Going Home Again
what it’s like to start living in your childhood home as an adult
Just to be clear, I am NOT admitting that I threw parties at my parents’ house when I was in high school and they would leave me home alone for the weekend. I would never admit to such a thing for numerous reasons, including, but not limited to, the following. A) My parents are awesome and generous and amazing, and they make us dinner and watch our kids and my dad helps me fix stuff, so any former action that could in any way be construed as disrespectful is something I just never did. B) My own children, currently 4 and 2 years old, may someday happen across some old V1 content whilst Googling their father, who at some point will gain enough notoriety to be worth Googling (either through revolutionizing the fashion world or a freak meteorite accident, I’m guessing). I most certainly have never done anything that they can use as justification for their own misdeeds. But, for some strange reason, after my wife and I bought my parents’ house this past summer, we threw a small house-warming style party, and I had to suppress the instinctual urge to tell our invited guests to park a few blocks away. Weird.
I always reach for the drawer in the bathroom that used to me mine, not my current drawer, which used to be my dad’s.
I have been battling my instincts quite a bit since we moved into my childhood home back in August. My parents moved our family to Eau Claire in 1990 and built a house in the Mitscher Park neighborhood, and I lived there until I left for college in 1998. Those eight years were the longest I have lived in any single building, including earlier and later homes, dorms, and the dilapidated, sticky, falling-down structure that I lived in for two years in college that could only loosely be considered a “house.”
That stretch of time had embedded all sorts of habits that are proving to be quite difficult to overcome. I always reach for the drawer in the bathroom that used to be mine, not my current drawer, which used to be my dad’s. I find myself walking into my daughter’s room, which used to be mine, instead of my new room, which used to be my parents’. I once again crave cheese and Miracle Whip sandwiches, a food that my adult self has shunned, mostly because of the disgusted faces I get when I share my love of that little delicacy, just like you’re making now.
There is one other battle that I am gearing up to fight in regards to my new (old) house. As a high school English teacher, one of my go-to topics for generic writing or discussion prompts is “Where do you want to live when you ‘grow up?’” The discussions are always passionate, with me representing my perspective as someone who went to high school, college, and found a job in Eau Claire without ever leaving. My students are quite opposite, desperate to separate from the lives of their youths and claim their independence, with the relative attractiveness of the Chippewa Valley as a place to live as an unfortunate casualty.
My stake in this argument just got even stronger (or more pathetic, as I’m sure my students will see it). I not only live in the same town I grew up in, I live in the same freakin’ house. I have a pair of shorts and a few t-shirts from high school that still fit. I could pull out a Soundgarden CD, crank it up, and literally relive 1994. There are tons of people that find that thought horrific, and not just because those shorts do have quite a few holes in them. Life is about progress and movement, and the thought of settling back into your childhood is repulsive. For me, though, I don’t know… it’s quite comfortable.
When I have that discussion with my students, I always fall back on the same points – Eau Claire is just about the perfect mix of city and nature, it’s safe, it’s optimally located for both metropolis and wilderness access, and thanks to recent efforts, there’s even stuff to do around here now. I am also quick to point out that for the considerable majority of human existence, mobility was not necessary for “growing up.” Those cave, hut, and prairie people didn’t need to load up all of their clay pots and animal skins and move to La Crosse or Madison or Portland (for the trendiest of the cave, hut, and prairie people) in order to “experience life” before settling down to raise a family in some approximation of the place they left. The trees are just as green wherever you go, my friends.
Every once in a while, some smarty-pants will accuse me of simply trying to justify my inability to leave by building up Eau Claire as some Nirvana-level place to live. And it is very possible that is exactly what I am doing. But I will say this, Mr. or Ms. Smarty-Pants; when I see you at Mega Foods twenty years from now, you wheeling around a few kids and me purchasing more Miracle Whip and cheddar cheese, I will smugly remind you of that discussion. After doubling down on the specific, literal spaces in which I grew up, you know I mean what I say.