Even the Bricks Don’t Seem the Same

Who knew how different our home would feel as the kids grew?

children's rain boots

When I click through old photos on a whim, I am always astonished. My kids were that tiny? The floors were that messy? And the house. Is that really our dining room? Why does it seem like someone else’s?

Except for the kitchen, which underwent a major renovation a few years ago, we haven’t significantly revamped our home in the 12 years since we moved in.

We replaced windows and refinished floors. We’ve painted every square inch of the place — many of them more than once (hello grimy fingerprints!). But we’ve never moved any walls, added any rooms, built in any cabinets.

And yet our home feels so different now than it did then.

A dozen years ago, the toys that littered our living spaces were brightly colored plastic — noise-making nerf hoops and ribbon-bedecked pink tricycles. The artwork was homemade: broad strokes of modernist paint, popsicle stick and glitter creations, construction paper, glue and cotton balls to celebrate every occasion. There were in-progress crafts — always — on the dining room table. The playroom was brimming with faux food and discarded dress-up heels.

These days it’s all a little more … quiet? Is that the right word? Singing stuffed animals have been replaced by thick books. Overflowing bins of chunky blocks traded for strategy board games. Walls are now adorned with family portraits taken by a professional, not rendered in stick figures. All those ringing, beeping princess phones have magically become real, palm-sized devises that endlessly record our day and constantly open new worlds.

The simple truth that my three kids keep getting older — they’re now nearly 17, 14 and 11 — has altered our home so much I sometimes don’t recognize it.

Just like I sometimes can’t recognize them.

I am continually amazed at how incremental changes every day equal a total transformation after only a few years.

The hard part is that I wasn’t looking for change. While I am beginning to adjust to the pleasures of having an extra driver, a daughter that likes to bake, people who can (though they often don’t) empty a dishwasher, fold a load of laundry, sweep the floor, I’d be pretty happy swimming through an ocean of stickers, cupcake sprinkles and Barbie shoes once again.

But it’s not up to me. I can choose the furniture, the curtains, the color of our walls. I do not get to pick the stuff that belongs to the people that live within them.

Who knew how much that stuff determined my decor?

Our home is made of brick and plaster. Somehow I thought that even while the bone and flesh inside was metamorphosing, the structure would stay still.

I thought my two-story Colonial would keep my favorite memories of my younger children like those canvas cubes corralled their playthings.

It turns out that our homes are more mirror than frame.

By virtue of living in place, we transform it.

So I accept the things I cannot change. And I steel myself for the even bigger shifts to come. That playroom that has already taken on a foosball table and a giant reading chair feels a bit passe as two-thirds of my posse heads to high school. The bouncy balls and doll beds will give way to what? A sectional couch, a couple ottomans, a big screen?

My home, as sturdy as it is, has no more power than I do to stop this march of time.

There are still a few places that preserve my reminiscences — the pencil-marked growth chart on the door frame, the gouges in the hardwoods made by a careless body careering around with a destructive rolling stool. Every time I open my closet I remember my son at four playing hide-and-seek in our nearly empty new house. Those recollections are built into the structure’s very frame. Despite how fast my kids grow and go, those memories won’t.

But so many of the moments we have lived here together are just gone. Funny phrases, silly inside jokes, tearful times. They, like the outgrown clothes, the forgotten toys, the books that tell too simple stories now, have been replaced by today’s words and worries. Our dining room table no longer holds paper plates and yarn and brads because it is busy boasting resumes and applications, science fair research, laptops ordering from Amazon.

At least there are the photos. They take me back in a blink. To a time when, even though the walls were the same forest green they are now and the cherry wood buffet stood in that exact spot it still sits, the people at the table were someone elses altogether.

This essay first appeared in The Roanoker magazine’s September/October 2018 issue.