From Left to Write asks reviewers to connect the book of the month with their personal experiences. Accordingly, this is not a traditional book review, but rather, my response to this month’s selection. This post was inspired by Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin where she runs a nine month experiment to create happier surroundings. Join From Left to Write on January 6 we discuss Happier at Home. You can also chat live with Gretchen Rubin on January 7 on Facebook. I received an advance copy of Happier At Home for free, but I was not compensated in any way for my review. My comments are my own. This book is available for purchase here.
It was sometime around month four, when the terror that had been my raison d'etre began to subside, when I no longer could exist on fumes and fear, that is when the real exhaustion set in. Each day I waited, like a forlorn puppy, for Jack's key in the door, when the responsibility of keeping these two infants alive was no longer solely mine, at least for a few hours. His dapper self greeted me, this weary, and frequently unclean, version of me and said, "go out, go out to dinner, get a pedicure, for the love of God please do something". I was simply too tired, and yes, unkempt. All I wanted, all I dreamed of, was to be at home, alone. All alone in the expanse of our small apartment, completely and selfishly alone, to bathe and watch television and yes, maybe read a book. It never happened.
Kindergarten came much sooner than I expected. The children were going to be gone from home for almost six hours? At the same time as my husband was at work? It was the most painfully boring, and incredibly lonely, day I have ever spent. I went to work, I began writing, I started swimming. When the children went to school, I left home, the place I had been for five years, but never alone.
This year, in my annual post Thanksgiving bout with homesickness, I decided that what I needed was to feel more at home in my home. And if I really and truly missed so very much what home meant to me as a child, it was my responsibility to create that feeling here, in my now home.
"This is not a sprawling suburban fortress, it's a small urban apartment", said my rational self, or as he is known to many, Jack, as I dragged out box after box of Christmas accouterments. Boxes that held the trappings of a Christmas once marked by five trees, all with thematic ornaments. I went to work, looking for the kitchen decorations.
"There is not going to be a tree in the kitchen, not unless you can mastermind a way to string lights on the refrigerator without slowing the door opening process", said the voice of reason.
The long and narrow hallway, the trademark of a Chicago apartment, now used as a staging area, was impassable. Boxes and tubs stacked floor to ceiling, I sacrificed my two free days per week, usually spent downtown writing, to being at home. I ate ramen noodles and made cookie dough, listening to Bing Crosby as I hung paper chains on the dining room chandelier. The end plan was more home time, less frantic running about the city time. No need to soak up holiday cheer from everyone else, we were going to have plenty right here, at home. Annual trips to the Christ kindle market, the Mayor's Christmas tree, the Symphony, all put on hold en lieu of more time together, sloshing eggnog and roasting chestnuts (over our gas fireplace).
The joy didn't last. Jack came home with a terrible sickness, best described as a cough that kept the neighbor up. He was quarantined in our bedroom; occasionally I would crack the door, slide in a bowl of noodle soup, and run. Project home was put on hold, at least until we could be safely at home.
Mary got it the following week. With a fever that lasted the better of 10 days, I was forced into the domesticity that I had earlier decided would be mine this year. Holiday cheer was all ours, and only ours, as the whole family was now quarantined, our dear friends and family staying as far away as possible. Seven days in a row, only leaving the apartment once, and that, for church on Christmas Eve. Never before has a walk to Target seemed so dreamy.
The year that I chose home, home chose me. And with all that time confined to our small space, the halls are decked, the stockings are hung and the kitchen has never looked better. Why yes Jack, those are lights draped from pot rack to microwave.
Next year we share our joy, but not our fevers. Happier at home? Always.