Home is Where I Want to Be

Posted: August 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Mom, Parenting, Sisters | 3 Comments »

When I was a kid we got a new refrigerator, and my mother said she’d never wear lipstick again.

It’s not like she was making a makeup-free vow based on some allegiance to the old fridge. The former Frigidaire had a shiny chrome strip down its side, and whenever Mom was running out the door, she’d pause there to peer at her reflection and put on her lipstick.

Weeks after getting the new fridge she’d still stop in that spot, lipstick in hand, then seeing that her mirror was gone she’d whisper, “Damn it!”

Funny thing is, she really did stop wearing lipstick around that time. She told me she tried to retrain herself to use the car’s rear view mirror. But I guess that never took.

Mom lived in that house—1220 Hope Street—for something like 39 years. It’s where I came back to from the hospital as a newborn, held court at countless birthday parties, had my first ever make-out sesh, and brought home college boyfriends.

Okay, so that’s not all true. I mean, I never had a boyfriend per se in college. But if I did have one, and if he was the visitin’ type, that’s where I’d'a taken him.

Anyway, Mom finally sold the house when I was in my thirties. Too old to ever bunk with her again, but attached enough emotionally to feel sorrow that Home as I knew it was going away. Being spruced and shined up for visiting herds of potential buyers. Strangers who’d eventually tear out carpets, paint walls, fill rooms with their own odd furniture, and carry on ignorant of the mundane and momentous events of the Bruno family that took place in those rooms.

Thankfully, Mom at least held onto the same phone number in her new smaller house.

A few weeks ago I was closing the curtains before Kate went to sleep, and I noticed the door jamb in her room. In pencil, in Mark’s small scrawl, it says, “35.5″, 27 months, 12/21/07″

We only made one entry there before I went out and bought a jungle-themed growth chart wall-hanging. The kind of thing made special for families like us. Which is to say, renters. Or rather, migrant urban-dwellers, who tend to move every few years. Never settled long enough for a door jamb to reflect more than a foot or so of kid growth. (Not to mention what the landlord would have to say about it.)

When, I wondered, will we live in a place where we can write on the walls? Where we can record Kate and Paige’s growth so some day when they bring their boyfriends home from college, they can have a laugh about how wee they were 13 years prior.

And if we don’t ever settle into a place long-term, am I doing a disservice to my kids? Robbing them of something far greater than a semi-permanent shrine to their height?

Maybe it’s egomaniacal to want to give my kids what I had. Or maybe it’s just a lack of imagination in my parenting—that I can only figure out how to raise my kids the way my parents did me (minus, God willing, the divorce).

But there are things that seem like signs—big flashing neon signs—telling me to gather up the family and move along. A purse-snatching on our block, a crummy school district, and houses that are both too small and too expensive to compel us to buy.

Oakland hasn’t made one of the Best Places to Live lists, but it has distinguished itself, as my oldest sister, a Boston-area suburbanite, recently called in a panic to point out. “Did you know,” she said, breathless in her hurry to spill the bad news, “that Oakland is the fourth most dangerous city in the U.S.? I just read it on the AOL home page.”

Okay so, let’s just ignore the AOL comment.

“I know!” I squawked. “Can you believe it? Next year we hope to at least make third.”

I joke, because, well, that’s how I roll. But also because there’s a kinda bravado I sometimes embrace about Oakland’s ugly underbelly. Even though our corner of the city, flush with Craftsman homes, gourmet bistros and bookstores, is hardly the hardcore ‘hood my sis—who’s never visited—likely envisions. To her I insist that in their Kevlar play clothes the girls are perfectly safe playing in the front yard.

But really? Well, really I fantasize about affordable grand Victorians, streets where trees form tunnels over the roads, and blocks bursting with sassy, wise-cracking moms who make lemonade for the kids and mojitos for each other. I long for free concerts in the park where we bump into other families we know, and where the kids play free range, without us having to keep our urban eagle-eye watch over them.

I gaze at hours of HGTV, flip through endless magazines, and get heady with visions of a peaceful enclave where the June Cleavers are aging hipsters with sleeve tattoos, the local schools rock, and no one ever eats at Applebee’s. Where small town beauty isn’t marred by Christian dogma being shoved down your throat. Where if you don’t lock you car at night, you won’t find a homeless person asleep in it in the morning.

The question is, does such a place exist? Is the fifth most dangerous city all I require to sleep better at night? And just how far do I have to go and how long do I have to look before I maybe realize that—gasp!—Oakland actually IS my Mayberry?

What’s funny is, for my mother, after decades of life in Bristol, Rhode Island, she still always acted like the townfolk didn’t accept her as a local. I think it was all dramatic hooey, frankly. Something she liked to kvetch about but that never kept her up at night. But who knows, maybe the place never did seem like home to her.

At this point, I’ll never know. But whatever issues she might’ve wrangled with never trickled down to us kids. Which, if I can parlay that forward a generation or two, means that wherever we raise Kate and Paige will likely feel like home to them.

That’s good to keep in mind as a kind of back-up, but it doesn’t stop me from daydreaming.


3 Comments on “Home is Where I Want to Be”

  1. 1 Joe Brown said at 10:04 pm on August 17th, 2009:

    Renter or no, if you don’t write on the walls your daughters will. Especially when they reach 16, start resenting something, and take solace in the words of Ani DiFranco/Tori Amos/TKAngsty Female Singer/Songwriter whose lyrics, like, “totally express what [your kid] is feeling inside, Mom!” That second-rate poetry will end up on the walls, and then you’ll have a mother/daughter bonding moment as you repair the damage at midnight the evening before you have to move out.

    That’s my experience with renting in the city. And don’t listen to your sister. Your kids will thank you for the street cred when they go to college. Trust me. When everyone’s saying where they grew up during the freshman orientation name game, Kate will wait her turn, lean back, cock her head, make the west-coast hand sign, and say “Oaktown, yo. East bay in the house and don’t touch my shit!”

  2. 2 Jenny G said at 9:27 am on August 18th, 2009:

    You described Alameda perfectly rightdown to the tree tunnels and concerts in the park. Sweet Home Alameda that is only 7 miles or so away from where you are now. And the schools (especially elementary) are really good! The restaurants/food are not as good but Oak, Berk., and SF are just a short drive or ferry ride away. Come check us out, you’ll love it!

    “Well, really I fantasize about affordable grand Victorians, streets where trees form tunnels over the roads, and blocks bursting with sassy, wise-cracking moms who make lemonade for the kids and mojitos for each other. I long for free concerts in the park where we bump into other families we know, and where the kids play free range, without us having to keep our urban eagle-eye watch over them.”

  3. 3 Sacha Grippando said at 9:21 pm on August 20th, 2009:

    I can’t believe this is my first post on your blog – you should take me out and have me whipped! Anyway, I feel a little intimidated now!! Just a quick note to say don’t give up on Oakland. I know, I know it has some low points, like bad schools, high crime and expensive housing, but it is such a vibrant and beautiful city with great neighborhoods. With that said, I do understand where you are coming from. I think about it all the time, especially as I feel we are at an important juncture in our lives in terms of what to do about schools and where we want our kids to be for the next 12 or so years of their lives. OK – I am getting too heavy now and need to go to bed. I just want you to know that you can’t leave us – no Brattleboro VT for you!!

Leave a Reply