For years, I assumed I had a normal upbringing. Truly American, I rode a Huffy bike, I had braces, I begrudgingly participated in what my mother termed "educational enrichment activities," I scaled closets hunting for Christmas presents. I'll concede the absence of television in my house likely made me a minority. And I'm sure the fact that I wore boy's elastic waist denim until I was 15 set me apart from my glittery bell-bottomed peers. But I never paid any mind to stark differences between my formative years and those of others.
Until I went to high school.
I was shocked to meet girls who had lived in the same house for the entirety of their lives, who didn’t understand the terms "easement" or "escrow," or who had never held a mallet before. During my childhood, my mother and brother and I moved more than a dozen times. I wasn't an army brat, and we weren't (as far as I know) a part of the Witness Protection Program. It was just something we did.
Long before HGTV and Pinterest and virtual room planners and before "flipping" was ever trendy, there was my mother, armed with paint chips and measuring tape, herding us from house to house. We bought, we planned, we worked, we sold, we drove, we packed, we painted, we unpacked, and more again (my mother achieving all of this whilst wearing high heels).
It wasn't an automated process, we spent more time living at certain places than others, and sometimes we had to trade the furniture and treasures from one house to the next (but never, ever throwing out the Christmas tree decorations!).
It was fun and brutally exhausting and obviously exponentially more whimsical than home buying will ever be for me as an adult. Without fail, we would always end up at the "new" old house soon after the closing, after dark – tired from school and pesky extracurriculars, watching her pace the unfinished floors in her stilettos, gesturing wildly and sticking Post-its with indecipherable handwriting on the walls. We lived and breathed by her imagination.
On Larch Road, we had a dining room ceiling that was covered entirely with glitter. On Payer Lane, my mother painted the door hot pink on her birthday (and never changed it back). On Elm Street, our driveway was made of crushed seashells (which sounds very lovely and romantic until you have to run out for milk in the middle of the night and can't find your shoes).
On Oceanside, we lived in a pillow fort for a week before the furniture arrived. On Green Street, we had a roof deck that my boyfriend insisted on sleeping on anytime he visited. On Old Oaken Bucket (yes, its real name) we threw an "Ugly House Party" before the renovations began. Everyone sat on the floor with pizza and drew on the walls, playing giant tic-tac-toe and tracing our deformed outlines against the rooster-themed wallpaper.
But it wasn’t all happily ever after. We had mold. We had mildew. We had mice. My mother spent an entire year on Chippawanoxet Road as an insomniac, delusional from the pitter-pattering of the raccoons in the attic. She threatened to buy a gun. We were constantly locking ourselves out, crossing wires and inhaling paint fumes.
I tired of it and began inviting myself to friends' houses to steep in jealousy over their stable histories, to see their growth charts engraved in door frames, their holiday pictures all taken on the brick steps of their 3-bed, 2.5-bath Colonials. I contemplated putting up a classified ad ("Clean & smart 10th grader seeks normal family for general rearing, room & board").
Luckily, I grew out of my teenage contempt (and my Doc Martens) and learned to embrace the crazy. I recovered from my disdain for those who didn't know the difference between coniferous and deciduous woods. I even fell for someone who had never used a stud-finder.
And now, when I'm curious, I Google the houses we lived in - the ones we stripped down and built back up. I zoom in on the images to see if the subsequent owner's have re-painted and where they decided to put their dining room tables. And every 10 months (or less if I've fallen down a minimalist sub-reddit), I audit all of my belongings as if I were preparing for a move - dutifully sorting lesser-used kitchenwares and clothing into neat piles in my living room.
"Where are we going?" my husband laughs. The drill is familiar and he waits patiently as I raid every corner and closet.
"Don't know. We should just be ready."