When a house is no longer home to the grown children

By Morgan Baker

The vacation is over, and the adult children have returned to what is now their real lives—the oldest and her new husband back to California and the youngest back to her apartment on the other side of town. My house will be clean again—no more make-up in my bathroom, shoes lying in the living room, gloves on the dining room table, or parkas tipping the coat tree over. But my stomach lurches when I realize there are no more opportunities to play cards or Bananagrams and I wonder when will there be a next time. Did we talk enough about movies and books, and how cold it was? Did I find out what they want to do with the next phase of their lives?

We made desserts—cookies and cakes—and didn’t care much about eating them. Now I can return to having yogurt after dinner. I woke up early every day so I could write before they got up from their long sleep-ins, but I’ll miss hearing their feet coming down the stairs, and the breakfasts of coffee, croissants and bacon their father made.

No more lingering. No more lounging by the fire on ridiculously cold days, everyone curled up under a blanket reading books or ipads and looking at their phones. Now that our family holiday is done, it’s all about work and getting ahead, and thinking about what we can all do to make ourselves happy in our individual lives. Will my memoir find a home, will daughter #1 get a new position, will son-in-law grow his business, will daughter #2 do more auditioning, will my husband’s career move forward?

For ten days, we were able to put those questions aside, which was like its own kind of gift box under our Christmas tree.

Now, I will mail boxes to my children filled with the things they left behind. I have laundry to do. The messy bedrooms will become neat and orderly. They will be welcoming for guests, but remnants of the girls who once lived there can still be found in posters of Orlando Bloom from Pirates of the Caribbean and John Travolta in Ladder 49 still on the walls. I can’t take them down.

It’s easy to see what is missed and not what is gained. Easy to see that “home” has been redefined for my daughters, while it has remained the same for me. Now when they go home, they go to a place where their adult lives and loves are. When they visit us, their parents, they are coming “back home.”

Home is where I raised them, watched them grow and then take flight. Maybe that’s why every time they leave again now, it’s a reminder of when they left for good, when daughter #1 got in the car and drove cross country with her then boyfriend, now husband, when daughter #2 moved furniture, bedding and clothing across town, emptying out the room she grew up in.

Home shifts. Home is now where I watch “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” with my husband, just the two us. We yell out questions and answers at the TV. We root for our favorite contestants. We forgo full turkey dinners for fried egg sandwiches or pasta on little tables in the family room. It’s where on weekends we walk the dogs to the dog park and watch them romp with their friends. And it’s where we are now alone, together, because I guess home has been redefined for us too.

Morgan Baker keeps an eye on her two grown daughters from a distance, and hangs out with her husband and two dogs in Cambridge. She is working on a memoir and teaches at Emerson College.

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