It’s snowing in Woodhaven.
I sit at the antique oak desk in front of our dining room window and watch the flakes fall onto the deck. They linger for a few seconds before dissolving into the wooden boards, but it won’t be long before they gang together into a hefty depth; eight inches of the little blighters before dawn tomorrow, if the weather forecast is correct. The outdoor thermometer, which gave a springlike reading of 45 degrees two days ago, now stands at 28 degrees, and the mercury is dropping fast.
I’m sitting in the dining room in Woodhaven. The room into which I wouldn’t go alone three months ago because it was the favourite spot of Jack’s invisible friend, Em.
How things have changed.
Yes, I know. It’s a while since you heard from me. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year — they’ve come and gone again for another year. But I’ve had a break, and you know what?
I needed it to regain my sanity.
When you won’t stay in a room, or even an entire house, because your kindergartener has convinced you there’s a nine-year-old poltergeist in it, you need to remember where you last left your sanity. It’s not as simple as remembering where you last left your car keys.
So this break was not just a vacation, it was a necessity. A necessary break to convince myself that cold dining rooms are due to ineffective central heating or over-effective air conditioning, not due to a spiritual cougar dreamed up by my five-year-old son because he can’t get a real girlfriend yet.
A break from watching my good friend Maggie turn herself from Germaine Greer into Betty Crocker, as she misguidedly resurrects her long-abandoned marriage to Derek Sharpe. Someone (me) needs to tell her (soon) that being alone isn’t the same as being lonely; that you can be lonely even when you’re not alone. An ex-husband who wants you to be his house-servant in your twilight years is not a satisfactory trade for being alone; indeed, this particular ex is not even a good trade for being lonely. I have so much to tell you about this man — but not yet.
And lastly, a break from Woodhaven, a break from being a foreigner. Instead, a few weeks in good old Blighty where people understand my accent and don’t incessantly comment how “adorable” it is. (I get so tired, in Woodhaven, of being told how adorable I sound. I’ve even made a “two strikes” rule about it: if, during our third meeting, a new companion is still trying to copy the way I say certain words, there will be no fourth meeting.)
But, you might be asking, what’s happened chez Patrick since November?
After the Sandra-snakes-and-snails fiasco — another topic to elaborate on later — Oliver jetted off to Rotterdam to see his customers, and the kids and I stayed at a hotel near my mum’s place for a few days. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than staying in the parental home; something I should have remembered from the last disastrous time I stayed there with Jack, just before we moved to Woodhaven, nearly three years ago. While I love my parents because, well, they’re my parents, I would never want to live in the same house with them again, not least because it would result in news stories with intriguing headlines.
Elderly couple missing for two years found in their own freezer. Daughter pleads not guilty; says it was suicide pact.
Teetering along a fine line between “elderly” and “borderline senile”, my parents have forgotten what it’s like to have small children. After an afternoon involving one twin trying to eat a block of toilet cleaner (the sort that hangs from the rim; George thought it was a lollipop), the other twin sinking her teeth into the plastic bananas and pears in Mum’s fruit bowl, and Jack adding crayon stick-figures to the leather-bound journal in which Dad was writing his memoirs (as if anyone would ever read them anyway!) Mum and I tacitly agreed to meet at more neutral venues in shopping centres. Not Dad, though, who made a big deal of cancelling all engagements in order to rewrite his memoirs into a brand new, unsullied leather-bound journal.
When I’d spent more hours than is humane with Mum in “neutral venues” — mooching round Primark and M&S was her idea of an entertaining afternoon for small children and, being reliant on her transport, I couldn’t argue — Oliver finished his business in Rotterdam and came to rescue us. He turned up in an ugly, green Renault people carrier rather than on a white charger, but after a week in Primark and M&S I’d have loaded me, the kids, and the luggage onto a Shetland pony and trotted all the way to Heathrow. Oliver had even managed to get us all tickets on the same flight to Boston, which was a relief. Going to the supermarket on my own with the sprogs is hair-raising enough, never mind going on my own with them across the Atlantic.
A few hours of assorted children crying at frequent intervals, squeezing into aircraft bathrooms to change nappies, and playing “I Spy” with Jack until even he got bored (“I spy with my little eye something beginning with A-C.” “Another Cloud?”) and there we were…back in Woodhaven.
