Day 14 – It’s here and it’s home

In all the writing I’ve done, I’m often given the most positive feedback on my ability to set a scene. I’m obsessed with settings, with painting a clear picture of my characters’ surroundings and establishing a vivid and concrete sense of place.

Dig deep into my psyche and there’s likely a link to my adoption. Adoptees often struggle establishing a firm sense of belonging. But my obsession also stems from the fact that my family moved around…a lot. From the time I was born to the time I graduated high school, my family moved to five different towns in two different states and lived in ten different houses, including a three-week stretch where my parents, sister, and I lived in my grandparents’ motorhome. My dad had a new job managing the Four Circle Co-op in Bird City, Kansas and we’d moved before he and Mom had a chance to find a house to rent, so we parked in a vacant lot across the street from the town’s only gas station.

We arrived in Bird City in the summer of 1986. I was five, and living in Grandma and Grandpa Luethje’s motorhome for a few weeks seemed sort of exciting at first, like an extended camping trip. Lindy and I fought over who got to sleep on the bunk bed that perched above the driver’s seat (an argument she won because my tendency to sleepwalk proved hazardous when the bed was more than three feet from the ground). It was a bit strange to be camping next to a grocery store on the main drag of a tiny town with one stoplight instead of some ironically-named campground out in the woods near a lake, but it didn’t much faze me at the time. It was just another pit stop on the parade of homes that dotted the landscape of my youth.

I can close my eyes and still see each house we ever lived in in detail. I can see the little  bungalow on Norris Avenue in McCook where our dog Tu-tu had her puppies. The concrete floor in the unfinished basement was always cold, but Dad built a makeshift pen with some blankets and spare pieces of plywood to keep the squirming black pups contained and comfortable. There was a little steel safe built into one of the concrete walls, and I sometimes imagined we were a family of spies locking away our collection of stolen secrets.

The kitchen was painted bright yellow, and Mom used to watch One Life to Live and General Hospital on the little black-and-white television that sat on the counter. Lindy and I shared the little bedroom at the front of the house (of course she got the top bunk), and Mom and Dad’s room was through the Jack-and-Jill bath. Sometimes when both bathroom doors were left open, Dad’s snoring would jolt me awake in the middle of the night, amplified by the bathroom tile.

I can see the first rental house in Bird City where we moved after the excitement of living in the motorhome officially wore off. The two-story house sat on the corner of Burr Avenue and West 3rd Street, just a block from where my best friend Mandy lived, which gave us license to spend just about every moment together when we weren’t in school or sleeping. There was a chainlink fence around the backyard, and in the winter the tumbleweeds would catch there and take over until Dad would eventually light a small fire to burn them, scolding us when we got too close or threw too many tumbleweeds on the crackling pile, sending orange sparks spiraling into the crisp autumn air.

There were two bedrooms and a large playroom with a 3/4 adjoining bathroom on the second floor, which meant Lindy and I finally had our own separate spaces. Our rooms were far enough away from Mom and Dad’s bedroom on the main floor that, for the first time, I could wake up and not hear Dad snoring. The entire second story floor was covered with mismatched scraps of brightly colored carpet. It gave the space a psychedelic circus vibe that started to hurt your eyes if you looked at it too long.

The kitchen had a set of ugly swinging doors, the kind you might see in an old-timey saloon–a wooden frame around a piece of orangish-brown opaque plastic. Mom nearly lost her voice hollering at us to “Stop running in the house!” as we chased each other down the stairs through the den and the kitchen and into the dining room, laughing each time we burst through those doors and heard the satisfying THWAP! as they slapped against walls and swung back into place.

Moving—to a new house or apartment, town or state—was always a nauseating mix of excitement and anxiety. I fancied myself an explorer, and I tried to imagine the fun new adventures I’d have when I arrived at each new place. But the unpleasant byproduct of the recurring upheavals was that it made it nearly impossible for me to ever feel truly grounded. I never really belonged anywhere. Thus, it became an exercise in survival for me to burn all the details into my brain so they wouldn’t get lost each time we packed up our lives and left another place behind.

When I graduated high school and decided to move to New York to attend college, everyone told me I was crazy. They couldn’t imagine a small-town midwestern girl like me fitting in in the big city. But this was the move I desperately needed. It was a chance to throw myself far outside my comfort zone and headlong into the depths of independence. It was a chance to figure out who I really was and who I was going to be.

