I am thirty-five years old.
For the past eleven years, a family has lived inside my walls—a mom, a dad, four boys and one pink girl. Oh, and a small dog, too.
I guess you could say I’m just a roof and windows and concrete and wood. You might say I have no soul. But this is not true. I breathe alongside the people I hold.
I am full of memories, like the time the oldest boy dropped a rock he carried in from outside and it left a dent in the hardwood floor.
Or the time the little girl got all dressed up in her first pink tutu for a ballet recital.
And when the mother and the farther screamed at each other about whether or not chili should be made with beans because they were afraid, and uncertain, and alone.
See, this family of mine, they are loud. They are feisty. They tell jokes and they argue and they cry.
The mom, she tries so hard for everything. It’s not that she tries to be perfect—she doesn’t care so much about that. She just tries to do the right thing.
She tries not to yell even when hormones run hot through her veins.
She tries to make room for her boy with the hesitant words. The one who has autism.
The dad is a dentist, but in his heart he is a teacher. All day long he teaches his children. He talks to them about taxes and politics and the right way to shoot the ball when you are playing pool.
He stays awake after everyone falls asleep. He thinks about his son with autism and he worries about his pink girl and he considers all the college tuition he has to pay. He gently strokes the head of the dog he never wanted.
He loves them all so much, it’s like the sun and the moon and stars are lit up at once. He loves them even when he gets mad and yells because they leave the door wide open and are heating the neighborhood.
I see it all.
I see this special boy Jack. In the middle of the dark night, I have watched him toss and turn—his body twisting and his mind racing. I have held my breath and waited, as he dozed once more in the dawn’s early light.
When they first moved in, this boy Jack woke up very early and he turned the pot on for the coffee and he unscrewed three light bulbs that he reached by standing on a table. This, all while his family slept a deep sleep.
Then he opened the front door, and ran outside into the damp, spring grass.
The father, well, he sensed something was not quite right and he got up from bed and raced down the stairs and ran out the door to catch his special son. He did all this in his underwear.
That’s when I knew. I knew things were going to be very interesting with this family.
I see the pink girl, and how she thinks and worries and hurts. I see the way she cares for everyone, so much that she doesn’t always have enough room in her heart for herself.
I remember the days the mom sat on the floor and played Candyland until someone cried. I remember how they used finger paints in the driveway, and she cut peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches into neat triangles, and coaxed small children to sit on something she called the potty.
Those days, time dripped slowly—hot wax down the side of a slender candle.
Now, the days and weeks and years are rushing faster, more like water over a waterfall. You can almost hear time passing.
There are no more small children.
No one naps in my bedrooms on rainy afternoons.
Candyland sits on a shelf in a dusty box.
Now, instead of lullabies and Good Night Moon, I listen to quiet confessions, and tears over middle school slights, and whispered prayers for height.
The boy with the chocolate eyes, he longs to be tall.
This family of mine, they whisper their secrets into my bones, and feel my heart surround them in the shape of my familiar sounds.
The steady hum of the dishwasher after dinner.
The click-click of the dog’s nails on the hardwood floors.
The creaky step on the staircase.
I breathe, and I settle around them.
Especially the boy named Jack. I am important to him. I am the place he returns day after day. As soon as he comes home from school he checks everything out to make sure it was the same as when he left in the morning–towels in the bathroom, the mugs in the cabinet, the blankets on the couch.
I am his sanctuary—his safe place to unspool and let go and be himself.
I am his home.
The world is not always easy for Jack. You see, his autism tries to make him a nobody, but his family thinks otherwise. They know he is somebody.
These days, the kids drop their backpacks on my floor and run right out the door like their feet are on fire.
Destination imagination, driver’s ed, dinner at Chipotle with friends.
All but the boy Jack. He stays behind, and he plans dinner, and he sets the table, and he fusses over dessert. He waits for them to return, like bees coming back to the hive.
I know the truth about him.
He is fierce.
He is strong.
He is unbeatable.
He is a champion.
And because of this boy and his diagnosis, the mom and the dad think carefully about how they want their family and their schedule to look. They don’t let everyone do everything all the time. They know there are only twenty-four hours in a day. This is 1,440 minutes.
They will only be a family of seven for a few more years, until time and independence and college whittle them down one by one.
So if you are building a home full of children and dogs and finger-paints, here are a few things I suggest you do.
Kiss, and make up in front of your kids.
Tell them you love them one hundred times a day.
Spend your 1,440 minutes wisely.
Pet your puppy.
Play board games.
Eat good food at my table.
Life is complicated.
Remember, it’s never about the chili. People are never going to be perfect. But everybody is somebody.
I am here for you. I am a warm lamp on a wintry night, and sturdy walls against the wind, and a dent in the hardwood floor.
Here, you are safe.
Here, you are loved.
Here, you are home.