Fall has finally fallen; I know this because I sleep with a blanket of cats these days. The last several days I have awoken not just with a cat at my feet, but with one on my abdomen or my arm (depending on if I’m lying on my back or my side). This is the cat who never slept with me because she had a human of her own. Alas, we have been betrayed, this calico harpee and I. That human has left us and left us both wandering the house, at times, yowling.
Then another cat’s human left us, and now I have two that follow me around with eyes and mouths wide. And this cat weighs about the same as a small car, so when she walks up my body to stare into my eyes, whiskers tickling my eyebrows and nose, I feel it as one would feel, I imagine, those giant walking robots in one of those Star-titled movies–with all the weight distributed on one pointy paw and then another.
I’m counting the days until those humans return to us, if only for a few precious hours. I’m counting the hours, too, trying to determine how best to spend them. They want to be home, with their kittens, on a couch they know intimately, eating food that has been prepared for them.
It is the hard irony that I who love to cook no longer find the impetus to do so. I’m drinking coffee right now, dreaming of a brunch I won’t fix not only because I have a bedroom to finish painting but because we no longer keep food in this house. Or so it seems.
The one child left in the house is hardly ever here, thanks to her involvement in extra-curricular things. And all she ever asks for is money with which to purchase food. There are apples rotting in a bowl that I meant to make into sauce–and they appear to be doing it themselves, but not in a good way.
I’m complaining, aren’t I? I don’t mean to be. I mean just to be noting, because I find for myself that if I can name something it then makes sense to me and I’m on the way to making it right–or adjusting.
I’m naming the experience we are having right now of being a family in transition. Of being a home that billows and withers as required. We are an accordion home now. That’s it.
While three of us live her all the time, two come and go. The year before it was only one and I realize that we have reached the tipping point with the second one gone. Before we still planned meals depending on who would be home when. Last year, we bought a calendar because schedules were so crazy so we could circle the nights when everyone would be home and meals could be savored, together, at the table.
Now it seems we eat things that can easily be consumed wherever we all wish to be. Of course, there are still nights when forks and knives are required, and so we sit together, the three of us, at a table meant for more. Early in the year I took the leaves out of that table, so it wouldn’t seem so empty. But then we had company. And those cats’ humans came home, and now the table is filled with my husband’s office, so when we do huddle around it, it is at the end reserved for eating.
But that’s why I’m painting a bedroom. So we can move the remaining child into another bedroom and move his office into the small room. And build a sleeping chamber for the ones who come home to visit.
I was thinking, yesterday, as I put yet another coat of paint on this particular bedroom, about this accordion home. How I never thought I’d stay in the Midwest as long as I have, let alone this particular home. We purchased this home when one child was 2 and another was not yet 1.
The room we are painting this weekend has belonged, in turns, to: the eldest, alone; the eldest and middle (after the third one was born), shared; the middle and youngest, shared; and the middle one, alone. And now the youngest moves into it, alone. It has been many different colors, I think, though I’ve lost count of how many. The colors I know it was are the two that I just painted over (because the last time I painted I didn’t do a very good job and strips of electric aqua scream out from between the white baseboards and the very dark purple walls.
My husband asked me why I did such a bad job on this last. The purple dripped down the walls and onto the baseboards (which I will tackle this morning) and I sighed and tried to come up with a reason. Maybe it was because the kids were old enough this time that I thought they could help and when they did, bad things happened? Probably, I told him, because I was tired and stretched and needed to paint because I said I would. And so I did, but not well.
But this time he is here to help and the taping and cutting in has been done properly–or at least we will find out when I pull up the tape in a few minutes.
I read a really nice piece in the Huffington Post this morning about parenting little, little children and unsolicited advice, and it reminded me of where we all have been, this accordion band of misfit toys (and pets). And through most of it, this house has stood and kept us bound to each other with its four small, yet brightly-colored walls. And it has billowed and withered as needed.
It has been the place of blanket forts and lava-floor; of sleepovers that sometimes only consisted of the three who sleep here anyway; of shared spaces, of singular spaces, of good food and crap food and sometimes even “nothing to eat” food. It has been open to friends and to relatives and to Halloween Candy and Christmas Eve fudge. We have patched holes in walls and cracks in hearts in this house that magically expands and contracts.
I remember my first glimpse of the house from the street when we were looking for a home 17 years ago. “Oh, it’ll never do,” I said. “Too small!” And when we came in through the back door (which we consider the front door), and I saw the large open (though weirdly configured) space and thought, “it might do.” I see now that it was a magical house, an accordion house, that looks small from the outside, but holds –and has held–so very much within.
Now, though, it is time to tackle that wood trim in a room made smaller by coats of paint for each set of inhabitants, while cats curl up in blankets on beds throughout the house, oblivious now, it seems, to those who are missing but soon will appear.