And for more than 15 years now, Stevie and I have been doing a lot of moving of our own—from New York to Arizona to Nebraska, from apartments and rental houses to our very own homes, packing and unpacking boxes, trying like hell to find the place that fits.

Here we are now, living in a quiet neighborhood in the heart of the Heartland. We’ve got two sweet kids, one crazy hound dog, and a house filled with books and memories and mismatched furniture collected from our families and our childhood homes—a table that came across the country in a covered wagon, framed family photos whispering stories from days gone by, the faded floral couch and matching swivel chairs where Richie and Diane sat drinking coffee each morning in their living room on Long Island. Our walls are covered with movie posters, our children’s scrawling artwork, and photos of the people and the places that we love most.

We are a collection of the people we meet, the places we’ve been, and all of our lived experiences. Our genetics and our childhoods give us a starting point—where we’ve gone from there is a hodgepodge, mishmash, shaken not stirred blend of all we learned and loved and left behind along the way. It’s messy and it’s beautiful. It’s ours and it’s everything.

It’s here, and it’s home.

Day 10 – Like coming home

I spend a lot of time reflecting on my college days, partly because I spend my days working with college students and partly because I tend to start feeling a little sentimental every time Stevie and I have been away from New York too long and I start itching to spend time with the people I miss every moment of every single day since we left the east coast ten-and-a-half years ago.

It’s hard to explain the connection I feel to this place without sounding overly nostalgic, but I always feel the need to try. I guess that’s just the writer in me–unable to deny that urge to try and put the giant surge of emotions down on paper and arrange the words in a way that might explain the way this place calls to me and why I remain so firmly tethered to the people we met and the connections I made there.

Going to college was my first step (a giant 1,500-mile step) away from my family and out on my own, and with that heady rush of newfound freedom and adventure came an almost paralyzing sense of self-doubt and isolation. Yet the first time I ever stepped foot on Concordia’s campus, I got the distinct feeling that I was coming home.

The families we come from are our default. They teach us how to love, how to fight, how to forgive. They give us our first sense of the world–its beauty and its chaos. The families we leave when we set out on our own will always be with us. They will always be part of us. But it’s the families we create for ourselves that truly reflect who we are and give shape to who we will become. The people we connect with, the people we return to and invest our time in are the people who reflect the very best of who we are, the very best of who we hope to be.

People matter. Connections matter. Kindness matters. Honesty matters. Love matters.

Everything else is just noise.

Burning Down the House

Excitement of the day…I almost set my house on fire. Not shitting you. I could have done some serious damage today, and thank God for Stevie noticing or it might have been a much more eventful evening in the Romano house.

Here’s how it went down…

These days, H-man is into everything.

EVERYTHING.

The boy is 8 months old and he’s already all over the place. He can speed crawl the length of the living room in 2.7 seconds. No joke. If crawling were an Olympic sport, this kid would be world champion and he’s not even 3/4 of a year old yet.

And if the crawling wasn’t enough, he’s pulling up on everything, letting go, standing for moments at a time. He’s even trying to take steps, though at that point he usually just topples forward or sits abruptly with a soft thump on the carpet.

Hell, he’s even trying to climb–shelves, baby gates, the furniture. Anything in his path, he’s going to try and get over it.

So much for this kid being my mellow one. Looks like it’s just me and the dog.

So today, in the time it took me to walk through the kitchen and let Electra outside, H-man was climbing the curtains. Two fists over his head, pulling up, one foot off the ground, legit climbing folks. It was like scene straight out of a Cirque du Soleil show.

I hollered and lept over the baby gate, narrowly escaping making a fantastic nosedive of my own right into the TV stand. I scooped Henry up in one arm, and tossed the heavy curtain up over one of the wall sconces, thinking I just needed a minute to redirect and distract the little turd before he managed to pull the heavy drape runner down on his head.

That was a plan anyway–redirect, distract, then quickly when Henry wasn’t looking, I would pull the curtain back down and hope he spent the rest of the afternoon trying to climb something a little less dangerous.

But do you know what happens to plans when you have an overly active 8-month-old? They fly straight out the damn window. Plans. Psssh! I’m at the point I don’t even know if I remember what they are anymore.

