I really wanted a mudroom. I envisioned our kids throwing their shoes and sports equipment onto the tiled floor and stowing beat-up backpacks in personalized cubbies. In my mind’s eye, I wanted that mudroom to be in a neighborhood where Lilly and Sam had meandering sidewalks where they could ride their bikes and explore. A place where other families were settling down to raise their children, creating home. I wanted to live in, and help create, a community of support, play, laughter, care, growth, and trust for my family. A place of safety, shared identity, and belonging. Once we found that mudroom, I knew I’d never move.
My First Home
The first time that Joe, my boyfriend (at that time) and future husband, visited my condo in Chicago, he thought I hadn’t finished moving in. In the front room, I had a couch and a lounge chair, two kitchen bar stools, a TV, and a lamp. My bedroom had a bed, a dresser, and a half-full walk-in closet. The guest room (a makeshift office with a futon) was the most full room, stacked with binders and other work paraphernalia.
What else did I need?
Maybe drapes. I had no drapes. No art on the walls. I had no pictures of family or friends. Not the first time he came over, not the sixth time he came over, not even a year later when he came back after our year-long break up.
Until Joe pointed out how empty the condo was, I didn’t even notice. I loved my condo and how open it was. And that it was close to Lake Michigan, to the gym, to Starbucks, to the El. I loved the safety of the building. Most of all, I loved the feeling of accomplishment: I had bought and now owned a new condo in Lakeview, all on my own. At this point in my life, this was what ‘creating home’ meant for me.
But even though I owned this condo, this 2,000 square-foot tangible evidence of the earlier stages of my journey to enduring success, I hadn’t yet come to internalize the idea of permanency or of creating home. How could I ever plan to stay somewhere when I didn’t know what that meant or looked like or felt like? As a child, I was forced to flee from town-to-town, school-to-school, a dozen times to prevent anyone in the community of learning of the abuse my father was inflicting on me. That temporary-ness carried through into my adulthood and became my normal and even my comfort. I didn’t need anyone. I didn’t need anything. Not being tied down to a specific place or beholden to a relationship or a set of belongings felt like freedom.
Our First Home
When Joe proposed and subsequently moved into that Lakeview condo, I knew what he meant: love, marriage, children, honesty, and permanency. No running away.
We went to IKEA and built a bookshelf that stood floor to ceiling on the far wall of the front room and filled it completely with his books. Hundreds of books he had collected and read from high school through graduate school, carrying them with him from his childhood home in Canton, Massachusetts to college to his bachelor pad in downtown Chicago. His books were the physical manifestation of his home, and their spirit brought new life and new possibilities into the once empty condo.
The colors, titles, shapes, and sizes of the books lined up on their shelves created a work of art. Our friends gravitated to the bookshelf and picked up Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, John Irving…igniting conversations about their own memories, stories, and their own homes. Little by little, I started adding to the shelves with pictures of my friends, my cat, my sister and mom, me and Joe and his family. His books and these pictures started to define what home might be for me and for us.
Our Family’s Home
I was 35 when I made the choice to create my family. Joe and I married and wasted no time. We lived in that two-bedroom condo in Chicago together for five years—with two cats and eventually two kids. I was finally ready to let go of the fear I carried with me each day of my life: my fear to love and be loved. That fear had driven my life decisions, but I was ready to embrace the complete vulnerability that comes with having a child. I wanted to be a mom. I wanted to create a family with Joe. And with this choice, I’d have to confront my childhood abuse and trauma that would inevitably seep through—and I learned later, crash through—as my daughter would turn five, then eight, and one day, twelve.
My memories and feelings would no doubt force their way through my protective shell I had so carefully and diligently built and reinforced over three decades.
I knew that by having a child I would lose the ability to turn my love off. To completely control my experiences, my feelings—because I would love someone so much. The authenticity and greatness of a love of a child is overwhelming. I inherently knew this through the love I felt for my sister’s children (especially as they grew up).
Would my love be enough to protect my children?
I chose love over fear when I made the choice to create a family. I was ready because I was certain that Joe and I would create the home for our kids that every child deserves.
Creating Home Becomes Living in a Hometown
When we moved to Joe’s hometown, I knew I’d miss our friends and the city life, but I wasn’t leaving home. We were going to create our family’s home.
Lilly was four years old and Sam was three when we moved into our brick house on an acre of land set back in the trees with a pink, horse-themed bedroom for Lilly and a sports-themed room for Sam.
Our family’s home feels lived in and permanent. Solid and warm. Full of unconditional love. It’s got a mudroom with cubbies and a worn-out craft table. We have window treatments and a soot-filled fireplace, tattered children’s books, and torn up furniture from kids, cats, and our dog. Tape holds art projects on the wall and thumbtacks secure random craft projects, Celtics posters, and Lilly’s horse calendar to the bulletin board. Junk drawers overflow with paper clips, and laundry is never done. There are books everywhere. Neighborhood kids storm in and out of the house.
My happily ever after isn’t made of mansions or fancy cars. It isn’t a perfect marriage or being a perfect parent. It isn’t traveling the world or vacationing in the sun. My happily ever after is the certainty of the love in my life. The unquestionable love I have for Joe and our kids. It is the security and safety of the unconditional love that I get back from them. My happily ever after is the love and certainty my children have. The comfort and safety that surrounds and encapsulates them in the home we have created.
My happily ever after is embracing my boundless capacity to love and be loved. I have it because I finally chose it.
My life is perfect.
I imagine that one day Lilly or Sam, or both, will tell me how boring our life is. How they can’t wait to get out of Canton, to roam and explore. And Joe and I will suggest they do it and encourage them to go and see and feel and smell and experience their own version of happiness. We’ll cheer them on as they explore as many parts of the country and world they can.
But I hope, no matter where they are or what relationships they’re in, that the gifts of their childhood home—certainty, safety, comfort, laughter, and unconditional and endless love—stay with them forever, as a beacon to guide them in creating home.
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