by Jessica Towns
Well, it happened. The strange and scary thing we thought would never happen. My husband and I swore we’d never fall victim to cliché. But it happened anyway: we bought a house in the suburbs.
I always imagined we’d put down roots in Seattle, where we lived for the entirety of our twenties. I’d gotten to know the city in all its peculiarities, wandering through rows of craftsmans in Ballard and midcenturies in Wedgwood and the dignified-looking houses around Green Lake, imagining I’d occupy one someday.
I loved the parks and the library system and the restaurants. I loved walking to the grocery store and falling asleep to the sound of tires on concrete. Our cats and daughter are all named after Seattle streets.
But then reality hit hard. We got tired of renting; we were done having children so we knew what we wanted in a long-term dwelling; it was time to buy. And like many people, we discovered that we could not afford to own a house in the city we knew and loved so fiercely. The place we hoped to call home forever did not welcome our budget. With real estate prices still climbing, we had little choice but to move on. Scrolling north on the Redfin map felt like cheating on a lover.
We decided to look in Shoreline, and the nine mile drive felt like light-years, especially while throwing snacks to the child in the backseat.
A three year-old, no less—a sensitive girl who had just established herself in a fantastic preschool. We were about to pry her away from the backyard where she fed chickadees and picked raspberries. The house where she potty trained and moved into a big kid bed. Our daughter’s little face betrayed a heap of anxiety as we toured potential new homes.
I tried to explain it in her terms: we were borrowing our old house, like a library book, but the new house will be ours to keep, like when we go to the bookstore. I tried to sell her on a bigger bedroom. I used Daniel Tiger terms: we feel nervous because this is new. Things will be different, but different can be fun.
Ostensibly, we were doing it for her: outdoor space, good schools, the feeling of a more permanent childhood house. But in some hidden crevice in my heart, there was a flutter of excitement with each house we visited. There was, for the first time, the possibility of being a homeowner.
A mere week after we started looking, we found a move-in ready split-level next to a gentle creek on a quarter acre of land. It was charming and comfortable, both inside and out, and from the looks of the swingset next door, there were other kids nearby. We accidentally fell in love. Thirty days later we were in escrow, the adultest word ever attached to my name. Everything we own began to flow into cardboard boxes labelled with permanent ink.
During the hours of packing—90% of which were spent looking for the tape—I took on the task of purging. I didn’t want to carry any junk into my new home. As I studied each paperweight or yet another wooden spoon, I asked myself: Will I miss it? Most of the time, there was an easy answer.
Until I got to the baby gear. Like I said, we are done having babies, so the buzzing monkey toy and poop-stained onesie would not be getting any more use. I sad-smiled with each bin I opened, overcome with nostalgia for 2015, a literal lifetime ago. I remembered the tears of joy as I nursed my newborn on the Boppy. The endless grating song of the jumperoo. Seven thousand stuffed animals that she loved and abandoned. I would miss them.
I would miss my daughter’s babyhood, when she showed up all slimy and pink and messed up everything I’d ever known about life. We had an oxytocin-fueled bond which will never be the same now that she’s big enough to follow me into the bathroom. But the souvenirs of infancy only took up valuable space. Because we are not Calvin and Hobbes, a cardboard box cannot be crafted into a time machine.
And I don’t really want my daughter to stay small forever. Her life is supposed to change. She doesn’t owe anything to her baby-self. Her only obligation is to grow.
As I get a new library card and hunt for the best take-out teriyaki, I know the same applies to me. I don’t owe anything to the dreams of my twenty year-old self. It’s time to start exploring the benefits of this next phase of life—owning a home and living somewhere where there is actually parking at Starbucks. I will miss Seattle, but ultimately, embracing change hurts less than holding onto the past. So I lugged a full car to Goodwill, gave my kid an extra-big hug, and parked in our suburban garage.
The new house has less storage space than the rental—no room for a changing table—and more active-use space. There’s a large pantry to fill with big kid snacks and perfect corner to tuck a writing desk overlooking the creek. Exactly the right number of bedrooms for our family as-is.
As I watch my daughter in the yard beheading buttercups, I can imagine her, when she’s older, sitting by the creek and reflecting on her own ever-changing life. Like the lush ferns along the water’s edge, this whole thing is beginning to grow on me. It’s not Seattle. It’s something beautifully new. But I swear: we will never get an SUV or a dog. It’s just not going to happen.
About the Author
Jessica Towns is a full-time mom and two-time PEPS graduate. She lives in Shoreline with her husband Will and daughter Ravenna, and spends her limited free time writing and drinking a lot of coffee. Jessica holds a civil engineering degree from Seattle University.
Lovely and wise article. Thanks for sharing, and enjoy the journey!
Thank you, Stephanie. 🙂