So yeah, I forgot the curtain flung up over the sconce. And it didn’t really matter this afternoon when the sunlight was spilling in through all the windows. But then that sun started setting, and our living room grew dim, and I walked by and absently flipped the light on like I do every evening, and it wasn’t until a couple hours later, after Stevie kept complaining about some weird smell (which we assumed was our sweaty 6-year-old daughter so we sent her straight upstairs to take a bath) that we looked over and realized our drapes were sizzling on top of the wall sconce while we sat watching playoff hockey.

Homeowner fail.

So now my drapes have a nice crispy spot to remind me what an idiot I am.

But at least the house is still standing and Henry made it through the day without a head injury. Cadence is clean and smelling fresh before bed, so that’s an added bonus. And Stevie managed to score us some delicious Empyrean Peanut Butter Porter, which has officially taken it’s spot as my favorite beer.

You know I’m a glass half full kind of girl. So life is good, scorched curtains and all.

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The Great Sleep Stand-off

Since the night we returned from New York, Henry has been sleeping like a champ (with the exception of the one night Stevie and I kept him out almost 2 hours past his bedtime–lesson learned). It was like someone flipped a switch, and he went from being restless and overtired and waking/crying every hour until I eventually had to give up and put him in the bed snuggled in between us, to being able to eat and be put down in his crib still half-awake between 7:00-7:30 pm and sleep until 6:00 am without protest.

It really shouldn’t surprise me, this sudden shift in Henry’s sleep habits. Our lives have been a mess since Christmas with my crazy work schedule, school activities, and the sudden discovery of Richie’s cancer. We tallied it up, and we were gone more days in February than we were actually in our own home, flying from coast to coast and back again, waving at our normal routines as we blew past them in a frenzy. I would call bullshit on anyone who tries to tell me that babies are just a blank slate, that they don’t really know what’s going on so they should be able to easily adapt, because the moment we stepped back into our own home after it was all over, the moment we were able to really stop and take a minute and breathe, little H-man did too, and he settled back into his own crib in his own room safe inside his own home and he has been a completely different kid ever since.

Last night, we had what has become a rare bad night. It may have been the thunderstorm that blew through or a little gas from the broccoli H-man ate at dinner time. Or it may have been that he didn’t get quite enough milk before he fell asleep. I managed to nearly destroy my milk supply during my trip to San Diego–a combination of no sleep, long hours at work, and sporadic breaks between events. It’s been hard trying to build it back up, and some days have been better than others.

But whatever the reason, last night reminded me of how far we’ve come, and how awful it feels to get just a few hours sleep, shuffling like a zombie from my room to Henry’s, sitting half-asleep in the rocking chair, trying to stay just awake enough that I don’t drop him as I sit there feeling half-numb and completely drained.

So today, we’ll try again, and hope that this was just a blip on the screen.

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The ‘Burbs

My favorite line from the old 1989 Tom Hanks movie, The ‘Burbs, is the one repeated by Corey Feldman’s character throughout the movie whenever something good or bad or crazy or unusual or hilarious happens in the neighborhood.

“God, I love this street! Of the

I think I have been waiting my whole life to feel that way. 

When I was young, we were always moving too much. I never really got too attached to any of the houses we lived in. Bird City was too small and claustrophobic. Holdrege was too cliquish and just never really felt like home. New York felt like home, but the apartments I lived in never did. Arizona was too hot and just never seemed to be the right fit. And the first house here in Lincoln was just too old (well, Stevie thought so anyway), and just seemed to be missing something.

And then we moved here, and I gotta say, it feels like home. It felt like home the minute we walked through the door and held the keys in our hand and, for me, that feeling only grew stronger the day we brought Henry home with us from the hospital. I love our house and our neighborhood and the little park that’s only a short walk away. I love the fact that we can actually go trick-or-treating through our own neighborhood , and that there is a little Par 3 golf course that we can join and play. I love that there are families that have grown up here, and a whole slew of new families like ours starting to move in. I love the fact that there is a steady stream of children chasing each other through the neighborhood every day after school and all summer long. I love the way the trees arch over the road like a canopy and that all of the houses are beautiful and unique.

Most of all, I love the fact that I have the opportunity to build a life here and raise my children here.

I guess I’ll just go ahead and say it…God, I love this street.

  

Elf on the Shelf 2015 – Day 18

Before bed last night, Stevie and Cadence had a little craft time. Cadence wanted to make a star to hang up, so Stevie helped her make one out of a piece of cardboard, and then they sat together at the kitchen table coloring their masterpiece.

Leo and Cosette thought it was pretty cool, and decided it needed to be prominently displayed in the den.

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