Illustration by Victoria Borges
It took five coats of primer to cover Mahatma Gandhi’s face in my daughter’s bedroom. She had drawn the mural on her bedroom wall six years earlier when she was in high school.
“Why on earth did you use black paint?” I asked her, exasperated. “And why did I let you?”
There was a long pause.
“He’s gone?” she asked over the phone.
It went no better when I cleaned out my son’s old room a few days later.
“Goodbye childhood,” he texted from college when I told him it had already taken me six extra-large garbage bags to empty his closet.
For all the times my children have said they couldn’t wait to be out and on their own, their reactions came as a surprise. I suddenly realized that this wasn’t another one of my cleaning manias. This time, we were all crossing into a new way of thinking about family and what we call home.
My husband and I had finally decided to give our home a much-needed paint job, and with two of our children out of the nest, it seemed like the perfect time to do a purge. Wouldn’t it be nice, we reasoned, to have guestrooms? Wouldn’t it be great to have our house painted in an elegant color instead of scrubbing at the dingy yellow walls with a Magic Eraser?
But here’s what we didn’t take into account: Reclaiming your children’s old bedrooms is a lot more complicated than painting a kitchen or stapling new fabric on your dining room chairs. It’s a journey back into the most significant job you’ve ever had. And it’s a time of reckoning. Long after my husband and I are gone, when my children think of their childhood, this home is the place they will recall.
I found myself sweeping up dust bunnies out of their closets and pausing for a long while over the plastic trophies and school notebooks, leafing through their photo albums as I tried to make sense of how quickly time passed.
Was it all enough, I wondered? No, not the personal belongings, of course. (Exhibit A: the trash bags filled with unwanted stuff marked for Goodwill.) In this, I actually wish we’d given them less.
My question ran deeper, all the way into the walls and foundations of our home — and maybe it’s the question that runs into the spiritual foundation of anybody’s home and family.
Did they feel loved here? Did we teach them to be thoughtful people? Did our home help them become resilient in the face of failure? Did they learn how to love themselves? Did we laugh?
I can only hope so, but it will be up to each of them to decide.
They’ve both visited in recent weeks, begrudgingly admiring the work we’ve done. We have snazzy new paint in a modern neutral. We’ve gotten rid of clutter, bought a rug, moved around the art. I finally have a writing office, lined with my books, and friends stop by to have wine on the deck at whatever hour.
We’re living large!
But the truth is that I had to let go of something to get here. I had to say goodbye to a home with drawings on the refrigerator, smelly shoes cluttered at the door, and a homework schedule taped to the pantry door. Our home and our family have aged into something different and calmer, something we might not have been entirely ready for. What I hope for most is that it’s still our sacred place somehow, a home that my children will always remember as their center, the place where beneath the clutter of our lives, they were loved.
Local author Meg Medina is a two-time Pura Belpré winner for her Young Adult novel, "Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass" (2014), and her picture book, "Mango, Abuela and Me" (honor medal, 2015). Her newest novel is "Burn Baby Burn."