Monday, October 1, 2007

the house is always greener

The bungalow we lived in when both Sasquatch and Gumby were born was a one bedroom one bath duplex that couldn't have been bigger than 800 square feet total - if even that. It also had a decent sized living room and dining room, a dinky kitchen with no counter space, a tiny laundry room and two enormous closets. It had lovely built-ins, a fireplace that hadn't worked since a magnitude 6.6 earthquake in 1971 and old rippled glass windows. The front yard was small, the enclosed patio was all concrete and we were right next to a depressed section of the Pasadena freeway. (As in underground, not melancholy).

In spite of all of it's faults, I loved that house.

We started out in the other half of the duplex, but when this side opened up six months after we got married we jumped on it. The light was better, it was twenty feet further away from the freeway and it had a fireplace that we didn't yet know didn't work. Of course the most significant thing about this house was that it was owned by a woman who had inherited it from her father, and she had some residual guilt about making a huge profit off of it. As a result, for the eleven and a half years we lived there, we paid approximately a third of what we should have been paying. It was a lovely town, with great schools (for my then non-existent children), and the real estate was beyond exorbitant. It also felt very safe to me, which was important in those pre-dog days, because between Film School and location shoots I was alone a lot. My family and friends thought I was crazy, but I loved the town and was willing to pay the price to live there. Or at least a third of it.

The problem started when Sasquatch was born. When it was just the Film Geek and I it was cozy but fine, especially since he was almost never at home. With a baby thrown into the mix it started to get a little tight, but it was still workable. As he got bigger it became more and more of a problem, one that I solved by never being at home. I was always toting him to a park or a play date or going out for long walks. It's not that we didn't have friends over, because we did. It just wasn't my first preference. I may have loved my house, but I started feeling a little embarrassed when people saw it for the first time and looked for the rest of it. We were the house version of the VW bug at the circus that has thirty clowns climb out of it. I always coveted my friend's homes, with their yards and more than one bedroom and a dining room that didn't have a crib in it. My real estate lust was kicking into high gear.

But I had painted myself into a corner, because I wanted to stay home with Sasquatch. This meant living on one freelance film production income that swung wildly from month to month. And, because of the ridiculousness of the rent, adding even one bedroom would have taken us from $475 a month to at least $1000. And that was for an apartment. It was simply not an option. We would have to stay put.

Then, almost four years later, came Gumby. What had been tight became unbearable. I spent a lot of time worrying that I was permanently scarring my kids by living in a toy strewn shoe box. Granted, they didn't look deprived, but the fact that our entire house would fit into some of our friend's living rooms was really making me crazy. Once again, no matter how I tried to work it out moving, even to another lower priced town, was not an option.

When Gumby was nine months old, we found out that my OB/GYN didn't know what the hell she was talking about when she had told me my childbearing days were over. The burgeoning cloud of Surfer Dude hung over us and this is what he was saying...

"You need a bigger house."

So we bit the bullet and moved. In a twist that proves that I'm irresistible to generous old ladies, we lucked into a very similar deal. A three bedroom, two bath back house/duplex with a fenced yard in the same town for way under market value. I had to charm and schmooze and write a letter that extolled our virtues, but in spite of all of that we got the house. And we lived there quite happily until we moved to Kansas, although it was certainly a struggle financially at times.

I relaxed some once we had a little room to spread out. The kids made themselves comfortable right away. We knew the people next door and they had three kids roughly the same ages as ours. It was still a back house and it was still a duplex, but I didn't care. I didn't have to fold up the sofa bed every morning to get to the front door to get the newspaper. Life was good.

About half way through his kindergarten year Sasquatch came home raving about his good friend Patrick's new house that they had just moved into. He went on and on about it, until my curiosity was piqued. I couldn't wait to get a look at this place. Their old house had been a perfectly respectable house, nothing to write home about, a ranch like hundreds of others. This new one must be something else.

It was a second floor, walk up apartment. And Sasquatch swore it was the best house he had ever been in. When I asked him why he liked it so much he said because you could hang over the railing outside the front door and drop jellybeans on people's heads when they walked by. When Patrick came to our house he went on and on about the fact that we had dinosaur posters all over the walls in our front bathroom and that Sasquatch had the best house he had ever been in. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was about to be taught a lesson in perspective. The grass really is always greener on the other side. Especially when you're a kid. This is a hard one for me to grasp, especially when I count up all the money we've thrown down the toilet on rent to give them a place to live that's bigger than a postage stamp.

I'm thinking about this now because Saturday night Gumby and Surfer Dude had a friend over to spend the night. This is one of the few friends they both get along with, and a super nice kid to boot. After an fun and trauma free evening they asked if they could go over to his house for the afternoon Sunday. It was okay with his mom so I said sure.

As I dropped them off at the tiny little house that their friend shares with his mom, his aunt and his grandpa, I heard Surfer Dude say "Cool! I'll trade you houses! This is awesome!"and his friend said "Yeah!Let's do it! Your house rocks!"

