You can’t go home again

By Mir
July 5, 2009

Except, of course, that never stops most of us from trying to, anyway.

When we pulled up (soggy) stakes at the Adirondack Park and headed back down to my dad’s house, we remarked that this particular leg of the trip had been surprisingly entertaining in spite of the rain, but that it was really a shame the weather hadn’t cleared up while we were there. Of course as soon as we got settled down at Dad’s, the sun came out and it’s been beautiful the last few days. While we’ve been, you know, sleeping inside.

So that was a little disappointing, sure, but on the other hand, my stepmom makes a killer cappuccino with her fancy machine, and that was much better each morning than my propensity to forget that the last inch of coffee that comes from a French press is full of grit. (Ptooey!)

There are advantages to sleeping in a HOUSE, is my point.

Despite the fact that my parents live in the same town that I grew up in, and despite the fact that my mother still lives in the very house I grew up in, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been back to my childhood home since I graduated from college seventeen years ago. We always stay with my dad and stepmom; they have more space, a higher tolerance for rowdy children, and do not smoke. For years I have avoided my mother’s house because I am one of those annoying people who is super-sensitive to cigarette smoke and prone to asthma attacks when exposed to it.

Well. My mother recently quit smoking. She smoked for over 50 years and endured my many and varied campaigns throughout childhood urging her to quit, and eventually I (and everyone else) gave up on trying to convince her to stop, and then one day she decided on her own that she was done. And she hasn’t had a cigarette since.

She’s probably completely pissed that I’m writing about this, but that’s tough for her, because honestly, have you ever heard such a thing? “Oh, I’m all done smoking now. After 50 years. Yeah, nevermind.” I’ve always suspected my mother could take over the planet and shape up an army of robots to run everything to her satisfaction if only she put her mind to it, and if this isn’t proof positive of her iron will, I don’t know what is.

Anyway. Now that her house doesn’t reek of smoke, I was able to go over there. And it looks different, of course, both because of the passage of time and because my mom’s changed some things, but I was utterly overcome with how SMALL everything seemed. It was as if I’d grown two feet taller since last walking down the hall, peeking inside my room, marveling at the spot where I last sat in the kitchen. It was really, really weird.

I took Chickadee down to my room and told her that my dresser seemed tiny, now, and she sized it up and noted the location of my bed and said, “Well NOW I understand that story about you jumping from the dresser onto the bed!” This, of course, prompted my mother to point to the closet and quip that I didn’t sleep in the bed, I slept in the closet, and then we told the story of the time I decided to take my nap in the closet (because it was darker in there) and my mother couldn’t find me. (I like to imagine the call when she had to phone my father at work to report that I had disappeared. How do you break it to your spouse that one of the children has vanished from inside a locked house?)

Leaving there, I felt an odd mix of deja vu and that feeling you have when you wake up from a particularly real-seeming dream. I wonder if it will ever stop being weird for me to visit there.

The next day, an old friend of mine from high school whom I haven’t seen in fifteen years came over to my dad’s with her two kids. Her oldest is just a little younger than Monkey, and they immediately ran off to play together—instantaneous buddies, they way only small children delighted to have a playmate can be. Her youngest is still a baby, and we sat and talked while Chickadee tickled the baby and offered her various toys and itched to hold her (even though the baby was far too busy exploring and drooling on everything to tolerate just being held).

We chatted about this and that, and during a lull in the conversation I blurted out, “I can’t decide what’s weirder; that you have a BABY or that I have a MIDDLE SCHOOLER.” We chuckled and shook our heads. Later I tried to explain to Chickadee how we two had passed most of high school by writing notes to each other during our classes instead of paying attention. (“DON’T YOU DO THAT,” I added, as is decreed by Maternal Law.) We wrote extensive volumes of the continuing adventures of The Toweled Avenger (my friend) and her faithful sidekick, Tumbleweed (me). Our mission nearly always consisted of bringing some teacher we hated or a fellow student we found irritating to swift justice (and by “swift justice” I of course mean that half the time we fed them to Spot, the rabid wonder dog, and the other half of the time we set them on fire). Up until my last move I still had multiple three-ring binders filled with our notes.

“But why did you throw them away?” asked Chickadee, disappointed that I couldn’t more fully share my teenage dysfunction.

I didn’t have a great answer for her. The short answer is that I’m not very sentimental about THINGS, even though I had saved those writings for years and years. The slightly longer answer is that Otto’s brother mistakenly put that box of stuff in the trash pile during the end stages of the move preparation, and although he offered to retrieve it once I realized what had happened, I just figured it was time. The real answer is that although I have some fond memories of that time in my life, most of them are not, and I was ready to let some of that evidence go.

Neither of us were terribly happy, back then, and I couldn’t help feeling like the fact that we were sitting around my dad’s living room while our collective gaggle of children ran around us was something of a minor miracle.

