest word.
And maybe it’s okay that I have more than one place to call “home.”
Maybe home is wherever we are, wherever memories are made and lives are shared and love is plentiful.
What makes a place “home” for you?