I get that the grass is always greener on the other side. But I just keep thinking... should I never have moved in the first place or have I been buying the wrong houses all these years?

Or are my kids simply trying to kill me?


my two cents said...

Well, the friend likes your house, so I'm thinking it's a grass is always greener thing. I remember, fondly, the first house. Life was simpler then, or am I just imagining that?

Willowtree said...

"But I just keep thinking... should I never have moved in the first place or have I been buying the wrong houses all these years?"

Probably....I wish we never sold the first house we owned for the huge brick monolith we have on the Coast. But, then I bought one just like that first little one but in a better location so now everyone is happy.

Flowerpot said...

Tricky one that and unfortunate.y you'll never know teh answer! We dont have any plans to move but then we don't have kids which makes life a whole lot easier in that respect!

la bellina mammina said...

Thanks for this post.
I've always lived in rented houses when I was married with my first husband as we travelled and moved a lot. Now I am still renting, (even tough we have a house in Italy) but we are thinking of buying, just not sure where, since GAP wants to buy in the States and I would like to buy one here.
But with 3 growing boys, I guess for me it's better to aim for something big...

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Kids just see things differently don't they! You sound to me like you have a lovely family, whether you lived in a cardboard box, they would still love you!

Btw, what's a back house?

Crystal xx

Mya said...

I've lived in some small, pokey places in my time - and I don't know how I'd have coped with kids in them. Aaaagggghhhhhh! Even when we first moved here I used to enjoy striding across the kitchen, counting how many steps I could fit in. Sprog prefers his mate's house too. Thinking back, I was a bit like that too - always telling my Mum how so and so's house was much nicer. What an annoying kid, huh?
Mya x

laurie said...

i love that he loves his friend's apartment because he can drop jellybeans on people's heads. that doesn't just show perspective, it shows priorities! it's all in what you're looking for.

i grew up in a modest four-bedroom house. it had a living room with a non-working fireplace, a dining room with big windows, and a really awful kitchen. not that i thought about the kitchen at all, being a kid.

there were 12 of us in that house--four girls in one room, three boys in another room, and the twins and the baby in the back bedroom.

one bathroom. (well, there was a second toilet in the house, but nobody ever used it because it was between the back door and the kitchen and we were all afraid someone was going to walk in on us.)

for some reason, the city had to inspect our house one summer. i remember my dad being very afraid that they were going to tell him the house was too small for that many people.

instead, the inspector came, looked around, and then said, chuckling, "you could probably fit two or three more people in here."

for some reason that i didn't understand, this remark infuriated my father.

kathy said...

when we first moved to San Antonio we moved into a 2 bedroom apt. with 3 kids and after 6 months decided we better find a house, so the kids could spread out. The kids still talk about moving back to the apartments, because they had so many friends there! They say when I'm 18 can I live there?

not soon enough!

Kaycie said...

I know exactly how you're feeling. When we moved from our little house we'd lived in for twelve years (!), hubby and I were delighted that we could get something bigger. The kids did pretty well with it, considering the move from "home" to another town, and after a while, when they'd made friends, they were pretty happy, especially the boys. Then we bought this house. It is even larger, with a bedroom for each kiddo. The little guy is happy because he has friends in the neighborhood, but the other kids want to move back, even though this house is hands down better than the other. They don't miss the old house, they miss the neighborhood and the schools. I hope it passes!

Jen said...

My parents didn't own a house until I was almost in my teens. It was small, in a mediocre neighbourhood with good schools in the suburbs of Toronto. Up until then, we'd lived in a series of rentals, some nice, some...

My house now is very small (about 1000 sq ft.), but it's the first thing that I've owned. And I love it simply for that.

Of course, after the nasty drive through Atlanta yesterday to get home, I'm rethinking it's location.

ciara said...

i think i it's the latter...haha at least that's what i think my kids are doing to me. i find it doesn't always have to be someone's house that's always bigger, better, faster, and whatever other description you can come up with. lol

i grew up a navy brat so it was mostly navy housing for me, though we did do a stint in a small apartment and a trailer park (when either you don't have enough kids for housing or no housing available). my parents didn't even own their own house until we were in our 20's. w my x, i lived in two apts, one rented house, and then a house we bought together (which was a good size for a family of 5). we hadn't even live there two yrs b4 he decided he wanted a div. aft the div, i had to sell the house and move into a smaller apt which meant cramming in LOTS of crap into tiny space. at first my older daughter missed our house, but i explained as long as she, her sister, her brother, and i were all together that's what made a home. she started to understand that after awhile. then i married steve and moved into a house that was not much bigger than my apt in was way too small for 6 ppl (my son lived w me for a time) we have a decent size house, but you know it cost a fortune out here in no. cali (in reality we all know this housing market/value is ridiculous)

Jo Beaufoix said...

