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The Home Ownership Option

In August, we will have been living in this rented apartment for three years. Honestly, if we didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t consider a change necessary. I’m not a believer in home ownership. I believe in property ownership. I think people get confused about those two in terms of creating wealth, but let’s not talk about that — because boring, yo.

Anyway, we’re looking at houses. The last time we looked at houses, we were in Central Florida and it was 2001. Houses were sprouting out of the ground faster than kudzu on a new highway. We settled on a piece of property in a very nice part of Sanford and built a house from the ground up.

It was a beautiful house, but I’ll tell you something — our house lacked character.  It was a reflection of what others thought we should be and how we should live. I suppose that this was a reflection of who we were at twenty three years old, too. I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I never really liked that house. It was a symbol of the attempts of others to tell me and my husband who we should be. I don't think either of us really ever felt at ease in it. Something always needed to be done to it. Something always reminding us that we just weren't quite good enough, yet.

Moving to Memphis and renting an apartment was amazing for us. The apartment is in downtown, it's beautiful and has gorgeous views of the Mississippi and Front Street. We love it here. But, we're done with this. We know who we are and ready to commit that knowledge into the manifestation of a physical space. I'm ready to live in a place that is not the reflection intended to tell others about who this family is, but a place that represents our values and our sense of self with the purpose of comforting and reinforcing our sense of us.

We’re looking for a house for our family. I reject the idea that children “need” space. In fact, the misappropriation of this word “need” is one of the major reasons for the world’s anxieties these days, I think. Children need food, love, shelter… they do not need a yard.

And yet.

I will tell you something about the house I grew up in. It was small and old. I think it was built in 1934? It had two bedrooms and one bathroom. My parents had another bathroom installed. It was always in disrepair. I never once heard someone say, “What a pretty house you have” when I was growing up. 

I remember my parents friends constantly judging them for purchasing this house when they could’ve bought one that was bigger and newer and in a better neighborhood. My parents bought that particular house for its location. It was a residential property that was going to be zoned commercially in the next few years. It was a purely financial decision. That was a good reflection of their values, I think.

As an eight year old girl, I loved that house for completely different reasons, though. It was small, but it was on over an acre of undeveloped land. There were towering  trees, honesuckle and vines. It held places where children’s secrets blossomed into imagination and joy. It was my refuge from a world where parents didn’t act like they were supposed to and the world didn’t treat you in quite the way you felt you should. It was my first experience of how freedom and inspiration are inextricably connected to one another. 

The things I experienced in that yard have made the parts of me that are most beautiful.

My brother and me playing in a twenty foot high waterfall of elephant ear vines, gnarled honesuckle leaves and large oak trees while pretending that a spooky someone who lived in the trees was coming to get us. Holding our breath as we hid under a bush, looking into each other's eyes and waiting for someone to whisper, "Go!" so we could run so fast back to the house. The rush of the cool air when we fell down on our backs and sighed the sigh of relief that we had finally gotten away from that scary thing we couldn't name.

Ninety five degrees on a June afternoon. "No, climb to that branch," I'm directing my brother and his friend. "Okay, now, shake it -- not too hard." And the old crepe myrtle in the driveway softly sheds tiny white flowers all over me. I close my eyes and feel the flowers fall on my head and whisp past my nose. I pretend it's snowing like the day it did in Chicago when I was born and my parents were young and new to this country and full of hopes about their lives and each other.

I remember walking through the mud patties we made on the front sidewalk, now slightly hardened but still not set. The dirt and gravel clinging to the sides of my feet and sliding in between my toes. The cool, soft grass pressing on the soles of my feet.  My treading toward the house without the knowledge that the touch of my skin on the earth created a connection between me and all the other people who were touching the earth at that moment with their bare skin.

My children should have that. They should have the dirt, the escape, the connectedness, and, most importantly, the privacy of childhood. They don’t need it, I guess, but I think they should have it. 

Throughout our lives, we make statements about what is necessary and what is "optional." 

These pronouncements of necessary tend to diminish the value of optional. Once, I thought that the way to live your life was to fill the bucket with that which is necessary and only add the optional things when you had enough time and room.

Now, I know that there will never be room or time left over. Everything must be considered — that which is a need and that which is optional. The optional is not gratuitous and if we treat it as such, we may find at the end of all things that we have merely eked out an existence --  not a life.

Beauty, play, private moments in the life of a child, the earth beneath their bare feet.

We don’t need a house. 

We just want one.