boxes…

Everything is transition these days. We’re in a new house this week and I am, once again, surrounded by boxes. It makes me crazy, being surrounded by boxes. I’ve done this moving houses thing now more times than I’d like to remember and there are pieces of it at the start of the process that I actually enjoy or at the very least, pieces I don’t hate altogether.

I love the process of purging, going through all the things we’ve accumulated, tossing things, dusting things off, wrapping things carefully and labeling them in the box. At about the 40th box though, I realize, we have a lot of crap. It’s off-putting and then it’s depressing and then I just want to lay on the couch and play Angry Birds until the feeling of overwhelm passes.

I love seeing the boxes stack up, all neat and orderly. “This is my life,” I think to myself. That stack of boxes is the sum of what we do here and how we spend our time. The trouble is, I always begin packing earlier than I should. Inevitably, the depression seeps in again when I look at the proud stack of boxes reaching up the walls and notice that having this many things packed has no impact on my everyday life. We have a lot of crap and the couch calls me to have a lie down so I do…because the couch is my friend.

It goes on like this for weeks sometimes and I become less motivated, less organized, more inclined toward the couch. It’s my past in the first boxes, it’s the dust and the extraneous stuff that’s been filling in the cracks all this time. Those last few days before the move, those last boxes are my present. Those boxes I’ve been neatly packing, carefully preserving contents, labeling, pondering, those things are all my past, that’s my margin, right there. The closer the move comes the more cranky I become, the more I am forced to live in the present, the deadline bearing down on me. The closer the move comes the more I am forced to place my present life into a box and I question everything then- can I live without this utensil? Can I make do with only one saucepan? Will I need this coat, this razor, this scrap of paper? It goes on like this day after day and the couch calls out but now, I don’t have time for that couch. Now, I’m panicked and scattered, parts of me in boxes, parts of me in desk drawers I’d forgotten about or in the back of the cabinet I’ve been avoiding for weeks. I become stingy with the boxes, cramming as much in as possible. My past is all wrapped up in newsprint and bubble wrap but the present get tossed all together, fingers crossed, hoping for the best. I begin to think, “this box I’ll take in the car with me for protection” to excuse the lousy way I’ve handled the present. The stack of “present tense” boxes, ones that I have to protect because of my sloppy handling, because of my couch lounging and angry birds, begins to out number the past, the carefully wrapped, the well labeled. I bark at my kids and I glare at my husband. I fail to grocery shop. I forget to brush my teeth. I let everything go because this is the transition, from one place to another and the vision I’d had of myself, being the calm and organized author of this move erodes until reality shows the harried and wild-eyed, desperate version of me.

It occurs to me now, sitting in the new house, in this rare moment of quiet surrounded by the boxes, just how inclined I am to treat the present like this all the time. I push is aside, I wrap it poorly, making it an afterthought thinking only of what lies ahead or what came before. The most vital and important pieces, the pieces that make this whole thing work have been tossed into the last boxes, the ones that I think I’ll pile into my car, fingers crossed and hoping for the best. They are the most transient things, the moving pieces of us- the school permission slips that need signing, the checkbook, the toothbrushes, the phone chargers, things we will need to move through the next part of the transition. In the middle of the packing the day before the move Henry saw me in my frenzy and he offered me a hug and I confess in that moment I nearly declined. In fact, I think I did say, “in a minute” to him. The nice thing about Henry is that he didn’t take no for an answer just then, he insisted on that hug and so I stopped, put down the boxes and the lists and the stress and took in that moment because this could not go into a box for later. I wrapped it up carefully, that present moment. I let it soak into me, storing that feeling in my skin and my cells and my frenzied spirit until it filled me up again.  I realized then it’s not the cell phone charger or the permission slips or the checkbook that are the essential pieces, the moving pieces, the vital pieces of us. It is this, this, this and thank God for that.

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gypsy wagon…

….

I’m looking for a gypsy wagon. I’ll hang pots and pans on the outside, maybe lead a goat along the side while we amble down the highway. I’ll pile all the real essentials inside; coffee pot, iPhone, books about food and street art. The kids can ride on the roof, using colorful umbrellas if the weather turns wet. What we need is the gypsy wagon. We pare it all down to what is essential, we move when the waters rise, we drive to wherever the sun is shining. All in all, it seems like a good plan.

We’re considering a move again. The Nashville house being under contract and due to close at the end of August and our lease running out here in October, we felt it might be the right time to finally put down some roots in Chicago. The housing market is confusing and lean in late summer after a sluggish few years. The reality hit us after looking at a number of houses that Chicago still wants about twice what our house in Nashville cost for about the same sort of house in about the same sort of neighborhood. So, there’s that.

What was interesting though is that as we began to look at houses we found we could not just pick a place and buy the one we liked most, the one we could afford best. Every house led to new discussions about place and rooting. Do we want a comfortable house in the middle of nowhere (been there) or a fixer upper in a great location (done that.) Do we want to be near people we’ve known for 20 years? Do we want to be near the new people we’d love to get to know better? Should we spend more to live closer to the kids schools? Should we spend less and get more space but have a longer commute every morning? Is this a 5 year house or a 30 year house? The choices for each are limited and pricey and all I can think about is a gypsy wagon.

But gypsy wagons lead to rabbit trails and rabbit trails are hard to travel. Dishes shake loose and crash to the floor. Mud collects on wheels and windows and children. We find ourselves sweeping up and dusting off at every stop, re-evaluating, reading maps and sipping espresso. After a while all the trees start to look the same and all the people start to look like strangers. “But, it’s better than being on foot,” we tell ourselves. After a while the wagon needs painting and the children are complaining and we just can’t seem to muster one more ounce of “adventure.” We long for being rooted. The MLS becomes our best friend and our worst nemesis. We eye other open house hunters with suspicion, sizing them up when they wander from the room, “you think they’re serious buyers?” “Will they get it before we do?” We drive up and down side streets in our target area, do internet searches on neighboring properties, mentally place our furniture in empty rooms and try to imagine living somewhere new, again.

Late at night I forget why we wanted to be rooted in the first place and the gypsy wagon calls out again but in the morning I imagine that wagon not gathering broken dishes and dust from the road, filled with world-weary travelers. I imagine the gypsy wagon as centerpiece in the garden; clematis and jasmine laced through the spokes of the wheels, climbing the faded boards, housing the birds and whispering about the places we’ve been, the people we’ve known and the comfort of being home at last.