Yes. A couple of years ago I couldn’t think of Woodhaven as home, but something keeps changing. The combination of paying a mortgage to the bank instead of rent to Melissa H-C, and the cold-water-splash reality check of visiting Milton Keynes — somewhere I used to call “home” but isn’t any more — made me realise where home is.
It’s not where you’ve lived, but where you make a life. Life is here, in this funny little house with the wood panelling, temperamental wiring, and uneven floorboards. It’s where my children are, where Oliver is — most of the time, anyway.
I look up from my journal. The snow is settling now; about an inch has gathered on the deck since I started to write.
The children are in bed, and Oliver is away, as usual, this time in Seattle. A floorboard creaks behind me, but I don’t turn round. This old house creaks all day long; the rise and fall in temperature and humidity in a wooden construction makes unexpected noises inevitable.
If it isn’t merely the falling outdoor temperature — and at night, alone, my stern self-admonishing to grow up and stop being so silly can lose its power — well, that’s OK.
Our home is where we’ve made our lives, of course. But many other people made their lives in this enchanting house before we came along. I can understand if some don’t want to leave yet.
As I’m always telling Jack, George, and Beth — it’s nice to share.
Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #90
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Everyone needs a break now and then from work, family, friends and life in general. I feel like Libby is closing a chapter or chapters in her life. Is this the end? Or will there be more adventures to come?
Check your email 🙂
Saw your response to roadkill. People find it fascinating what is different to them and it is annoying. Being from Kentucky, people think we are stupid, don’t wear shoes, yada, yada, yada. Went to the NASA Space Center four years ago and the tour guide asked where we were from and then proceeded to announce to the entire bus to make sure I knew that the brown, hard stuff outside the bus was concrete. Everybody thought he was so funny. Needless to say I was not amused and the rest of the tour was ruined. Good for you and your “three strikes rule”. I was hoping my initial reaction to the post was wrong. Now, why does Oliver keep going on business trips? Hasn’t he heard of the phone or skype? Does he have a secret family? Hope you have a wonderful and warm weekend.
Responded to your email 🙂
Well, my husband goes on business trips all the time. I just sort of think it’s the norm by now!
Was just thinking of plot lines. That’s why you’re the writer and I’m the reader. 🙂
I responded to your email. I hadn’t received it when you told me about it earlier.
And really, NASA, what were they thinking? How very rude.
When I flew to Tampa to house-hunt a couple of years ago, my soon-to-be sister-in-law kept sighing and exclaiming how much I looked like “don Pablo,” my late much-admired missionary father. I finally had to tell her to stop it. Politely at first, then more firmly because she was driving me up a tree.
People occasionally comment on my impeccable Spanish, but it’s more because it’s weird for them to hear it coming out of the mouth of a tall white American than because of where I learned it. Sometimes they don’t believe their ears so they keep talking to me in English.
Yes, you know exactly where I (or is that Libby) am coming from there! I’ve had to adopt that three-strikes rule myself. At some point, there’s a “get over it, please” moment.
I’ve found even people ( especially men) who speak very broken English will continue to speak to me in English even though I, like you, grew up speaking Spanish. Or maybe they want to practice (this is how I torture the French)…whatever!
Just happy you’re OK Kate. I was becoming a little concerned — a touch of the mother hen complex, chuck!!
Awww! No — like Libby, taking a break 🙂
Hi Marion – where are you in Panama? I spent a lot of time there; in the canal zone in my youth and later, when we lived in Costa Rica, visiting Bocas des Toro and Boquete – before they became tourist destinations (yeah that’s going back a-ways!) Still have friends there and am fond of that part of the world.
Potrerillos Chiriqui. Have lived here 11 years (bought the property 13 years ago) but with the passing of my husband here, aunt and brother in the UK, best friend in the US, my kitty and doggy — it’s time to sell and return to the UK to see my family. I too remember this area before “the invasion” of extranjeros”. It will be hard to give up this weather, not as hot as David, not as overcast/rainy as Boquete. Truly a Paradise. I will be very, very sad to leave my Panamanian friends, truly wonderful people..
Welcome back Libby! How I’ve missed you, although I am always a tad nervous when reading Libby in case I am featured, slyly. Looking forward to reading about Maggie’s chap – I wonder who he will be based on? xx
I hadn’t thought of featuring you, but now you’ve given me an idea 😛