Maybe you can’t exactly go home again, but maybe the place you find there, instead, is even better.


  1. Ani

    Beatifully put.

  2. meghann

    I really can’t go home again. My mother passed away and the house was sold. Which left me feeling more lost than I thought it would.

  3. The Toweled Avenger

    You said it, sister.

  4. liz

    Lovely! But also many, many congratulations to Mir’s mom on her way to take over the world!!!

  5. highlyirritable

    Even before I left home I was afraid of what it would be like to never return. So I solved that issue – I bought the house from my parents and made THEM go. Now, they are afraid to revisit here! My 10yo sleeps in the same room I did as a child, and while it’s nice in many ways, in another way it perpetuates a fear of moving forward with some things. Sometimes, it truly is better to not be able “to go home again” because it makes you, forces you even, to evolve and grow.

  6. jennifer

    I can’t go home again, either. But I’m okay with that.

  7. StephLove

    Congrat.s to your mom on quitting smoking.

    We moved around a lot when I was growing up and no-one lives in a house where I grew up (no relatives I mean– surely someone lives in those houses), but my mother and stepfather are still in the general vicinity of where I lived in high school (Philadelphia suburbs). They recently bought a house in Oregon which they are renting out and plan to move to in several years. I feel this goes against the natural order of things. You are supposed to move out, find a comfortable distance from your parents (Maryland in my case) and then they are supposed to stay put. They are not supposed to move across the country. It’s very irritating.

  8. Megan

    Yes, although I do have a love-hate-LOATHE-tolerate relationship with home (that has nothing to do with the very lovely and generous relatives who actually live there). I do think I could, after varied experience, now happily see it all go but oh my, have I been glad now and then it was there to come “home” to.

  9. Anna

    I really shouldn’t go home again, similar issue to your mom’s home. But the “home” I wish I could visit again was the farmhouse my grandparents lived in during my childhood. It grew into disrepair and was torn down, despite being owned by family. I still remember every corner, you know?

  10. mom, again

    I too, moved too much to ever go home, and have done the same to my children. both sets of grandparents were settled into a house by the time I remember them, but both of them long after my respective parent had moved out. So even my memories of ‘grandma’s house’ are not my parent’s memories of ‘mom’s house’.

    However, there seems to be every indication that this house I’m in will be the last stop before the retirement community. My girls lived here as teenagers, my son will grow up no where but here. I find this ODD!

  11. Massiel

    My mother did the same thing. 30 years of smoking nonstop and then she decided to up and quit. Hasn’t had a cigarette in three years.

  12. Mary

    Congrats to your mom! As a recovering smoke-aholic (two years!), I know how difficult that is!

    Oh, going home… this past Easter Sunday something possessed me to take a drive by the home I grew up in (I lived there my entire life, until I got married) and I know EXACTLY what you mean about small. I couldn’t actually go in the house but just driving by!?!?!? I had to drive around the block a second time and quadruple check the address cause, surely, that was not that HUGE house I grew up in!!!!!!

  13. Katie in MA

    Wait, did I miss something? Is it Love Thursday again? :)

    I know what you mean about the weirdness of returning to our childhood homes – my parents and youngest sister still live there and I return every year. Even without such a long break in between, it always takes me a day or two to acclimate, to realize that yes, that was home and waaaaaaaay deep down, it even still feels like it on some (weird) level.

  14. dad

    What a blast spending 3 days with you and your family in the big woods followed by 3 days in our home.
    My heart is full.

    You all are welcome to come home here whenever.

  15. Heidi

    Yay, Dad had invited us all to visit him!

  16. Tracy

    How special and blessed you are! And I’ve got my bags packed, heading to your Dad’s. I can’t wait for one of those killer cappuccino. YUMMMM!

  17. Mom

    Thank you for your congratulations and kind wishes. I feel a little dishonest accepting them, though, since as Mir pointed out, it was time. Simple as that.

    I am sincerely touched, Mir, by your words that mean a great deal to me. More than you can imagine. I am so proud of you and what you have made of your life that I can hardly breathe, thinking about the love that fills your heart and home, to say nothing of your many talents.

    It was so good to have you and yours here to light our lives. Thank you for all of it.

  18. Scottsdale Girl

    I am home. In live in the house I grew up in. You can go home again. Although it will be in much more disrepair than you had hoped. Guh.

  19. Laura

    For me home is where I lived after I moved out of mom & dad’s. My first mortgage. My first garage. All the closets were MINE! Just enough room for me & 2 cats. I drive by once a year or so. The neighborhood has gone downhill, that makes me sad.

  20. Danielle-Lee

    No, we can’t all go home again. Dad still lives in the house I basically grew up in, but he has let it fall apart around him, and his wife lives there with him. My room was taken over by her sons, and it now contains a snake, 3 computers and all sorts of shit. It doesn’t feel like home at all. So sad. :(

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