I think we can all basically agree that, to some extent, our culture as a whole- and I would say my generation in particular- suffers from a “Grass is Greener” complex. If we find ourselves dissatisfied with our lives, we decide that all we need is something new, something that will be just a little better and will make us just a little happier. When I was in my early to mid-twenties I found this so refreshing and exciting. In a period of about five years I lived in six different cities, had eight different housing situations, graduated from college, served a year with AmeriCorps, started teaching, got my Masters, and met and married my husband. My life felt like a giant Applebee’s menu; the choices were endless. Did I want to find an apartment in University City or the Central West End? Would I keep teaching private school or commit to public? Would roses or lilies look best in my bridal bouquet? Always planning, always anticipating, always expectant to see just how my life would change next.
The pace gradually began to slow soon after the wedding, when we moved to South Carolina. My husband began the process of establishing himself in a dental practice. We bought a house. We started a family. All huge changes, to be sure, but this time it was different. This time it wasn’t about what might be fun for a while. This time it was about what we wanted our lives to BE. Before, it was like we were driving a mountain road, not knowing what might be around the next bend, willing, at any time, to take some terrifying detour that just might pay off with a spectacular view. Now we were on a stretch of highway through Kansas. With no off ramps. Listening to some children’s song about a canary overindulging on ice cream cones, because that’s the only thing that keeps the three little girls in the backseat giggling merrily. That’s what I mean by different.
To back up a moment, my husband and I were staring down that long road when we purchased our house here. We weren’t looking for a starter home; we hoped to find something we could envision ourselves spending the next twenty years of our lives in. (Also, how obnoxiously American is the term “starter home”? Like, I‘m going to settle for this okay house that meets all of my basic needs, but as soon as I amass enough money, I’m going to show everyone how much I’m really worth!) We knew basically what we wanted and we knew our family would be growing, so we decided on a house we could grow into. As we signed our lives away, we felt the normal (I imagine) combination of dread and euphoria. The understanding that this structure belonged to us, for better or worse, that was a little frightening. I mean, yeah, we could sell it – our realtor informed us that the average person lives in their first home for five years – but we had already made the commitment. This was it.
Until. Until the pool equipment started acting up, and our heating and cooling units quit on us, and we found out we had standing water under the house, and we realized just how drafty it is living in a house with original windows, and we saw with new eyes, the eyes of people paying a mortgage, just how cheap and hideous certain aspects of our home really are.
And that’s just the home itself. We didn’t really get what it meant to have a baby and a big yard. Then another baby, and another. Our grass- and I swear this is not even a metaphor- our grass is pretty much nonexistent. There’s a greenish sort of covering in places, a mixture of clover and moss and other weeds, with maybe a touch of actual grass mixed in, but a lot of our yard is dirt. In dry weather it becomes a dustbowl, in wet weather a mud pit. A quagmire, if you will. The grass is literally greener EVERYWHERE else.
So, nearly six years into home ownership, we’re starting to talk. Is this really it? Do we need to move on? Undertake some radical home improvement? Would either of these options make us happier? Would they solve our so-called problems?
It seems to me that our dissatisfaction is coming from somewhere deeper, an underlying urge to remove ourselves from our current situation and rematerialize in a place where there is order, where things are clean and new, where the windows don’t bear traces of Nutella fingerprints and the living room carpet doesn’t have a run in it, where the furniture isn’t for gymnastics, where the contents of children’s bedrooms don’t ooze out past the door frames like some kind of living slime. What we are asking ourselves, really, is Is this it? This is how we live now? This is where all of our choices, all our excitement, has led us?
This life, this long and sometimes brutal highway that is parenthood, this was my goal all along. I need to remind myself of that. I can move to a different house, I can spend a fortune painting and fixing and refurnishing the one I have, I can break my back trying to grow grass in my yard; I can try to bring change into my life in these ways. Or I can accept that my life isn’t a thing to be fixed or tidied, and I can live here, in the quagmire.