Mr B and I have lived in 4 different houses so far.
The one with the slopey floor, the one with the weird neighbour who padlocked his wheelie bin, the 1856 sandstone Victorian semi with the huge rooms, the outside loo and the attic room but also with the druggy neighbours, muggings and noisy factory opposite, and now we have a 1930s semi that is smaller but has everything we need including a fab garden and no druggie far as we know.

In the end, you do what you can at the time.

Kids are always attracted to something that is different to what they have, like when you go to a friends house and their toys seem so much more fun.

In the end though, I bet if you asked your boys, they'd rather have the space they have now.

Maybe we should buy that shack in Dartmouth though...

Kimberly said...

I'd go with the latter option.

We're probably going to buy our first house next year. Seriously, seriously conflicted about it.

The Rotten Correspondent said...

my two cents - it does feel like life was simpler then, but of course we had two year olds, so I don't trust our memories.

willowtree - it amazes me how easy it is to become attached to some real estate. It becomes more than a property sometimes - it becomes an ideal.

flowerpot - my kids are forever longing for whichever house we've just moved from. And there haven't been many. We had two with kids in LA, one the first year here when we had a sub-let and then two that we've owned since. I won't be moving again.

bella - I thought big too. But they think it's too big. (And it's not a McMansion, trust me). They don't want to go downstairs by themselves, etc etc.

crystal - a back house is a house that's in the rear of someone else's house. So you can see theirs from the street but have to go down a driveway or a path to get to yours, usually at the end of the yard. I'm sure they're called something different there, but usually they're really private and secluded.

mya - I still do that kitchen thing. I now have the biggest kitchen I've ever had and I adore it. It's a pain in the butt to keep clean, but it's a small price to pay.

laurie - if I'd been your dad I'm afraid I might have said something unprintable. I've read a lot about this - the average family in the sixties lived in under 1000 sf. And thrived. It's only been the last 20 or so years that people start feeling they need hotel sized space.

kathy - you aren't anonymous anymore!! Not that you ever were anyway, but still. I remember how much you said the kids loved the apartment in San Antonio, even as you were pulling your hair out. It really is impossible to know what they're going to like. And my kids still talk about your back yard in South Pas as "the best ever."

Kaycie - that's what my kids do. None of them really liked our old neighborhood, but every time they ask me to drive them by the old house they sigh and tell me how much they miss it. When we lived there they wanted to be closer to their friends. Aargh.

jen- if you own it that makes all the difference in the world. And the FG and I are arguing. He says the old house was 800sf and I'm almost positive when we lived there we figured 600sf. Too small for four people, especially with one bedroom. But for years we said if we could've bought it we would have.

ciara- I don't think they relate to it nearly the same way we do. They see friends and personal space and we see so much more. We have to, if you think about it.

jo - isn't it fun sometimes to look back on the places you've lived? Some of them can make such an impression. Now that shack in Dartmouth could make a really big impression.

kimberly - it's such a huge decision that it can almost overwhelm you. I was so ready, though, after all those years of renting. I wanted to get in and paint MY walls wild colors just because I could. And you know what? Every time I walk into my red kitchen I smile.

laurie said...

it astounds me to think that my tiny house in duluth that was barely big enough for my dog toby and me--two tiny, tiny bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, one very small bathroom-- had previously held a family of four.

Eileen said...

I think the grass is definately always greener!!! We lived in a perfectly nice house, for 10 years, that we finally had fixed up the way we wanted (right paint colors, wood floors, tiles, light fixtures, etc.) 2 years ago we found a great deal, at an auction, 300 lake front, out in the country, 6000 square feet, huge porch over looking the lake. I thought it would be perfect. I am not loving it so much at all! Septic systems, crappy well water, tacky 1970's rugs and lighting. Some pretty crazy people out here in the sticks too, I miss my little neighborhood. Too much to clean, the water runs out if you use too much, costs a fortune to heat and it is propane heat that scares me to death......I thought it would be so perfect. I just had my eyes on sitting out, looking at the lake every am, drinking coffee, watching the ducks. I do that, but the other stuff is taking over my short lived bliss...quickly. I think you should be careful what you wish for, cause in the past, this would have been my dream, to live on the water. Now.....not so much.
Great post!

Nearlydawn said...

OK, I'll bite... No, you haven't wasted money on housing, and yes, your kids are trying to kill you! LOL

Just think about it, if you had tried to live in something the size of the "itsy bitsy" house with these particular 3 boys? Remember how bad it was with 2? LOL

BTW - my parents raised us (3 kids) in a 2 story brick house that always seemed mid-sized to me. Then, when I turned 18, and was the only kid left at home, they bought a lake house out in the country - it was all glass on the back.

I HATED the lake house, even though it was my parents' dream. I couldn't sleep there for the first 5 months. I went and stayed with my friends 1 hr away to AVOID the new house until time for college... That house freaked me out - I think it was just too open, to close to the water, too exposed for a girl from suburbia.

Now that I am 30+ I love visiting that lake house. It feels calm, peaceful and like some place I might want to retire. It signals rest and relaxation to me... Dumb, huh?

That's a kid for you!! :)