The Last Full Day
It’s our last day. Yesterday was our last time doing school pickup and coming back to this house, the same house we’ve come home to every day since they started school. I didn’t say it as we pulled into the driveway. The kids have been so sad about leaving, they didn’t need another reminder, or the pressure to somehow make the last school pickup special, and the final school afternoon wonderful. When in reality, it’s all about homework and lunch boxes and dinner as usual.
This morning was different. As we walked from house to car, my eldest stopped and stood and stared. Her hands on the door jamb, her eyes down. “Are you okay?” I asked. She shook her head. She’d remembered. She’d realised. This is the last time. She turned and hugged me, tears rolling down her cheeks, and I broke down too. A pair of us in it. I hugged her and hugged her and laughed and told her we’d probably spend most of the next twenty-four hours making each other cry. And now here I am, in my kitchen, listening to Hugh Jackman sing From Now On, and I’ve just burst into tears again. A little bit because I love the song, a lot because it’s just that kind of day. A day for thinking about fourteen years of life in boxes.
Fourteen years of mornings. Fourteen years of breakfasts at this table. The first ones, just the two of us. 2005, peak boom, two broke newlyweds, mortgaged to the hilt. Well, we were broke but still managed to go out every weekend – that kind of broke. We met up with friends, we explored local restaurants, we made bagels and bacon for Sunday morning breakfasts, and wondered how people on TV could read Sunday papers in bed without getting up to go to the shop.
We spent many hours every day away from this mortgaged-to-the-hilt house, leaving at 7 am, returning at 7 pm, five days a week. He had a hobby – football – and I decided I needed one that wasn’t shopping. I was reminded of it this week when I found the sketch book and water colours I’d bought to “do something” while he was at football. “You’ve only used three pages of the sketch book, Mum,” the kids said when they saw it. That’s what it was like in 2005, when we were mortgaged to the hilt and had all the time in the world but thought we had no time at all.
The Real Last Day
It’s just me this morning. Five days since we moved into my dad’s house (because we’ve sold but haven’t found a house to buy yet – my poor, poor dad) and five days of non-stop packing and boxing and carrying and cleaning. My husband’s gone back to work now, for a well-earned break (imagine just sitting at a desk to work, with no requirement to carry anything heavier than a coffee) and I’m here to clean before we close.
My fingers are stiff from working, my Spotify is not working at all, and I need to scrape wax off a shelf but my nails are gone. Luckily, I have many pennies in my pocket (see a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck) and I use one of those. I also have hair bobbins, pens, and many, many Lego heads in my pockets. I’m haunted by Lego heads. Even when I stopped picking them up and putting them in my pocket, they teased me by being impossible to sweep, skittering around the floor. Our new owners might find some Lego heads still in situ, long after we are gone.
The Very-Final-Actually-Real-Now Last Day
Thursday afternoon. We arrive to do the final comb through the house. Just me and the kids – my husband is still on his office-shaped break. We find Lego heads, bobbins, and an entire cupboard of baking ingredients. We load the car one last time, and make a video, doing a tour of the house. Then it’s time. My smallest gets in the car, he’s okay. But the girls are upstairs crying. Which makes me cry. Again. (Bear in mind, we are people who cried over getting rid of our old couch.)
I have an idea. Let’s walk to each room, I suggest, and say what our best memory is from each one. And we do.
At my room, they say coming in for morning snuggles, and looking out the window (if you squint you can just about see the sea).
At their room, they talk about sitting on the floor playing doctors and hairdressers – still my favourite game, especially if I’m the patient or the customer.
At the small boy’s room, they say it reminds them of playing Lego with him (hence Lego head haunting I guess), and I say that to me, it will always be the nursery – the room in which I sat and rocked and nursed them.
Getting teary again we move to the bathroom for something lighter – we remember the time their brother put his Fireman Sam plush toy down the toilet because he was certain I’d told him to do exactly that.
On the stairs, we think about Christmas morning, and in the sitting room, it’s all about snuggling on the couch (moment’s silence for the old couch).
But the kitchen wins. It’s where the most memories flow – blueberry pancakes and baking and sitting in the hot spot where the sun hits the floor.
Lying on the window bench, paging through cook books. Raiding the cereal cupboard for cardboard to cut, and covering the wall in accidental paint. Dinners and debates and kitchen discos. Dancing where no-one is watching.
It’s time to go, and now we’re crying again.
“I moved house a good bit when I was small,” I remind them, “and it always turned out fine – we’ll be okay, I promise.”
“But it’s easy for you Mum, you’ve moved before. We’ve never lived anywhere else!” they sob.
And I get it.
No matter how often I tell myself it’s just a house, it’s just bricks and mortar, I know it’s not. It’s fourteen years of memories, of happy times and sad times. It’s where we brought three newborns – finding space for them, in the house and in the home. It’s where we eat and argue, where we plan and promise. Where we fight and make up, where we sing and dance like no-one is watching, because of course no-one is watching. It’s just us, our space, the place we can – for better or for worse – be our true, true selves.
And soon there’ll be another place, and it won’t be the same, and it may not even be better, but as I keep telling the kids, if we’re all together, it’s home.